Water reuse poses an opportunity in times of crisis

By
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Brazilian water companies that provide treated water for reuse are seeing numerous opportunities in these times of economic turbulence as they can attract big corporations by offering 30-50% cost reductions for services, the association of state sanitation companies Aesbe said in a release.

"Treated water for reuse costs about 8% of the conventional rate," the president of São Paulo state water utility Sabesp, Gesner Oliveira, told BNamericas.

"Treated water can be used to irrigate crops such as coffee and corn, to wash vehicles and streets, to fight fires, among other activities," Oliveira added.

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In spite of the advantages, market estimates have shown that currently only 2% of companies reuse water in Brazil, the release said.

Only 50% of Sabesp's treated water is being commercialized. "Our wastewater treatment plant has a capacity to produce 320,000m3/month of water for reuse. Of this total, approximately 160,000m3/m is being sold commercially," Oliveira said.

GENERAL WATER

Private water company General Water (GW) - the first non-governmental water supply company in Brazil - intensified its activities in this area two years ago. In 2008, the company saw interest in the sector grow by 50% and the number of projects increase by 30%. It expects the treated water business to increase by another 25% in 2009, according to the release.

The firm's commercial director, Ricardo Ferraz, said the cost of treated water is almost 50% less than that charged by state sanitation companies.

"The trend should continue to grow as companies are looking for alternatives in these times of crisis," Ferraz said.

GW operates 140 wells and currently has 74 contracts.

BANKS

Financial institutions have become big clients for water reuse companies. Banco Real uses treated water in some of its projects, the release said.

At the same time, GW implemented their water treatment system at Unibanco's administrative center in São Paulo, generating savings of 50% in the bank's water costs without requiring any initial investment.

The new headquarters of Grupo Santander Brasil in São Paulo also plans to use treated water to save an average of 30% in water costs.

OBSTACLES

One of the main problems for expansion in the sector is that state concessionaires have been lobbying to restrict the use of underground water sources. "The water law restricts the use of underground resources for reuse by private companies, and only allows this in places that are not being serviced by a supply network," the director of environmental and engineering consultancy firm Hidroplan's Brazilian subsidiary, Everton de Oliveira, was quoted as saying in the release.

"We have had some victories, but the legislation needs to be changed," he added.