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Managed Aquifer Recharge With Treated Wastewater: Old Laws For New Uses

Congress: 2015
Author(s): D'Andrea

D'Andrea (AIDA)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 15: Water law,

Water banking or managed aquifer recharge (MAR) via the intentional injection or infiltration of water in a groundwater body is an emerging water recycling and storage method that may play an important role in facing water scarcity and securing freshwater for a whole range of human activities (e.g. irrigation, energy production, sanitation or even drinking water supply), as well as for environmental benefit. Source water may come from municipal stormwater or from adequately treated wastewater (TWW). In the latter case, which is the object of this study, a number of sanitary issues acquire particular relevance in addition to the environmental aspects related to aquifer recharge.

The first experiments of wastewater treatment through soil infiltration were initiated between the 1950s and the 1970s, in order to counter the lowering level of water tables in groundwater aquifers. Initially, projects were implemented under existing water legislation which established requirements that were not originally intended to regulate such uses. Since then, specific legal requirements on MAR with TWW have been provided for in a number of countries, although none has yet adopted an integrated licensing system accounting for the complexity of the issue.

This paper is an attempt to identify national trends in legislation on groundwater recharge with TWW in the absence of a specific international framework. It basically aims at capitalizing on existing regulatory experiences against an ideal set of guidelines that have been proposed in early 2014 under the Sustainable Water Integrated Management -- Support Mechanism (SWIM-SM) funded by the European Union (EU). The five legislative case studies prepared under the same project (i.e. Arizona-USA, Israel, South Africa, Spain and Western Australia) form the basis for the analysis, along with additional material subsequently retrieved from various sources. Information has also been collected in loco during a visit to the Atlantis groundwater recharge facilities in South Africa.

Results and Discussion
The afore-mentioned guidelines identify a number of rights that applicants must seek in order to operate a MAR facility, in addition to the requirements for human health and environmental protection. The analysis of national frameworks finds, however, that applicable legislation is currently either fragmented and unspecific -- as it reflects a "pre-MAR" regulatory and institutional set up -- or replaced by policy or strategy instruments which typically lack the legal certainty required for such significant investments (see Table 1 below).

Table 1. Domestic legislation providing for the main rights ideally required for the operation of a groundwater recharge facility with treated wastewater

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