Discussing Water Reuse to Reduce Water Gap in Chile

  • 2021/01/29     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Unsplash/Danilo Alvesd

    The sixth session of the International Water Colloquium featured experts from UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden, and from Fundación Chile to discuss the topic “Water Scarcity Situation in Chile: Opportunity for Water Reuse to Reduce the Water Gap”.

    By Raghid Shehayeb

    At the sixth session of the Colloquium, Andrea Müller from UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden, and Ulrike Broschek from Fundación Chile presented the “Water Scenarios 2030” initiative and a water reuse decision support framework. The session took place virtually on 11 December 2020 with over 30 participants joining.

    Image credit: Leigh Prather/shutterstock

    The International Water Colloquium, organised by UNU-FLORES, the University of Bonn, and TU Dresden, addresses the topic “Cooperation in Water Management – Tackling a Global Challenge”. UN institutions, alongside their local partners, share their experiences about collaborative water-related projects and activities, highlighting the need for cooperation within the water management. The series running from 4 November to 16 December 2020 aims to foster collective knowledge development and further possibilities for cooperation.

    Ulrike started by introducing the current and future water situation of Chile – the country will be one of the countries most affected by climate change in South America, and is, therefore, at risk of facing severe water shortage. She added that to have a transition to more sustainable water management, four main aspects should be improved: water governance, conservation of water ecosystems, water efficiency, and integration of alternative or non-conventional water sources. One of the opportunities is to reuse treated wastewater, yet a national policy to enable it is still lacking. At the moment, 21 per cent of treated wastewater is currently discharged to the ocean. A case study at the local level shows that water reuse is an economically viable resource and its benefits can be shared between the water utilities and the community.

    Andrea discussed her research that aims to provide decision makers support by integrating both water scarcity risk and water reuse sustainability assessments. The assessment framework was applied to the case study “Cerrillos de Tamaya” using indicators that were deduced from literature and shortlisted based on data availability, thresholds, and relevance. The results – upon a comparison between ideal and minimum desirable conditions – revealed that the sustainability sub-index is close to the desired level whereas the vulnerability sub-index needs improvement to reach the minimum desirable level.

    During the discussion round, the panellists highlighted the relevance of a holistic approach and good flow of information specifically between private and public actors. Additionally, it was concluded that co-design with local partners and communicating the benefits of the proposed solutions lead to better implementation and more sustainable results beyond the project’s timeline. The main challenges in cooperation work identified were data availability and accessibility, transparent communication, and the availability of policies that enable the replication of successful projects.

    Finally, the panellists answered several questions raised by the audience regarding the economic feasibility of similar projects, the situation of water markets in Chile, the challenges in measuring the impact of the project on the vulnerability of the community, and other questions related to the methodology of the study. It was argued that wastewater reuse provides a stable supply of water even during drought events, and several possibilities for developing indicators and thresholds to assess sustainability and vulnerability were discussed.