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Sarah-Jane Bradfield and Zamuxolo Matiwana journey to find out about current water situation in Grahamstown

Date Released: Mon, 8 December 2014 14:00 +0200

When Mr Peter Ellis of MBB Consulting Engineers invited Matiwana and Bradfield for a brief tour of Grahamstown’s bulk water supplies, in order to see for ourselves and understand what has happened since the water crisis in 2013, we grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

On the chilly morning of 10 October, keeping a watchful eye on the heavy clouds rolling in over the hills, we climbed into Mr Ellis’ white bakkie and criss-crossed the City on dusty dirt roads in search of evidence for a better future.

After winding our way out of town towards Port Elizabeth we took a brief detour on a short bumpy road that led us to the Waainek Water Treatment Works, where we witnessed the first of many interventions that have been undertaken since 2013 to improve the City’s ailing water infrastructure. Our first piece of evidence – a rusted decaying valve that has been replaced close to the main gate. Ellis heads a team tasked with overseeing the water reticulation system throughout the City, managing water leaks, pressure, and overseeing the repairs of leaks of broken pipes.

The huge water losses which result from excessive leakages across the city’s aged infrastructure are thought to account for as much as 30% of the water losses, and we believe all residents of Grahamstown/Makana will benefit from every resident taking responsibility and reporting leaks to the Municipality. Ellis’ team is doing a sterling job that will only be bolstered by residents joining in the fun, a strategy that will go a long way to saving money that is spent on chemicals to treat our waste that travels from Waainek Water Treatment Works to our households.  

Testament to the gargantuan efforts displayed by the many individuals involved in the upgrading and restructuring of the City’s infrastructure, Makana Municipality employees Mr Andile Heleni and Mr Themba Hewana were hard at work in the Waainek control room recording their activities so their colleagues taking over from them at the end of their shift are up to speed.

The set-up runs on a 24 hr rotation system with four shifts per day (from 06:00 to 14:00, and 20:00 to 06:00), guaranteeing that there are always people on duty should disaster strike. Even if it doesn’t, it’s a full time job.

Mr Heleni took us for a brief tour at Waainek and his responsibilities include monitoring the water levels of the dams, treating water and monitoring the levels of E.Coli. He also told us about the importance of keeping the dam water level high.

We didn’t envy their tasks – a commitment to ensuring the availability of water is required for this work and we appreciate their efforts to ensure that we have access to water.

Mr Ellis explained the purpose of the two big-screen sized computers which line the front walls – to modernise the water monitoring system. Whereas in the past there was no way of knowing the levels of any of the City’s dams without physically performing a water level test, the highly automated communications process of the telemetry system allows measurements to be made and data collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring. This has been a game-changer.

The system allows an automated reading of flow rate, litres per second and volume.

From the control room we jump back in the bakkie, our clothes and faces slightly damp from the sheets of rain now settling into the hills, and traverse up the hill to encounter further evidence of the work being done to ensure sustained access to water. Parking in the shrubbery on Waainek hill overlooking Rhodes University and the rest of the City, Ellis tells us how fortunate Grahamstonians are to be receiving this upgrade, a perk not afforded to many other places in South Africa despite having the ailing infrastructure in common.

Looking out over the new residences we see the rusted, decaying infrastructure dotted around Waainek hill like forgotten treasure has been excavated and replaced with brand new equipment, which should set most Grahamstown residents’ minds at ease about the future of their water. Given the lack of infrastructural maps contractors have had to dig up areas on Waainek hill to locate pipes needing replacement, all of which has been documented for future ease.

The installation of a new power line to provide a back-up alternative supply is underway to our right, and new reservoirs have been built on Rhodes upper campus to assist with capacity. We also witness how our water moves – after being pumped in from Settlers dam, water moves to Howison’s Poort and then to Waainek, where it is treated and kept in various reservoirs and intermediate holding reservoirs before moving to the new reservoir situated on Rhodes University’s upper campus, feeding the lower industrial area and linking up to Bothas Hill reservoirs.

While the city’s water woes continue to attract widespread attention after extended outages and compromised water quality, we have witnessed a dedicated team of blue collar workers, experts and engineers whose efforts aimed at restructuring and upgrading the City’s ailing infrastructure will surely increase access to water for decades to come.

The decades of corrosion and degradation of metal pipelines, valves, and fixtures, caused by oxidation or chemical action and lack of maintenance, have come to an end, and a guided tour of Grahamstown’s bulk water supply is testament to a better future.

We would like to thank much Mr Ellis sincerely for the eye-opening tour. We look forward to the next installment which will see us completing the journey, with visits to Howisons Poort Dam and Glen Melville Dam.

Photo: Mr Peter Ellis of MBB Consulting Engineers

Source:Communications and Marketing