Published: 11. Dec 2023

Aarhus takes on wastewater challenges in South Africa to reduce water pollution

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Poor wastewater management is causing both environmental damage and health risks for the people of South Africa. To help optimize the wastewater management, Aarhus Vand and Aarhus Municipality have joined forces with City of Tshwane in a Strategic Sector Cooperation for a more water resilient city.

South Africa is currently facing a growing concern related to wastewater treatment. A significant number of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) have been deprived of essential investments for over a decade and there has been no maintenance of essential facilities. This has led to the discharge of partially treated effluent into rivers and dams, polluting the drinking water resource. As part of a Strategic Sector Cooperation for a more water resilient city, Aarhus Vand and Aarhus Municipality are now working to address these issues in the City of Tshwane.

Improving water management feeds into the sustainable development goals. Aarhus can add a lot of value, transferring knowledge regarding all the processes of wastewater treatment which will impact the environment in Tshwane directly.
- Kristoffer Rønde Møller, Sector Advisor - Embassy of Denmark in South Africa

Dysfunctional plants with limited means

Temba Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) is no exception when it comes to wastewater issues in South Africa. Theft, loadshedding and difficulties getting spare parts for maintenance is impacting the plant’s treatment capacity and overall operations. This means that a substantial amount of the wastewater risks being only partially treated contributing to river pollution. The team from Aarhus now aims to optimize treatment processes and operational procedures at Temba WWTP.

Pisystem Sscsouthafrica
Demonstration of the new PI numbering system at Temba WWTW

When it can take three months to get spare parts, it is important that the staff use the equipment correctly. Therefore, a set of Standard Operating Procedures has been developed to enhance operational efficiency. A weekly operational and maintenance plan has been developed to streamline and improve the understanding of essential tasks. Additionally, a new PI numbering system is implemented to improve component identification and facilitate more effective maintenance and operation.

Process operators trained within operational effectiveness

The team from Aarhus are also conducting workshops with the process operators at Temba WWTP in sampling practice and process parameters. Discussing and practicing basic principles of wastewater treatment the hope is that the staff can increase the water quality compliance of the plant.

In this training process, operators are provided with practical alternatives that enable them to carry out damage control and maintain operational effectiveness, even in challenging circumstances. For instance, a new method was introduced, using a secchi-disk for testing the sludge level which doesn't rely on pumps or additional equipment.

The new method is a good alternative because it is readily available and will help us do the damage control early.
- Letty Mahlangu, Acting Functional Head - City of Tshwane

These activities are the first steps for improving operations at Temba. The aim is to increase the compliance of the effluent demand from 54% to 64%. To ensure a comprehensive and sustainable transformation in wastewater treatment across the city, staff is trained with the aim to transfer learnings and experiences from the pilot plant to the other 15 plants in the city. The objective is to develop a best practice for optimization of the operation and management of Temba WWTP ready to be applied to the other plants in the city.

Staff training in using a secchi-disk for testing the sludge level

Methods from Aarhus can help control pollution from industries

Another challenge is the pollution from local industries and septic sludge tankers that are added to the domestic wastewater, contributing excessive load. In collaboration with local water quality management, the team from Aarhus have helped develop tools for the registration of dumping trucks at the WWTPs in Tshwane. Collecting this data will help to prevent contamination of drinking water and protect water bodies. Additionally, test methods used in Aarhus are introduced to gain a clear understanding of the microbiological quality of particularly industrial effluent. Matilda Chiloane, responsible for pollution control, looks forward to implementing some of the new test methods:

Seeing test methods used in Aarhus is very beneficial to us. Because this might be a way for us to make operations better using the limited resources that we have.
- Matilda Chiloane, Deputy Director Water Quality – City of Tshwane

Building long-term capacity

Recognizing the importance of building long-term capacity, the cooperation also aims to address the broader challenges rooted in governance, policies, and political considerations within Tshwane. Today, the crucial network of wastewater pipes is managed at a regional level, leaving the WWTP with no influence on the water flow to the plant. Through the sector cooperation, the Danish Embassy in Pretoria assists the utilities to navigate the intricate political landscape and ensure active participation from all political levels throughout the city's value chain.


  • Partners: the City of Tshwane, the City of Aarhus, and Aarhus Vand.

  • Duration: 2017 -2027 (prolongation possible)

  • Financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark