Stinky water worries PMB

2008-02-20 00:00

THERE’S something fishy in the water. This was the reaction of frantic Raisethorpe residents who called The Witness yesterday after they opened their taps to a fishy smell in the water.

Pietermaritzburg has become a city beset with water woes, with three suburbs having water problems in as many days.

Concerned residents from the northern suburbs wanted to know if their water is safe to use and drink, describing the water as “fishy”, with the taste of cod liver oil.

Satish Maharaj of Townby Road in Raisethorpe said his wife tasted the water and found that it had an oily smell. “Our whole family now has diarrhoea and we suspect this water [to be the cause],” he said.

Navin Maharaj said he first noticed the problem on Sunday morning. When the smell persisted, Maharaj got a family friend to test the water and learnt that contamination levels in the water were high, but could not ascertain the cause.

When Maharaj made contact with the municipality’s health inspector, he was told that the water is still safe to drink.

But Maharaj is sceptical.

“The inspector could not confirm the cause, but suspected that it could be due to water algae that may have formed due to the storms that we have experienced,” said Maharaj.

Families yesterday resorted to drinking bottled water as they were not given a direct answer by municipal officials as to the cause of the foul smell and taste.

The municipality has identified the reservoir servicing the northern area as a possible cause of the problem. “Samples of water from this reservoir and various water points have been taken and sent to an accredited laboratory for both chemical and microbiological analyses.

“We are awaiting the results of the chemical and biological analyses, which are expected by [today],” said municipal spokeswoman Evodia Mahlangu.

City health officials have assured residents that the water is chlorinated and safe for human consumption as E.coli counts on five water samples taken from the affected areas were nil.

Umgeni Water spokesman Shami Harichunder said the utility have also taken water samples for testing to determine the cause of the smell. “We … hope that soon we will have the results to take the necessary measures to rectify the problem,” said Harichunder.

A local analyst recalled that a few years ago, there was a similar fishy smell coming out of taps. The cause of the problem then was found to be due to the overgrowth of an algal bloom in the Shongweni Dam. He questioned why the algae build-up was not spotted earlier by Umgeni Water and the treatment regime changed.

Meanwhile, Pelham and Prestbury have both been without water for two days due to burst pipes and reservoir vandalism this week.

Prestbury’s water was restored late on Monday following the repair of two burst water pipes, but Pelham and Northdale residents are questioning how water reservoirs are easily accessed by vandals.

The municipality said reservoirs have been vandalised repeatedly, despite various types of fencing having been installed around them.

“The reservoirs have access manholes that have lockable lids and have we undertaken to weld shut certain vulnerable manhole accesses where the public has been found to be deliberately fouling the water supply.

“The vandalism has been repeatedly repaired at considerable costs to council.”

Because the reservoirs are sited at elevations that are above the city, Mahlangu said the municipality is aware that their isolation attracts criminals, however, it was not feasible to post guards if the locks and welded shut openings have not yet been breached.

Ward councillor Roger Ashe said he is worried about the safety of the city’s water supply.

He said if vandals have caused the whole of Pelham not to have water, surely there is a need for steps to be taken to safeguard the reservoirs. “The Murray Road reservoir used to be fenced now the fence is broken and damaged in several places and this has never been repaired,” said Ashe.

He recalled that a few years ago a body was dumped in a city reservoir and only discovered a while later.

“We were told at the time that it was fortunate that the water was cold, so the body did not decompose at a rapid rate. Had it decomposed quickly, it would have contaminated the water supply.”

thabi@witness.co.za

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