Dairy Industry Water Efficiency

Enhancing Water Efficiency in the Dairy Industry

South African dairy industry survey uncovers improvements in water efficiency; room to improve wastewater management.

South Africa’s dairy industry water standards were set in the 1980s following a series of national surveys (NATSURVs). The South African Water Research Commission (WRC) published dairy-focused NATSURV 4 in 1989. While NATSURV 4 has been a useful resource since its original publication, the industry has changed considerably in this time.

Isle worked with the WRC to survey water use and wastewater generation in the dairy industry, and to assess energy use. We provided best practice recommendations for the industry’s water and energy transition towards a lower carbon future, benchmarked against international data. This project culminated in the publication of NATSURV 4 (2nd Ed), which sets out the latest national survey’s results.

Despite challenges in securing comprehensive industry engagement, we identified improvements in water efficiency in the industry since 1989. Milk production has tripled, alongside a reduction in Specific Water Intake (SWI) across a range of products. The industry’s greatest future potential lies in enhancing wastewater management. Finally, governmental incentives could improve better water, wastewater, energy reuse and recycling practices.

Benefits of Approach/Innovation

Actively engages the sector: Enhances awareness on optimal water and wastewater investment.

Empowers industry: Helps the industry benchmark their performance nationally and globally.

Empowers government: Supports decision making with data for policy updates and enforcement.

Provides industry guidelines: Sets realistic and aspirational water consumption and best practice targets for the industry.

Provides wastewater treatment options: Highlights successful wastewater treatment, reuse, recycling and discharge options.

Develops human capital: Fosters human capital development through upskilling in water management and sustainable practices.

Specialist Services Involved:

Industry Review: Established size, nature and status of water management of dairy sectors locally and internationally. Industry mapped and quantified, including water usage and SWI and SWV metrics for different products.

Production Process Review: Documented dairy processing methods, identifying the most water-intensive ones and calculating SWIs.

Water Stewardship Assessment: Explored current and future stewardship, investments, and initiatives.

Industry Survey and Audit: Used questionnaires and site visits to verify and expand the data collected remotely.

Best Practice Case Study Collection: Documented local and international examples of water conservation and wastewater treatment technologies to inform best practices.

Policy Recommendations: Identified best practice to recommend technology adoption targets to regulators.


Critical evaluation: Evaluated “generic” production processes for alignment with current, best and cleaner production practices.

Target setting: Assessed and recommended targets for water consumption and specific water consumption (including local and global indicators and diurnal trends) for use, reuse, recycling and technology adoption.

Wastewater insights: Provided reliable wastewater generation figures, pollutant loads (with diurnal trends) and recommended best practice technology adoption.

Pricing analysis: Analyzed local electricity, water and effluent pricing and by-laws to ensure they support water conservation, demand management and environmental goals.

Progress review: Reviewed industry’s progress towards adopting cleaner production, water pinch, energy pinch, life cycle assessments, wastewater treatment and reuse. Also identified best available technology and ISO 14000 and water stewardship frameworks.

Policy guidance: Offered policy recommendations on best practice for the industry.

Key Contacts:

For enquiries and further information, please contact Dr Jo Burgess, Head of Trial Reservoir at Isle Utilities.


Service Spotlight
Our team evaluated how water use, wastewater and energy use in the South African dairy industry has changed since 1989. The results of our work will be used to underpin future policy.
Empowered South Africa’s dairy industry to benchmark their performance locally and globally
Our work identified opportunities for the dairy industry to improve its approach to water transition
Our project offered policy recommendations on best practice and opportunities for governmental incentives
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