Chairperson of the Grahamstown Residents Association Philip Machanick explains how to be a water-responsible citizen of water-stressed Makhanda.
Even if you live in an area where the water usually does not shut off, you need to save water. If you know people who do not, make sure they understand.
There are three key things you need to understand about how our water system works: where water comes from, how it is cleaned and how you get the right pressure at your tap. I will explain these, then explain why we have a crisis and what we all need to do.
Where the water comes from
On the west side (university, businesses), water is mainly from Settlers Dam. There are others but they are too small to matter. On the east side, water is from the Orange-Fish scheme. This water is not in short supply.
How it is cleaned
On the west, water is purified at the Waainek Water Works. It goes through various stages including filters and adding chemicals to make it safe to drink. Waainek can process 8 megalitres per day (8ML/day). On the east side, the plant is called James Kleynhans, which can process 10ML/day.
How you get the right pressure
When water is in a closed space like a pipe, for every 10 metres it drops, pressure goes up by 1 bar (100 kilopascals). If the height of water above you is less than 20m, pressure will be low and bad when a lot of people open taps. If it is more than 40m, pressure is high and can burst your plumbing.
The height between the lowest and highest point of our city is over 100m so we need reservoirs at different levels feeding your pipes so the pressure is not too high or too low.
When water is not going into the system fast enough, the high levels drain first. That is why some areas are hit much harder when there is a problem. And that is why those who are getting good water supply need to be good citizens and use less.
We have two problems – Settlers is running dry because of the drought and James Kleynhans is not working at full capacity and is not big enough to replace Waainek completely. Refurbishment to James Kleynhans will be complete in March so it can reliably deliver 10ML/day.
Right now things may look better, but it is important to understand that we still need to save water because things will get worse very soon if we do not.
When Settlers runs dry, the whole city will depend on James Kleynhans. There is a connection between east and west but that connection does not go to the highest level on the west.
This connection is being upgraded to reach the highest level but that will only be completed in March. In practical terms, what this means is that the highest levels on the west will have no water until March if we simply carry on as we are and drain out Settlers. MBB who are working on repairs have a plan to avoid this problem; we await details. But cutting water use will be a huge help.
Why have we landed in this situation?
Makana has been advertising the need to cut water use since at least July 2017 but they have no capacity to enforce this because meter reading has broken down. Secondly, there was a plan to upgrade James Kleynhans to 20ML/day. That plan should have completed December 2018. It was awarded to an incompetent contractor and has to start again. The current timeline is: start July 2019, finish July 2021.
What we need to do
Get serious about saving water – 50 litres per person per day is achievable. Do not flush clean water down the drain. Stand in a basin in the shower. Water on, water off. Soap. Water on, quick rinse, water off. Two people showering like this save enough water to flush a toilet. There are many more ideas out there. Share them. Get people talking.