This summer I was working on a potable water treatment internship offered by the university. I wanted to see how its being treated in Armenia, a former soviet country which prides itself for having plenty of clean water resources and yet a significant population has no access to round the clock water supply.
I contacted Veolia, a transnational company that has won the water and wastewater services affermage contract covering the whole of Armenia for a period of 15 years. They responded within a couple of weeks agreeing for me to visit any of the water treatment plants across the country for a few days and to shadow the staff on duty.
I chose to visit the town Dilijan, in the north of Armenia, a popular spa resort and simultaneously, known for its sandy tap water that locals have been complaining about for decades.
I was kindly driven up the picturesque mountains where the 3 rivers that feed the town enter the pipework and could immediately notice the crumbling infrastructure.
Ride up the mountains of Dilijan
The primary water collecting basin walls were tumbling down and the pipework, which had been set in place in Soviet times, had shown heavy signs of wear. I was told that several years ago there were forest keepers that would look after the place and safeguard the river from loiters but had since been made redundant as part of cuts.
Veolia seems to be on track to slowly renovate the dilapidating basins. At the time of my visit there was already work undertaken to clean one of the reservoirs that had several years of sand accumulated in it: 15 meters of it.
During my visit I learned that, throughout the country, the water is relatively clean and requires minimum treatment. The only chemical added as part of the cleaning process was Aluminum Sulphate, a coagulant, followed by sand filtration and chlorination in order to disinfect the water. The chemicals were added using state of the art dosing machines.
It turned out that due to the open source nature of the water, it is highly affected by the weather. Rain and the melting of the snow highly increases the flow of sandy water which the system cannot cope with, forcing the supply to town to be shut off for hours at a time.
Visiting the wastewater treatment plant, I found out that only mechanical treatment takes place. The dirty water is dumped into Hrazdan, the second largest river in Armenia. This is a huge environmental issue that I hope will be addressed within the next decade.
The mechanical cleaning facility
Overall, this was an eye opening experience that made me realise how much work is yet to be done to ensure global drinking water standards are followed and the environment is taken into account.