By Geoff Embling
An oversight visit was done on Tuesday, 2 May 2023, to Howiesonspoort dam, which is full to the point of overflowing. According to municipal reports, the intake valve from the dam to the pump station is blocked, and the municipality said it would recruit divers to unblock it. There are three water inlet grids which feed water from the dam into a small concrete tower situated on the dam wall. From there, a pipe carries water which gravitates to the Howiesonspoort pump station situated below the dam wall. The water is then pumped to Waainek water treatment works before being fed to the city.
No one was at the dam at the time of the oversight visit, and it didn’t look as if there had been any work done there recently, as everything was intact. The concrete tower and its square water-holding cavity was full of water, with three large covering grids in place.
Councillors and members of the public have asked management about the specifics of the intake valve issue, and answers have not been forthcoming. If an intake valve on the dam-side of the wall was blocked, it may require divers to unblock it, but there are three separate grids allowing water in, so water would still be able to get to the pump station if one was blocked.
A second scenario might be that the problem is with the intake valve inside the concrete tower on the dam wall, which prevents water from gravitating to the pump station. If this was the case, the easiest way to determine the blockage would be to pump the square holding cavity dry, which would not take long. Yet, at present, the cavity is full of water with all grids above intact.
Several years ago, Makana was struggling to manage its water affairs, and water management was handed over to a private company. It managed the city’s water until some years ago, and when Makana’s water management took back the reins, residents were receiving a regular supply of water and there were three working pumps at Howiesonspoort pump station. Now, there is only one working pump at Howiesonspoort, and the water situation has progressively got worse under municipal management. If the one remaining pump at Howiesonspoort were to fail, it would lead to the same situation that Makana is in at present.
For over two weeks, several areas in Grahamstown East, and certain high-lying areas in Grahamstown West, have not had water, whilst more fortunate parts of the city are limping along on a one-day-on, two-days-off cycle. Makana’s water management needs urgently to be outsourced to a private company which knows how to manage and perform routine maintenance on pumps, valves, pipes, and mechanical workings.
There is one provincial water authority that Makana municipality might do well to steer clear of, which has proved to be a particularly poor contractor in its management of the James Kleynhans water works upgrades. Hundreds of millions of rands have been managed by the contractor for the James Kleynhans upgrades, with delay after delay, lasting for years, with little discernible impact so far in Makana’s water supply.