Infrastructure Works on Water Treatment Stations (WTS), alternative water collection system construction and spring recovery are changing the relationship between the communities and the Doce River.
Three days after the Fundao dam failure on November 5th, 2015, the Governador Valadares region, around 330 kilometers from Mariana (MG), in the eastern part of the state, experienced the impact of the tailings’ arrival: the system of the city’s water supply was seven days unable to capture water from the Doce River, which only happened again on November 15th. More than 260,000 people were ran out of water, and the reservoirs of the Autonomous Water and Sewerage Service (SAAE), the municipal authority that manages water treatment services, emptied.
“I remember that the army had to intervene during the distribution of mineral water in the city center,” says Willy Alves, a resident of the Turmalina neighborhood, who suffered from a water outage at the time.
The water catchment in the Doce River was not resumed until November 15th, after the Minas Gerais government and the Governador Valadares City Hall presented a report attesting to the possibility of returning the service. The SAAE performed several tests before releasing the catchment, and the results showed that there were no heavy metals in the river, as the municipality reported in a statement: “The distributed water will be within the strictest quality standards for consumption.”
For the treatment of water, a coagulant substance called “black wattle polymer” was applied, which accelerates the settling process, which allowed the separation of the residues present in the water. This polymer was applied frequently in the months following the rupture.
The interruption of the catchment and the shortage caused by the passage of the tailings drew attention to the structures, some precarious, of the Water Treatment Stations (WTS) of the main municipalities of the Governador Valadares region. Water security studies indicated the sources that could be used for alternative catchment in the affected cities and added to the diagnosis of WTS. With these reports, it was possible to identify the needs of each region.
The Renova Foundation has promoted, so far, improvements in 13 WTSs in Minas Gerais. Some stations had to be completely rebuilt, such as the Perpetuo Socorro district, also known as Cachoeira Escura (Dark Waterfall), in Belo Oriente. In Valadares, all five treatment plants have undergone repairs that guarantee water quality after treatment.
“These are crucial, necessary infrastructure works that will be the legacy of the repair of the Doce River basin,” says Yone Melo de Figueiredo Fonseca, leader of the Renova Foundation’s Water Supply Systems Improvement Program.
The map of WTS in Minas Gerais
WTS Senhora da Penha
Fernandes Tourinho (MG)
WTS São Tomé do Rio Doce
WTS Pedra Corrida
WTS Cachoeira Escura
Belo Oriente (MG)
WTS Santa Rita
Governador Valadares (MG)
WTS Vila Isa
Governador Valadares (MG)
Governador Valadares (MG)
WTS Recanto dos Sonhos
Governador Valadares (MG)
WTS São Vitor
Governador Valadares (MG)
In Governador Valadares, a new WTS will be built in the Santa Rita neighborhood. Some stages of the construction incorporate engineering challenges. Installation of the new unit cannot interrupt the operation of the old unit or affect the water supply to the region. “The equipment and parts of the new Santa Rita WTS unit have already been purchased and are stored at Vila Isa station. We have some stages to be completed before the works, which begin this second semester and are expected to end in March 2021,” says Alessandro Jerônimo, Renova Foundation’s Infrastructure Leader.
Vila Isa and Central WTSs will be completely renovated. Larger infrastructure works are currently being done to modernize these facilities. Interventions at Recanto dos Sonhos and São Vitor stations are in the final stages.
Jerônimo follows the infrastructure works that take place in the Governador Valadares WTSs. “Since 2016, we are working to modernize, adapt and improve the facilities of existing treatment plants in the municipality,” he says.
Infrastructure leader explains catchment works (IN PORTUGUESE)
The breach of the Fundão dam brought back an old problem of the cities of the Doce River basin: finding alternative sources of water supply. In Governador Valadares, the works of an alternative water collection system, budgeted at R$ 155 million, are in full swing.
“We knew that the pipeline was always a necessity in the city, because the Doce River was already very polluted and degraded even before the tailings passed. We had this dream of being able to capture water in a river other than Doce. Only in this way, we would be assured of quality water and not having to suffer again what we suffered in 2015,” says Professor Cleuza Maria da Silva.
Investment in Governador Valadares water pipeline is around R$ 155 million
The Governador Valadares alternative water collection system will be 35 kilometers long and will allow water to be collected in the Corrente Grande River, between Periquito and Governador Valadares, going to the point of interconnection with the city’s WTSs, in the Santa Rita, Vila Isa and Centro neighborhoods. The intervention is scheduled for completion by December 2020 and delivery to SAAE after testing and assisted operation, which will be in March 2021.
X-ray of GV water pipeline
The Valadares water pipeline will be 35 km long
- 13 km of buried pipelines
- 22 km of above-ground pipelines
- 28 km of pipelines along the railroad
Population served: 240 thousand people
Total flow: 900 liters/second
Current situation (July/19 data):
- Almost 3.5 km of pipes have been installed
- About 25 km of pipes are stored in the city’s 3 public works yards
The project is on schedule. By July, when the infrastructure works was one year old, more than three kilometers of pipes had already been installed. “About 25 kilometers of pipes are stored in the three courtyards that were assembled in the city. This equates to 81% of the pipes required for the project. In addition to the work fronts already started – those near the airport are in the process of being finalized – another two also began in July, in the Baguari district and on BR-381, near the municipality of Periquito, where there is a non-destructive crossing (when a drilling work occurs without damage to the environment or the highway routine)”, explains the Renova Foundation’s Infrastructure Manager, Rodrigo Jurdi.
These interventions should generate up to 550 direct and indirect jobs at peak works. Today more than 100 people are already working on these fronts.
Other actions, such as the construction of alternative catchment and adduction systems and sanitation works in 39 municipalities, which will receive R $ 500 million from the Renova Foundation to develop sewage collection and treatment projects, are also changing the reality in this region.
Recovery of water springs
Springs have a fundamental environmental role in the recovery of a river and even a watershed. If they are preserved, there is a good chance of restoring degraded areas, not only by rescuing terrestrial and aquatic biota, but also by ensuring the quality of water captured for supply and consumption.
The Spring Recovery Program, which is in its third year, aims to recover about 5,000 springs in ten years, as well as an area of 40,000 hectares around these water eyes by planting seedlings and natural regeneration. Water infiltration and drainage improve the health of water in the river, and planting, by providing soil with sufficient conditions to retain rainwater, protects springs and favors forest regeneration.
In the first year of the program, 511 springs were fenced in partnership with Terra Institute, and 306,000 seedlings began to be planted. According to Renova Foundation Socio-Environmental Programs leader Lucas Scarascia, the initiative has an even greater effect when promoting the engagement of all parties in the process.
“It is critical for landowners to understand how important the program is and how spring recovery is essential to their properties. If the spring recovery activities are accompanied by an educational process and technical assistance, these actions can be enhanced in the territory, with the active participation of the rural producer and with the support of agricultural, environmental and forestry technicians,” says Scarascia.
In Itambacuri, in the Mucuri Valley, 110 kilometers from Governador Valadares, José Simplício’s property was recovered and preserved by the Renova Foundation. The orientation work done by the Renova Foundation was instrumental for farmers in the region to engage in the recovery of the Doce River.
Simplicio remembers the strangeness he felt when he was informed that he could count on Renova’s support to recover his source. “At that time, I did not understand why nor did I know that the spring water here, from my land, could reach the Doce River. Only later they explained to me that the water from this spring goes to the Pokim stream, which in turn flows into the Itambacuri River, a tributary of the Doce River,” he says.
“At that time, I didn’t even know that the spring water here, from my land, could reach the Doce River. Only later, they explained to me that the water goes to the Pokim stream and flows into the Itambacuri River, a tributary of the Doce River.”
José Simplício, rural owner
Scarascia mentions some measures that can contribute to the preservation of springs, such as that of owner José Simplício: “Conserving the soil, making controlled use of pesticides and fencing the springs, promoting the enrichment of vegetation, among other actions. All soil conservation techniques, as well as helping to prevent problems such as erosion and soil fertility loss, help to maintain water supply at the springs. ”
Annually, river basin committees and city halls indicate properties with water eyes to be protected. Scarascia cites the importance of the Rio Doce River Basin Committee (CBH-Doce) and the Technical Chamber of Forest Restoration and Water Production (CT-Flor) in the construction of the program. “Their support is critical in mapping priority areas for environmental restoration, developing and implementing forest restoration actions in the Doce River basin,” says Scarascia.
In the first stage of work, Renova Foundation teams make a diagnosis of the general situation and provide fencing to protect the springs. Then, they are serviced to ensure preservation and are being monitored. The year 2018 closed with 1,050 springs in any of these stages.
Location: Minas Gerais: Itambacuri, Campanário, Jampruca, Frei Inocêncio, Coimbra, Governador Valadares, Periquito, Galileia, Ponte Nova, Resplendor, Guanhães, Sabinópolis and Virginópolis.
Espírito Santo: Colatina, Governador Lindenberg, Pancas, Marilândia, São Roque do Canãa, Linhares and Rio Bananal.
The Renova Foundation has invested in environmental education for communities living in municipalities impacted by the breach of the Fundão dam. This work is carried out in municipal and state schools. The goal is to get the new generation to help think about the future of the Doce River. At the same time, students learn about actions taken by Renova, such as monitoring the water quality of the Doce River, for example.
Reforestation workshops have already been promoted in Bugre (MG), in the Doce River Valley, with the participation of 230 students. Another environmental education activity, focusing on water and monitoring the Doce River, mobilized 330 students from the Ipaba do Paraíso community in Santana do Paraíso (MG). In addition to these actions, young people participated in the planting of native species seedlings in Galileia (MG) and Tumiritinga (MG). Activities are also planned for schools in the municipalities of Sobrália (MG) and Fernandes Tourinho (MG).
José Armando de Figueiredo Campos is Chairman of the Board of Terra Institute (IN PORTUGUESE)