In order to develop a sustainable wastewater management system, it is necessary to identify and implement feasible reuse options. However, a variety of bottlenecks may impede the optimal reuse of treated wastewater (TWW) and biosolids, particularly faecal sludge (FS). The feasibility of reuse concepts depends on a range of aspects that include financial, geographical, technical, socio-cultural, and regulatory considerations, as well as the added value generated by the reuse of water and nutrients. Because of its complexity, the topic of reuse concepts plays a critical and sensitive role throughout the entire project cycle and concerns all partners and stakeholders.
This chapter describes the lessons we learned about the reuse of TWW and biosolids in the Innovative Sanitation Solutions and Reuse in Arid Regions (ISSRAR) project in Al Azraq (Jordan). Apart from ensuring improved wastewater and faecal sludge treatment, a key aim of ISSRAR is to turn waste streams into physical and financial resource streams, thereby promoting safe reuse practices. Such recovery of resources is part of a circular and sustainable sanitation approach, generating added value for the population while protecting human and ecological health.
In Jordan, where the per capita share of water is less than 100 m3 per year (BREULMANN ET. AL 2019), wastewater treatment and reuse are of the highest priority for the national government, as these practices can relieve pressure on water sources and provide much needed nutrients and irrigation water for agricultural production and local economies. Several projects to improve wastewater treatment in Jordan have been implemented, with approximately 163 MCM (million cubic metres) of wastewater treated and reused each year for different agricultural uses.
In contrast to treated wastewater, treated sludge is not currently reused due to a lack of social and political acceptance for the practice. However, innovative concepts for the treatment and feasible reuse of sludge need to be developed and tested to solve related pollution problems and contribute to the sustainability of sanitation systems in the long run.
This document describes the practical experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations concerning the reuse of TWW and faecal sludge that we derived from the ISSRAR project in Al Azraq. The technical and social issues we encountered do not only apply to other local contexts within Jordan, but are of interest to similar projects worldwide.
Why you should care
Establishing a circular and sustainable sanitation system requires the safe disposal – or, preferably, the reuse – of sanitation end-products. Recovering water, nutrients and energy from wastewater through circular sanitation systems alleviates scarcities of water and energy and improves the qualities of land and soil.
What really matters: key lessons learned and recommendations
Consider the difference between reusing treated wastewater and reusing faecal sludge
At the beginning of any sustainable sanitation project that aims to include reuse concepts for sanitation end-products, the scope of reuse activities needs to be tailored to the respective context. In Jordan, the reuse of treated wastewater, though subject to restrictions, is generally possible on a commercial scale, whereas local regulations and a lack of social acceptance largely limits the reuse of treated sludge to the realm of experimental research.
While both reuse concepts are closely interlinked, the design and project planning for TWW and treated sludge reuse require different approaches. Over the years, the existing TWW reuse models in Jordan generated a baseline of knowledge regarding reuse practices in different localities of the country. Despite the geographical and social particularity of the city, TWW reuse models in Al Azraq will not significantly vary from those being followed in other parts of Jordan. Due to strict regulations, there have not yet been any practical reuse models for biosolids in Jordan. Therefore, FS reuse alternatives could only be explored at research institutions testing pilot-scale interventions.
Account for reuse at all phases, from the inception phase to full-scale operation
The reuse of TWW and biosolids must be considered at an early stage of any wastewater treatment project and remain in the crosshairs of project implementers continually to ensure that all design, construction and operation aspects are contributing towards optimal resource recovery. This becomes especially important when business models are based on resource recovery with the aim of producing benefits for the target community. In the case of a decentralized WWTP, the following aspects and phases need to be considered:
A) Site selection
- Proximity of the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) site to (potential) agricultural land, discharge wadis, land qualified for rehabilitation and greening, potential reuse industries, etc.
- Height of treatment plant site compared to potential reuse sites to achieve flow by gravity.
- Delivery options and cost of TWW to end users.
- Cost of faecal sludge removal, transportation, and handling.
B) WWTP design
- Treatment design and efficiency enable reaching the highest effluent standards.
- Anticipated TWW quantity available for reuse.
- Storage pond capacity used for temporary TWW storage.
- TWW pumping unit power capacity.
- Reed beds sludge accumulation capacity.
C) Local community engagement
- Social acceptance of TWW and FS reuse.
- Existing farming experiences.
- Knowledge capacity of local farmers concerning TWW reuse and restricted farming.
- Market for newly introduced crops (fodder and forage).
D) National stakeholder engagement
- Responsibilities pertaining to reuse standards, regulations, and operations.
- Existing capacities on reuse of TWW and FS.
- Conflicting roles and interests.
E) WWTP operation
- Effluent fluctuation due to seasonal or operational reasons.
- Maintenance activities and impact on effluent.
- Reuse agreements with end users.
- TWW allocation volumes per end user.
- Quality monitoring of effluent and sludge.
The ISSRAR project managed to address several considerations that proved to be critical for the reuse component in Al Azraq:
- Accounting for land ownership around the selected site. To best utilize the recovered resources (in particular TWW) and to grant equal opportunity to the beneficiaries, we selected a site surrounded by government-owned land. This expands the potential beneficiary population, as all citizens may lease land for farming activities from the government.
- Addressing community concerns over the agricultural reputation of Al Azraq. Proper knowledge sharing with the local community in Al Azraq was key to address such concerns, which are common in most communities. To this end, we made sure that the site’s TWW and biosolids reuse activities not only adhered to local standards and regulations, but also to international standards for safe reuse. Additionally, showcasing existing reuse practices in Jordan was essential to reassure the community that reuse projects can boost agricultural productivity and enhance economic feasibility.
- Following a consultative approach to address all components of the resource recovery cycle. For each component, we engaged in thorough analyses as well as discussions with key stakeholders, and forecasted the impact that the technical decisions would have on potential end users and the local community.
Recognize that reuse concepts are bound by their political and social acceptance
Despite the existing practices for TWW reuse in Jordan, political and social acceptance of reuse concepts remains a major issue. When planning and implementing sanitation projects in Jordan, many challenges must be addressed at an early stage to avoid significant delays or even project termination:
- Political acceptance of TWW and FS reuse – Since it is within their power to support or obstruct specific projects, political stakeholders such as ministries, water authorities, municipalities, and other governing bodies are key to the successful implementation of reuse projects. Therefore, it was crucial to meet the requirements of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI), its subsidiary, the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ), and the Ministry of Environment (MoEnv). We obtained their approval for the project by making sure that they recognized the technical and financial value of the selected reuse approach, which also conformed to existing policies and regulations. Projects focusing on resource recovery need to take into account the interests of all political stakeholders without compromising the quality or integrity of the project. As multiple authorities with different priorities and concerns on reuse were involved, we were particularly diligent in taking all of them into consideration. The situation required carefully planned consultation processes as well as local support by political partners and experts.
- Social acceptance of reuse projects – It is almost impossible to neglect the social perception of TWW and FS reuse in any wastewater treatment project. As the primary target beneficiaries of such projects, local communities are always directly or indirectly impacted by them. In most cases, TWW and FS reuse has little or no social acceptance, even if national standards for reuse already exist. Furthermore, when the scope and value of reuse is not clearly defined, or its technical aspects are misunderstood, communities will tend to reject the practice. In many parts of the world, TWW and FS reuse for agriculture are still viewed as health hazards or reputation risks. Although reuse projects typically only cooperate with a limited number of reuse partners from the agricultural or industrial sectors, a project should never ignore the community as a whole, which can make the difference between success or failure. We therefore utilized community-focused communication in the design and implementation of the project as a means of gaining not only the acceptance of the local community, but also their support. This meant conveying technical information in a more accessible format and demonstrating to the local community that resource recovery generates added value. It is also important to reassure the community that TWW and FS are both subject to regular quality monitoring by the different stakeholder entities. This includes regular testing as well as monitoring for end-user compliance with reuse restrictions (i.e., permitted crops and irrigation methods).
A more elaborate description of the lessons we learned from our community engagement can be found here.
Keep political stakeholders engaged from day one (take into consideration future plans: land use, investment potential, and technical capacity)
Like all multi-stakeholder ventures, TWW reuse projects require considerable effort in engaging political stakeholders and thereby ensure that the reuse component is supported at social and political levels. The support of government stakeholders is crucial to ensure the smooth implementation of activities that require governmental backstopping (official approvals, land use considerations, local investment plans, etc.). They should therefore be involved in reuse proposals and discussions, particularly when ownership and handling of the recovered resources are concerned. Local political stakeholders might be also directly involved in implementing reuse activities. High-level coordination activities must be embedded into work plans in such a way that government partners are transparently engaged at all times. Gaining governmental support for the reuse component will also ensure the engagement of end users, farmers and potential investors.
In the case of the ISSRAR project, government stakeholders were involved in several key decisions regarding the operator model, reuse agreements, and the transportation of recovered resources. For example, the choice of operator (e.g. governmental vs. private operator) may have implications on the operation and maintenance of the treatment plant which affects TWW quality and the safe transport to end-users and ultimately influences the feasibility of reuse.
Select reuse partners and manage competing interests in TWW reuse
Throughout the initial project phases, the project team needs to identify potential reuse partners capable of implementing reuse activities with TWW on the ground. This should be done in close exchange with political and community partners. Consultations and surveys with farmers, industry partners, the municipality, and other development actors should be used to map interests, commitments and capacities.
It is important to keep in mind that the benefits that reuse projects provide for the local community may create competition among individuals as well as entities (e.g. municipalities). The ISSRAR project represents a case in which the amount of TWW is limited compared to other treatment plants in Jordan. Thus, the community engagement team needs to engage in transparent communication with local farmers regarding the governance aspects of TWW and FS. Potential end users need to be supplied with proper information concerning the ownership of the recovered resources as well as with guidelines on how to benefit from them.
Entities such as municipalities might be interested in using output TWW and FS for development projects like parks rehabilitation or greening. Although this represents a proper alternative for reuse that benefits the community at large, such uses could create the negative impression that the project does not produce a positive economic impact on all – and especially underserved - communities.
In drafting the reuse proposal and addressing it to project stakeholders, the project team must therefore utilize a balanced approach that accounts for competing interests. At this conceptual stage, it makes sense to consider geographical, societal, and economical differences, and to include as many beneficiary groups as possible.
The final selection of implementing reuse partners is not necessarily made by the project team, but may depend on local regulations as well as the owner of the treated wastewater (the operator and/or a public authority). In this case, prior exchange and coordination with the owner is needed to streamline the engagement and selection of reuse partners and ensure transparent communication.
Explore feasible reuse options with an open mind
TWW and FS reuse are location and community specific. Therefore, all viable options for such a project must be explored, taking into consideration factors such as the location of the WWTP, the quantity of effluent TWW, output water classification, soil conditions, existing local cultivation activities and capacities, native plant species, as well as best-practice examples from similar communities.
As TWW and FS have significant variations in their generation rate, physical characteristics, modes of transportation, and reuse regulations, their reuse options must be explored independently to determine their respective value chains. Also, it is worth noting that the beneficiaries of TWW and FS are not necessarily identical, as the latter might well live at some distance to the immediate target community of the sanitation project.
To determine which options are appropriate for TWW and FS reuse, the following activities are recommended:
- researching the regulations and quality standards that govern TWW (Jordanian Standard 893:2006) and FS (Jordanian Standard 1145:2016) reuse
- researching existing reuse business models in the country, especially in similar communities
- conducting surveys with local farmers and focus groups to determine what is in their best interest
- obtaining location specific information about the surrounding area of the sanitation project, such as soil characteristics, water availability, irrigation methods, types of vegetation, and land ownership
- determining the most appropriate end-user groups (farmers, municipality, investors, etc.)
- determining the unit cost for TWW and FS production/treatment and transportation for each reuse applicable option
- determining the unit sale price for TWW and the benefits of each applicable reuse option (as per local market pricing schemes or government-determined tariffs)
- determining community priorities for reuse (as collectively determined by community stakeholders)
The ISSRAR team kept an open mind while exploring reuse alternatives, including unconventional approaches that hadn’t yet been tested within the local context such that they adhere to technical requirements (as per the local regulations and standards) while having social and political acceptance. These alternatives were then measured against feasibility criteria to determine their economic and social sustainability. The following are some of the reuse options for TWW that the ISSRAR team considered appropriate:
- restricted agricultural reuse: irrigation of fodder/forage crops, olive trees, nurseries, etc.
- municipal greening of parks and roadsides
- natural tree fencing for farms (wind protection)
- on-site landscaping or forest land conservation
- on-site service water provision (toilets, cleaning, etc.)
Selecting an option from this list depends on what the stakeholders (political partners, operators, local community, end users, etc.) deem most feasible and acceptable. Furthermore, end users need support to determine which viable and context-appropriate option would provide the most benefits and the least risks to them.
Present a new case for treated FS reuse to assist advocacy towards regulations amendments
As in many other countries, faecal sludge management in Jordan is not yet fully developed from a technical and regulatory standpoint. However, it is a topic of increasing importance due to the related environmental and economic challenges. The current Jordanian standards highly restrict reuse of faecal sludge, even if treated to Class A biosolids reuse (JORDAN STANDARDS AND METROLOGY ORGANIZATION 2016). Therefore, any initiatives to address FS management in Jordan must make a robust case for treatment, handling, and recovery, using controlled research experiments and business model testing to support their claims. One way to tackle this is to implement small-scale pilot projects for FS reuse that can be expanded once proven successful.
The general characteristics of FS (including volume reduction, stabilization, sludge production to biosolids) were mapped for the ISSRAR project including agricultural and non-agricultural reuse options and assessed against the context-specific needs and challenges of FS as well as the results of previous research projects. The concrete objectives of the research and pilot activities were determined in collaboration with technical experts and academic institutions. This process took place in consultation with relevant political institutions and local partners, a strategy that helped determine the project scope and its anticipated results as well as the best ways to effectively disseminate this information to raise awareness about FS as a resource and thereby contribute to updating existing regulations.
Inter-team project coordination for identification of reuse concepts and implementation
Wastewater treatment projects are typically implemented by multi-disciplinary teams that focus on separate thematic topics like infrastructure related activities, stakeholder engagement, dissemination of information and knowledge sharing, capacity building of project partners, reuse aspects, etc. While often, planning for reuse-related activities comes at a late project stage, it is adviced to build the required capacities within the team right from the project start.
The team setup for any WWTP project must take into consideration the reuse component at the beginning of the project, as a reuse expert is necessary to guide the development and implementation of complex reuse concepts. The reuse team itself requires a wide range of knowledge, including expertise on economics, technical, agricultural, and industrial aspects, communication, and political stakeholder engagement. For areas that can’t be covered by the reuse team or other project teams, outside consultants and/or partners should be hired.
The reuse team is responsible for close coordination and information exchange with all other team members, external consultants, government representatives, and the local community. For instance, the reuse team should include community outreach experts who are capable of translating and communicating complex technical matters like reuse of TWW and biosolids to the local community. This will help community members recognize how they may personally benefit from the project.
- Have you clarified the scope of reuse of treated wastewater and/or faecal sludge within a sustainable sanitation project?
- Have you integrated reuse concerns in other project activities, such as site selection, treatment facility design, and operator models?
- Have you mapped the key factors for political and social acceptance of reuse of TWW and FS?
- Is there a proper political stakeholder engagement strategy and plan in place?
- Did you present a balanced approach for managing conflicting interest in TWW and FS reuse?
- Have you consulted local experts, organizations, or academic in determining TWW and FS reuse alternatives?
- Did you plan for creating new knowledge products and tools to present to stakeholders?
- Did your staffing plan for the project team and partners account for robust reuse expertise involvement?
The report presents an in-depth nationwide evaluation of the reuse of treated wastewater and biosolids in Jordan.BREULMANN, M. ; MUELLER, R.A. ; AL-SUBEH, A. ; SUBAH, A. ; VAN AFFERDEN, M. (2019): Reuse of Treated Wastewater and Biosolids in Jordan. Nationwide Evaluation.
This Jordanian standard defines mandatory conditions for the application of treated wastewater for irrigation of agricultural land.Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization (2006): Jordanian Standard No. 893:2006. Water. Reclaimed domestic wastewater..
This Jordanian standard defines mandatory conditions for the application of treated biosolids/sludge from wastewater treatment intended in agricultural land.Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization (2016): Jordanian Standards 1145:2016. Sludge. Uses of biosolid and disposal.
This document presents results of a systematic feasibility analysis for various reuse options of treated wastewater assessed in the context of the Innovative Sanitation Solutions in Arid Regions (ISSRAR) project. The ISSRAR project promotes the safe reuse of treated wastewater to turn waste streams into physical and financial resource streams thereby contributing towards a circular sanitation value chain and the development of integrated business models for resource recovery and safe reuse (RR&R) solutions.BUSSMANN, A. ; HERMANN-FRIEDE, J. (2020): Treated Wastewater Business Models.