Process and control today | The environmental crisis threatens in Latin America

Addressing the complexities of providing safe drinking water and sanitation in times of climate volatility was discussed during the 32nd Water Action Platform webinar on October 28, 2021.

Hosted by d’Isle Chairman, Dr. Piers Clark, and supported by technology consultant Rodrigo Valladares, this month’s event focused on Latin America – highlighting the looming and growing environmental challenges . Initiatives and implemented technologies were showcased across Mexico, Chile and Colombia

Access Challenge

Sergio Campos, Head of the Water and Sanitation Division of the Inter-American Development Bank, discussed the main challenges facing the water sector in Latin America, including social inclusion and equality, productivity and innovation, and economic integration – while considering the effects of climate change and environmental sustainability.

“The main challenges of the water sector in Latin America are mainly related to access – 25 to 30% of the population of Latin America does not have a source of continuous or potable water,” said Campos. “And for sanitation, nearly two-thirds of the Latin American population do not have access to adequate sludge management.

“But it’s not just access, it’s also vulnerability to climate change. We estimate that we need around $20 billion a year to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and there are important things that need to be addressed in terms of corporate governance, regulation and innovation.

While Latin America has a third of the world’s freshwater reserves, it includes many arid areas and faces the challenge of varying rates of innovation adoption.

“The game-changer is innovation,” Campos said, “but not just related to technology – it has to be holistic, so innovation in governance, communication and socialization too.”

Moving on to environmental challenges, Clark told the webinar audience, “Two major environmental disasters are looming in this part of the world, and due to the potential impact they could have across the world, we need to be aware of them.

Clark identified hypoxic waters – or dead zones – and the overaccumulation of a large brown algae called sargassum as the main challenges facing the region.

Tackling dead zones

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is one of the largest hypoxic zones in the world and occurs at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which has low concentrations of dissolved oxygen. The challenge stems from the impact of fertilizers from farmland leading to nutrient enrichment in the river, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus.

The size of the area varies with river flow and rainfall and this is more variable than ever due to climate change. Clark argued that the key to minimizing the Gulf’s dead zone is to address problems at the source – using less fertilizer to limit excessive runoff, controlling animal waste entering waterways, and monitoring wastewater treatment facilities to reduce nutrient releases.

Recycle algae

A massive influx of Sargassum onto the Caribbean Sea coats is the other major challenge, but a circular economy approach is being explored to rebalance the natural environment. The cause of excess algae is thought to be an increase in nutrient loading due to deforestation and other land use changes.

“The increased invasion of Sargassum has had adverse effects on human health and ecosystems, as well as tourism. Long-term management strategies are needed to address adverse impacts,” said Rodrigo Valladares, consultant in Isle technology.

Scientists are now working urgently to bring circular economy thinking to the issue of sargassum – which has potential as a valuable resource. Experiments are underway to explore its use as biorefinery feedstock, extract biogas, biofertilizer, alginate and fine chemicals.

Chilean technologies

A robot that inspects hard-to-reach tunnels and an air bubble blanket to filter pollution were featured in this month’s tech showcase that highlighted Chile’s solutions.

Diego Olivares Meneses, Head of Innovation at Aguas Andinas (AA), Chile’s largest utility, explained how the utility is dealing with increasing pressure on its water supply due to low rainfall, and how it uses technology to become more water efficient with its existing resources.

One scheme is to use remote-controlled tunnel inspection robots to perform diagnostic tests in hard-to-reach pipelines without the need to interrupt supply. Knowing the real state of the assets allows the development of maintenance and repair schedules for operational and financial optimization. The utility is currently developing more aerodynamic robots to increase its ability to detect and fix problems and improve water management on its network.

PSP is a Chilean technology company in the aquaculture sector and its director, Luis Sepulveda, explained how the company uses an air bubble barrier technology known as LowO2 to combat pollution in tanks. A specially designed channeling diffuser allows for the even generation of millions of micro-bubbles, creating a “wall” that blocks the passage of unwanted elements such as microalgae, algae, oil and litter.

According to Sepulveda, the continued use of these barriers can have a significant positive impact on ecosystems by minimizing pipe fouling and backwashing, as well as the release of organic matter into the environment.

big leap forward

The Water Action Platform was launched in March 2020 to support the utility response to the global pandemic. Times are changing and the focus is now on the even greater challenge of the climate crisis.

Piers Clark said: “Next month I will be sharing details of a new initiative called the Test Tank – which I believe is the most exciting thing to happen in the water industry since a generation and has the potential to be a significant leap forward in our approach. to the climate crisis.

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