IF TREATED, YOU CAN DRINK IT
Just as before the Fundao dam collapse, the water from the affected rivers can be drunk safely after treatment. This means it needs to go through procedures before coming out as tap water at the consumer’s end. In general, this occurs in a Water Treatment Plant (WTP).
In the WTP, the impurities are sedimented in tanks (which makes the water more transparent). Subsequently, microorganisms causing diseases are eliminated and some chemical characteristics of the water are normalized. The goal is to remove any contamination that may cause health problems. In fact, no water – from rivers, wells, or ponds – can be distributed for human consumption without undergoing treatment.
Water safety in impacted municipalities is one of the main concerns of the Renova Foundation. For this reason, improvements were made in water treatment plants (WTPs) along the impacted stretch and professionals were trained to work with the new equipment.
Another work front operates to reduce the risk of water shortage in the 24 municipalities that withdraw water from the Doce river. Alternative water withdrawal reduces the risk of shortages as it seeks other water resources, supplementing the Doce river supply.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WATER TREATMENT
The Renova Foundation has invested in the improvement of 13 Water Treatment Plants and has delivered 6 water pipelines. Although it has a work schedule in place for water care until 2021, the responsibility for the quality remains with the entities that operated the supply systems before the Fundao dam collapse.
It is up to the Ministry of Health to regulate potability standards, methods of control and surveillance of water quality for human consumption. All of this is defined in Consolidation Ordinance No. 5, dated September 28, 2017, Addendum XX.
Another law – Basic Sanitation (nº 11,445, of 2007) – establishes that municipalities must provide water supply services to the population. In practice, this task can be carried out directly by municipal governments or delegated to sanitation agencies and concessionaires of sanitation services.
In rural areas of the Doce River Basin there is no distribution of treated water due to the long distances to be covered from the WTPs. In urban areas, there are concessionaires (mainly Copasa in Minas Gerais and Sanear in Espirito Santo) and SAAEs (Autonomous Water and Sewage Service), which are tied to municipal governments.
Below, check the operators responsible for treating water in the municipalities affected by the Fundao dam collapse. In doubt, the consumer should reach out to their town hall for more information.
|1. Mariana (Central Area)||SAAE|
|Mariana (some districts)||SAAE or Municipal Government|
|2. Barra Longa (Central Area)||Copasa|
|Barra Longa (Gesteira)||Municipal Government|
|3. Rio Doce||Municipal Government|
|4. Santa Cruz do Escalvado||Municipal Government|
|5. Sem-Peixe||Municipal Government|
|6. Rio Casca||Copasa|
|7. São José do Goiabal||Municipal Government|
|8. São Pedro dos Ferros||Municipal Government|
|9. Raul Soares||SAAE|
|10. Dionísio||Municipal Government|
|11. Córrego Novo||Municipal Government|
|12. Bom Jesus do Galho||Municipal Government|
|13. Pingo D’Água||Municipal Government|
|14. São Domingos do Prata||Municipal Government|
|15. Marliéria||Municipal Government|
|18. Ipaba||Municipal Government|
|19. Santana do Paraíso||Copasa|
|20. Belo Oriente||SAAE|
|21. Naque||Municipal Government|
|22. Iapu||Municipal Government|
|23. Bugre||Municipal Government|
|26. Governador Valadares||SAAE|
|27. Sobrália||Municipal Government|
|28. Fernandes Tourinho||Copasa|
|32. Conselheiro Pena||SAAE|
|36. Baixo Guandu||SAAE|
WATER WITHDRAWAL ALTERNATIVES
Regarding the direct water withdrawal from the Doce River, the Renova Foundation is committed to reducing the dependence of the 24 municipalities affected at the time of the Fundao dam collapse and whose public water supply was compromised.
One of the solutions is to resort to alternative water sources, pipelines and treatment of water to be supplied to each district. Alternative water withdrawal reduces the risk of shortages as it seeks other water resources, reducing the dependence of the Doce River. The goal established by environmental and water management agencies is to enable 30% of alternative sources for municipalities with a population of up to 100,000 and 50% for larger cities.
The Surface Water and Groundwater Source Capacity Study – also called the Water Security Study – was completed in 2017 to guide the selection of sources to build alternative water withdrawal systems. The results of the study were discussed with municipalities (and, eventually, water utility companies), the Technical Board of Water Security and Quality and the Interfederative Committee (CIF).
The analysis did not only take into account the current water volume of the rivers indicated as alternative sources, but also factors such as the local relief characteristics (and, consequently, the higher or lower costs for channeling the water) and integration with programs for the recovery of the springs and surrounding forests and river banks.
Up to August 2018, 10 alternative water withdrawal systems were delivered, among them drilled or recovered wells, and withdrawal from surface water bodies. They are:
Wells: in Gesteira (district of Barra Longa), Cachoeira Escura (district of Belo Oriente), Pedra Corrida (district of Periquito), Sao Vitor (district of Governador Valadares), Galileia, Sao Tome do Rio Doce (district of Tumiritinga), Itueta and Colatina.
Surface water sources: one withdrawal point in Linhares, two in Colatina and one in Governador Valadares (Recanto dos Sonhos district).
One of the main works in progress is that of the pipeline at the Corrente Grande River, which will carry out the alternative water withdrawal for the municipality of Governador Valadares, on the border of the municipality with Periquito (MG). With an extension of 35 km, the pipeline will take water from the river to the Central, Vila Isa and Santa Rita WTPs.
The works began in July 2018 and the first shipment of pipes to be used was delivered in November 2018. The maintenance and operation of the pipeline will be carried out by the city of Governador Valadares, through the Autonomous Water Sanitation Service (SAAE). See what was done in this first phase.
WHAT CONTAMINANTS DOES THIS INVOLVE?
High levels of metals were found in the Doce River water in measurements taken shortly after the dam collapse. Many of these alterations were related to substances accumulated along the rivers where the mud wave passed – it dragged waste from the banks and stirred up the bottom of the rivers.
The Fundao stored non-toxic waste, containing essentially soil elements (rich in iron, manganese and aluminum), silica (sand) and water.
Manual placer mining, chemical products used in agriculture, industrial waste and untreated domestic sewage dumped in watercourses explain the large volume of contaminants accumulated over decades and even centuries of economic exploitation of the Doce River Basin. When the wave of tailings passed it stirred it all up.
Lead and chromium for example are typical byproducts of industrial processes, such as the steel industry, common in the region. Mercury is widely used in artisanal and illegal mining, while cadmium is a constant presence in industrial waste and agricultural fertilizers. The arsenic identified in samples, especially in the coastal zone, is related to the rocks of the coastal region of Espirito Santo.
Currently, the contamination that most compromises the water quality of the Doce River Basin does not come from the tailings, is not due to soil metals or industrial effluents or residues of chemicals used in agriculture. It is caused by the dumping of domestic sewage directly into the rivers.
According to the Doce River Basin Committee (CBHDoce), 80% of all sewage generated by the municipalities affected by the Fundao collapse does not go through any treatment process and is dumped directly into the river. This explains the high concentration of fecal coliforms (bacteria present in large quantities in the intestine of humans and animals) in the water of the Doce River, even before the dam collapse.
EVALUATION OF MEASUREMENTS
To understand the quality of the river water at the time of the Fundao dam collapse, it is essential to consider the studies of Igam (Institute for Water Management of Minas Gerais), entity that has been monitoring the Doce River since 1997. According to the agency, since the first half of 2016, the levels of metals in watercourses have remained normal, values similar to those found before the Fundao collapse.
When comparing the two periods evaluated – from November 2015 to November 2016 and from November 2016 to August 2017 -, most parameters showed a significant reduction. The parameters turbidity, suspended solids, iron, manganese and aluminum a few times presented amounts above the legal limit and historical averages.
The first six months of analysis showed that the parameters vary according to the time of year, concentrating more in the rainy season, mainly in the month of December. Among the metals and metalloids analyzed, total mercury and total cadmium were not quantified in any of the three evaluated rivers, nor was dissolved copper in the Gualaxo do Norte River.
The presence of tailings on the banks and in river channels contributed to the recorded turbidity and suspended material.
UNIQUE MONITORING SYSTEM
The Doce River has an extensive monitoring history. Since 1997, it has been included in the Aguas de Minas program, which monitors the water quality of the main hydrographic basins of the state of Minas Gerais, under the responsibility of the Institute for Water Management of Minas Gerais (Igam). And because Igam has been monitoring the Doce River for 20 years, it was possible to compare with consistency the results from before the dam collapse with current results.
After the Fundao dam collapse, the frequency of sample collection and analysis was intensified and added to an emergency measurement program, implemented by the mining company responsible for the dam, at the request of environmental agencies.
Subsequently, an extensive and detailed monitoring program was implemented for the impacted watercourses – including the mouth of the Doce and the coastal zone – as one of the main commitments signed with federal authorities and the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo.
The Quali-Quantitative Systematic Water and Sediments Monitoring Program (PMQQS) was born, led by Renova, under the guidance and supervision of the Technical Board of Water Safety and Quality – an entity composed of representatives of the National Water Agency, the Doce River Basin Committee, Ibama, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the Ministry of Health and other environmental, administrative and water management bodies linked to federal, state and municipal governments.
In all, there are 92 monitoring points, distributed along the Doce River and its Gualaxo do Norte and Carmo tributaries, which were also directly impacted by the tailings of the Fundao dam.
Of these, 56 points collect samples monthly for laboratorial analyses to monitor the water and sediment along the Doce River and another 36 points in the coastal zone. At 22 of the 92 points there are also automatic monitoring stations (which generate hourly data in real time).
Some 80 indicators are evaluated, such as turbidity, flow, presence of metals, contamination by bacteria, pesticides, etc. The information is stored in a database, accessed by public agencies that regulate and supervise Brazilian waters (Igam, National Water Agency, Ibama, ICMBio and State Water Resources Agency of Espirito Santo).
In addition, there is a water quality and water level warning system, both for droughts and floods. That is why, today, it is possible to affirm that the Doce River is one of the most examined rivers in the world and is certainly the most monitored in Brazil.
SEWAGE AND SOLID WASTE TREATMENT
A fundamental action for the revitalization of the Doce River is the compensatory measure that provides for the allocation of R$ 500 million by the Renova Foundation to the municipalities impacted by the tailings for projects that improve the collection and treatment of sewage and adequate disposal of solid waste. This cross-cutting approach will help in the recovery of the river.
The preservation of tributaries and investments in sewage treatment can lead the Doce River to a level of depollution that has not been seen for many years. Reducing illegal sewage disposal contributes to better oxygenation of the water and less contamination, restoring the health of the river and, as a consequence, of the entire surrounding ecosystem. According to the Doce River Basin Committee (CBHDoce), 80% of all sewage generated by the municipalities affected by the Fundao collapse does not go through any treatment process and is dumped directly into the river.
In March 2018, municipal governments completed the qualification of the projects with the development banks of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo (BDMG and Bandes, respectively), responsible for monitoring the application of funds. The definition of the amount that will be allocated to each municipality took into account the number of inhabitants, the amount of the transfer of the Municipal Participation Fund, the level of impact suffered in the water supply systems of the districts and the percentage of treated sewage.
Renova’s activities go beyond financial transfers: the municipalities will receive training and technical support to ensure the consistency of the sanitation projects and their appropriate implementation. Up to end 2018, workshops were held on environmental licensing, authorization for businesses, elaboration of terms of reference and projects for the implementation of sanitary sewage and landfill systems.
The technical support team carried out visits to municipalities with the objective of providing technical and institutional support in the development of plans, projects and works. Watch how resources will be transferred for sewage treatment works.
BATHING, SPORTS, IRRIGATION
The index of fecal coliforms – bacteria found in large quantities in domestic sewage – is one of the indicators that define what the river waters can be used for, including the practice of sports. In several respects, the water of the Doce River has characteristics similar to those observed before the Fundao dam collapse, as shown by the periodic reports issued by the Institute for Water Management of Minas Gerais (Igam).
However, fecal coliform levels have been high for many years, due to the large volume of untreated domestic sewage released in the waters. Therefore, it is not advisable to bathe, swim or dive in the Doce River, as these activities can lead to accidental water intake. In sports like kayaking and sailing this risk is lower.
Furthermore, irrigation and consumption by animals also involve risks, since it is known that the waters of the Doce River have not only high fecal coliform indexes, but also other quality parameters that are sometimes outside the limits of legislation, such as turbidity and presence of metals.
FISH AND FISHING
Images of the mass die-offs of fish in the rivers affected by the tailings originating from the Fundao are among those that have impacted, in particular, the residents and fishermen of the region. But this is also one of the consequences of the collapse that needs to be understood properly.
Contrary to what many people belief, the fish did not die from poisoning or intoxication. At the time of its journey, the mud wave turned the water very thick and left it almost without oxygen. So, what happened was that many fish died of suffocation.
At this time, fishing of exotic species is permitted throughout the state of Minas Gerais. Capturing native species is prohibited in the stretch of the Doce River in MG and in some natural lagoons in that state as a way to ensure the repopulation of native species. The measure was imposed by the State Forestry Institute (IEF). In Espirito Santo, an action by the Federal Prosecution Service prohibits fishing in the coastal area of the mouth of the Doce River, up to 20 meters deep, between Barra do Riacho (Aracruz) and Degredo/Ipiranguinha (Linhares).
The release of the activity depends on the evaluation of agencies attached to the Ministry of Environment, National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) and regulators at state level.
The Renova Foundation is working hard to restore the socioeconomic and environmental conditions of aquaculture and fisheries activities. The action fronts are: to overcome fishing restrictions; support to recover the fish sanitary quality; stimulation of fish consumption; productive structures and income alternatives.
The results of the studies and monitoring of biodiversity carried out in partnership between the Renova Foundation and specialized institutions should answer, among other questions, whether the fish is fit for human consumption. There are also plans to build a database to monitor and control the fish stocks in the Doce River.
After overcoming fishing restrictions in the catchment area, one of the main challenges will be to restore market and consumer confidence. The Renova Foundation is working to get certification of the quality of the fish in place.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MANAGING THE TAILINGS
On its way from the Fundao to the Espirito Santo coast, the mud took over the banks, plains and channels of the rivers and streams in different ways, much depending on the relief of each region. Both on the riverbanks and riverbeds, there was accumulation of tailings that remains unstable. When the flow of the water gets stronger, whether by human actions or rainfall, it is soon apparent that the turbidity increases in that place – that is, the water becomes muddier, more turbid.
The impacts on the water quality must be neutralized with the execution of the so-called Tailings Management Plan. It establishes a set of actions – approved by the environmental agencies in June 2017 – that started to be implemented along the complete reach of the rivers that were hit in November of that same year.
The Plan includes means of removing, stabilizing or locally treating tailings mud spread over more than 670 km of watercourses, divided into 17 stretches, according to the particularities of each territory, including the coastal zone. This means that for each stretch there will be a specific solution, studied, approved and accompanied by environmental agencies.
FOREST IS WATER
The collapse of the Fundao dam added up to a deteriorating scenario in the Doce River basin, and particularly the river that gives it its name. Since the times of colonial Brazil, the region has gone through different economic cycles. The legacy left by activities such as (placer) mining, livestock, steel industry and other industries, already showed signs of a steady process of desertification in the region.
For this reason, the programs being implemented by the Renova Foundation are based on concepts such as integrated management of natural resources and strategic territorial planning. In practice, this means that they interconnect and complement each other, as well as encompassing the region as a whole.
Do not fear water, this integration is very evident. The springs resurgence is necessary to strengthen the health of the rivers, which will not happen without the reforestation of the areas around them, the increase of riparian forests and areas protecting river banks and plains. After all, the forest is water.
The recovery of five thousand springs in the affected region is already taking place, respecting stages and following parameters of the Technical Board for Forest Restoration and Water Recovery (CT FLOR). They should be in place and monitored until 2027, promoting the consequent increase of water infiltration into the soil.
In the so-called flood plains (vicinity of the riverbanks to the farthest reaches of the river during floods), the drainage paths have been redone and the vegetation has been restored. This is a preparatory stage for the restoration of the riparian forest – which protects the integrity of rivers like eyelashes protect the eyes – by planting native tree species.
To complete, 40,000 degraded hectares in the Permanent Protection Areas (APP) will undergo forest restoration. PPAs are areas foreseen by law with the environmental function of preserving water resources, landscape, geological stability and biodiversity, facilitating the genetic flow of fauna and flora, protecting the soil and ensuring the well-being of human populations.
At the same time, initiatives involving local land owners and small producers disseminate concepts and practices related to agroforestry systems, which exploit the synergies between production and environmental preservation.