Just how much longer will Makhanda’s residents have to wait for enough reliable water and a functional sewerage system? That’s what JULIAN JACOBS wanted to find out during a fact-finding mission at the end of last month with Makana Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa and the chair of the portfolio committee on engineering and infrastructure, Ramie Xonxa. Water and Sanitation Manager Gubevu Maduna, who is also the acting Director for Engineering and Infrastructure, later filled in some of the technical and logistical details.
Broken down pumps, burst and leaking old asbestos pipes and a prolonged drought have made it difficult for Makana Municipality to meet the demands of a growing town.
Although Makana Municipality five years ago turned its attention to fixing water and sewage infrastructure, this could never happen quickly enough for residents who, at the receiving end of frequent water outages and long-running sewage spills, have been frustrated and furious.
Improved security with electric fences around Bothas Hill Reservoir, the three newly built sewage pump stations and Belmont sewage works were among the upgrades we saw, along with the refurbishment of Jamieson and Milner dams at Slaaikraal on the Highlands Road, and phase 3 of the upgrade to James Kleynhans Water Treatment Plant in full swing.
Planned water infrastructure projects in Makana have been disrupted for various reasons over the past few years, Makana’s Water Water and Sanitation Manager Gubevu Maduna said. But he believes there will soon be significant changes in the way residents receive their water supply.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with most of the deadlines for these projects,” said Maduna. All the municipality’s current infrastructural projects were running behind schedule.
In the case of the water pump motors that took weeks to repair, the challenge was that there is only one manufacturer and parts supplier for the pumps Makana runs.
“They weren’t able to operate under the lockdown regulations,” Maduna explained.
When the economy started to re-open, only certain industries could operate during lockdown levels 5, 4, and 3. Staff returned to site, but when alcohol was finally unbanned, several workers came to work drunk and were dismissed.
The engineering consultants had to ensure that contingencies were in place at the plants, but due to manufacturers being operational only in June and July, delays were inevitable.
WAAINEK WATER TREATMENT WORKS
Waainek, west of Makhanda next to the N2, supplies water to the entire western side of Makhanda, including Rhodes University. It pumps 5 megalitres a day.
The Waainek bulk water supply upgrade is a R9 million infrastructural project. Phase 1 was completed at the end of June 2019, which entailed the recommissioning of the facility. Phase 2, which is still under way, is looking at repairing the spillways and pipelines from Howieson’s Poort, replacing the old chambers, and building and equipping a laboratory to test water quality and monitor chlorination.
There have been problems with the contractor, however, Maduna said. This had had a ripple effect on sub-contractors and work that needed to be completed.
“Once the Waainek bulk water supply project is completed, there will be fewer leakages and burst pipes on the pipeline, and it will be easier to maintain the dam walls,” said Maduna.
JAMES KLEYNHANS WATER TREATMENT WORKS
Phases 3 and 4 of the upgrade to this plant are under way.
“At phase 3 the focus is on the building or the construction of a replica of the existing treatment plant,” Maduna explained.
One plant’s output is 10 megalitres a day, and having both up and running will take the total capacity to 20 megalitres of water a day, Maduna said.
Phase 4 focuses on the refurbishment of the existing plant.
“Phase 3 costs R110m and phase 4 should be starting soon. It is envisaged that phase 3 and 4 will be completed by September 2021,” he said.
During late July and early August, James Kleynhans operated at 50 percent of its capacity, as one of the motors was faulty. Maduna said this would be a problem for a while.
“Very few service providers deal with these pumps and motors,” Maduna said. “They’re not your everyday products that can be purchased off the shelf anywhere.”
In addition, there is no redundant pump at their disposal.
“When a pump goes offline, the redundant pump should kick in,” Maduna said.
Two more pumps and motors are to be purchased within this financial year as back-ups for the current pumps, however.
The municipality used to have back-up pumps and motors, but corrosion as a result of the quality of the raw water flowing through them led to their failure.
As part of his due diligence, Maduna has asked the manufacturers to ensure that the arm pillars of the new pumps have a protective coating to prevent corrosion. To fix these corroded pumps would cost around R800 000, whereas to new pumps will cost R1.2m, along with a greater lifespan.
Because these pumps and motors are specialised it will take up to 18 weeks to refurbish a motor or a pump and at least 22 weeks to get a new pump and motor manufactured.
“We have to be prudent, smart, and look for the best possible options available to us. We are also currently looking at alternative service providers as well.”
He also outlined the difficulties presented by the ageing infrastructure.
The old asbestos water reticulation pipes often burst and leak. Each time this happens, workers have to switch off the water to the areas the pipes feed to fix the problem.
“We do our best to fix leaks as soon as we can, but our turnaround times have been slow due to the poor state of the pipes,” he said.
Glen Melville Dam, which is filled by releases from the Fish River, is currently at capacity. However, the local rain-filled catchment-dependent Settlers Dam, the main supply for the west side of town, is at a mere 5 percent. The much smaller Howieson’s Poort Dam, which fills more quickly, but also empties quickly, was at 85 percent capacity two weeks ago, Maduna reported.
ALICEDALE WATER TREATMENT WORKS
He also reported that the refurbishment of the Alicedale Water Treatment plant was completed and that they also got a borehole which is pumping 2 megalitres per day to households in that area.
Refurbishment of the water plant in Riebeeck East has increased its capacity from 0.5 megalitres to 1 megalitre a day. “We have made contact with the Council for Geoscience of South Africa to assist us in mapping groundwater areas in our municipality, but specifically for the Alicedale and Riebeeck East areas,” Maduna said. “In Salem, we have drilled five boreholes to provide residents with water and we have successfully drilled several boreholes at Rhodes University which will help provide water to this institution, said Maduna. He said a package plant, which will be installed at Rhodes by September, will help with the quality of drinking water received from the boreholes there.
“We have built a reservoir next to the Green reservoir and we are confident that 0.2 megalitres of water per day will flow to Rhodes University.” Maduna said this would help secure the water supply to Rhodes and would also provide ease the stress on Waainek.
BELMONT WASTEWATER TREATMENT WORKS
The Belmont Valley Wastewater Treatment Works is undergoing repair work in an R4.8m project. It entails the erection of an electric fence around the entire plant to secure it and the installation of additional aerial lighting fixtures. The upgrades include repairs to:
- Four supernatant pumps;
- The emergency overflow pipe;
- Two collapsed biofilters;
- The distribution arms of the two biofilters;
- Lleaking and breach of maturation ponds;
- Sludge drying beds;
- The chlorination system.
When we visited the plant, the new electric fencing was in place and workers at the plant were clearing blockages. They told us they did not have any personal protective equipment, including boots and gloves, for cleaning the blockages. It was their first day back on site since the lockdown. Phase 1 of the project was to be completed by Friday, 31 July.
MAYFIELD SEWAGE PLANT
We visited the Mayfield Bulk Outfall Sewerage plant as well, which was being refurbished. Workers were busy upgrading of a 3.0km bulk sewer line, which has been estimated to cost R11.4m. About 2.6 km of new pipes have been installed along this route.
SEWAGE PUMP STATIONS
We also stopped at three refurbished sewage pump stations: Matthews Street, DD Siwisa and Lingelihle. Together, these cost R5.6m. The sewage pump stations have been commissioned to assist with the maintenance of blockages in the sewage systems – an ongoing problem for years. For the past few years, Makhanda residents have become used to seeing streams of sewage pouring down their roads.
Work at the Matthews Street sewage pumping station should have started in January, but only began in April 2020. When we got to this site a month ago, a fence had been erected and a brick and concrete roof structure with cast-iron doors was complete.
The consultants for these projects are MBB consulting engineers, with a contractor to clear all vegetation from the site.
Installed were stormwater control around the site; new electric clear view fencing with sensors linked to Makana Municipality’s SCADA – a digital system, which monitors water and wastewater systems.
Contractors had started to desludge existing sump and screens and service existing pumps that were underground. The new sewage pump stations in all three areas will be installed above ground level in these newly built brick stations. This is to better control blockages.
The Matthews Street sewage pump station has been waterproofed. Light fixtures were erected and all vandalised pumps and electrical pump controls were replaced.
The next step is to install the new pumps. This has been delayed because of Covid-19 restrictions on industry.
The Lingelihle and DD Siwisa Sewage pump stations went through a similar process of clearing the site, desludging the existing sump and screens, and servicing existing sewage pumps.
Excavation and the construction of a new sewage sump, and the erection of a brick pump house with a concrete roof were completed.
These new sewage pump stations had to be linked with the old sewage system. Diversion of the existing inlet pipes to the new pump stations had to be fixed and new Gorman Rupp sewage pumps with electrical connections, motor control panels, and switch gears had to be installed.
An electric fence with sensors will be installed, linked to Makana Municipality’s SCADA system. This will give the municipality early warning systems when blockages occur and will allow the municipality to forestall any potential crisis. It is estimated that by September, all three new sewage pump stations will be operational.
It is also been identified that in Extension 6 and all other areas, all the sewage pipelines should be connected to the current system by the end of 2021, as part of a new phase.
BOTHA’S HILL RESERVOIR
The cost of erecting a new fence was R2.3m. Work done at the site has been the clearing of vegetation, removal of the existing perimeter fencing, the installation of 425m-long, 2.4m high new electrified clear view fence, which has sensors linked to the Makana Municipality’s SCADA system.
Excavation of the embankment around the reservoirs to reduce levels was done. On completion of the work, the site will be cleared.
JAMIESON AND MILNER DAMS
The delegation lastly paid a visit to Jamieson and Milner Dams on the Highlands Road. The refurbishment of the dams is estimated to cost R7.7m. Work done on the site includes, the removal of plant growth and roots on the dams’ embankments. It also entails the filling up of animal burrows on the embankments, the removal and treatment of termite nests, repairs to spillways, replacement of outlet valves, and the fixing of erosion on the return channels and the installation of telemetry link to the Makana Municipality SCADA system. Two service roads to the dams have been completed and pipe testing has started. It is envisaged that these two dams will provide more water for the farming areas and Makhanda via the Waainek reservoirs.
PLEA FOR TOLERANCE
At the end of the inspection tour, Councillor Ramie Xonxa asked for tolerance from the residents of Makhanda.
“We have a huge investment of R200m that has been earmarked for projects that will relieve the pressure on infrastructure and help solve our water, sanitation, and sewerage problems. These refurbishment infrastructural projects will help us for years to come and will provide clean water to our communities,” Xonxa said. He also appealed to residents to help the municipality by protecting these facilities in order to curb vandalism and theft.
Executive Mayor Mpahlwa was pleased with the state of the projects and was hopeful that soon the problems with water supply to all households would be eradicated. He is aware that while the old infrastructure is being refurbished, residents are facing daily challenges.
“We are doing our best to provide residents and visitors to our beautiful town the best possible solutions that are available. With the completion of the James Kleynhans water plant months away, we are hoping that water supply to residents will be fully functional. Additional capacity is being built to ensure water reaches those that need it. We are aware that these pumps work with electricity and that disruptions would continue for a while until this situation is resolved,” Mpahlwa said.
He also urged residents to continue to pay their municipal accounts to ensure that the municipality provides good quality services to all residents, businesses, the university and schools in the area.
“I am confident that by the end of this financial year we will have better water security in Makhanda,” said Maduna.
- Julian Jacobs is the Communications Officer for Makana Municipality’s Joint Operations Committee.