Deja vu… drought, wastewater re-use and the abandoned Athlone Power Station precinct

20 June 2017

Athlone’s towers have fallen down

[This post originally appeared in Droplets in January 2011…]

I understand that the huge building that was the Athlone Power Station is being considered for a museum of some sort?  The odds are probably quite good that it will be developed into a shopping mall.

The site is immediately opposite the long-overloaded Athlone wastewater treatment works – a works that has no space to expand to meet increasing demands.  When the cooling towers came down, I suggested (to the City) that it would be a good idea to fill the building with reverse osmosis water purification modules and treat the otherwise ghastly final effluent (see how the City responded here) to a useable, and saleable, quality (RO can achieve potable quality).  This, to my mind, would be a logical and strategic use of space.  There is already a pipeline from the works underneath the N2, as the effluent was used as cooling water for the towers.

The concept of converting waste, in this case wastewater effluent, into an asset (irrigation, drinking or industrial water) is not taking root in South Africa – but it needs to!  This approach would also allow recovery of the appropriately-named Black River from its present role as a wastewater drain.”

I have no doubt that my original idea is likely to be fraught with technical and perhaps economic challenges, but none so challenging as having no water at all!  The City subsequently (in July 2011) announced that the quality of Athlone effluent had improved substantially between 1998 and 2011 – a claim that I cannot confirm or deny as I have not seen any empirical proof thereof – but it does suggest that the proposed water quality treatment or pre-treatment would now be easier than I previously envisaged.

The City of Cape Town produces a lot of wastewater effluent every day – polluting the rivers and the marine environment on a continuous basis.  And, yes, the production of wastewater (and the disposal thereof) is an inevitable fact associated with human life and especially with large metropolitan areas.  Equally true is that the polluting impact of this wastewater can be  attenuated at or near source (= at or near the wastewater treatment works) into a product that is substantially less harmful to the environment, as well as being a revenue-earning commodity.

At the very least, the empty halls of the Athlone Power Station still provide a site for a decent pilot study.


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