Taking care of business

2008-10-21 00:00

After years of dysfunctionality during which the uMgungundlovu District Municipality ignored its core functions of dealing with water and sewage matters in the district, towns that fall under the municipality have been besieged with blocked and broken pipes, sewage spillages and the contamination of surrounding rivers. The new administration, which took over the running of the district in May this year, has been working on a turnaround strategy. The acting municipal manager, Sbu Khuzwayo, answered a list of questions posed to him by The Witness on how the municipality is addressing the sewage and pollution problem.

What are the steps being taken to address the problem?

At the special meeting held with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf), the Department of Health and local municipalities on October 15, it was agreed that the uMgungundlovu District Municipality should take a time perspective in addressing the matter, starting with short-term interventions, medium-term interventions and long-term solutions.

Regarding short-term interventions, the following measures will be taken.

• Immediate manual cleaning of the blocked grids at the Howick West pump station at least four times a day. (This has since been actioned.)

• Purchasing of the mechanical screens as a matter of urgency and installing them within the next six weeks. This is a specialised activity which requires custom engineering of the mechanical screens that can only be done and delivered by one engineering firm in the country.

• To do spot checks more frequently upstream and downstream as part of water quality monitoring.

• To provide an additional honey sucker (vacuum tanker) to Mooi Mpofana to alleviate the conservancy tank challenge. (This has since been actioned.)

• To embark on consumer education to discourage vandalism and theft of manhole covers and illegal dumping.

• The immediate deployment of staff to uMngeni Municipality on a dedicated basis to assist with proactive and regular maintenance.

• Entering into an agreement with Fairfield Dairy about the recommended amounts of effluent to be released into our sewer. (This has since been actioned.)

What have been the challenges that have had to be met for the new administration to fully take over water provision in the municipalities that fall under your jurisdiction?

The process of beefing up internal capacity to fully take over this critical function has started in earnest. This has resulted in the Service Level Agreement (SLA) which appointed the local municipality as the implementing agents for water service provision until the building of the requisite capacity. It is envisaged that this process should take about 12 months.

Cost recovery has been a major challenge as some local municipalities do not pass on water and sewage revenues after deducting management fees as per the SLA. We are rolling out our own billing system in an effort to address this problem

Were you aware of the sewerage problems in uMngeni? When were you made aware of this and by whom?

We were made aware by Dwaf and the manager: water operations who is based in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality. During the same week, this matter appeared in the media. We then requested uMngeni Municipality to intervene on our behalf as per the SLA. The matter has since been attended to. According to Dwaf, there has been a noticeable difference on the ground.

A difficulty that the district municipality faces is not being paid for the water services you provide. Is this hampering your ability to provide services?

According to our records, the district municipality is owed R26 million by uMngeni Municipality in relation to water revenues. However, uMngeni Municipality disputes this amount and we are looking for non-legalistic measures to resolve this impasse.

What are the long-term plans to upgrade ageing sewerage systems in the surrounding municipalities?

The point of departure is to do an infrastructure audit and get a sense of the gravity of the problem. Dwaf has agreed to come to the party on this one.

Based on the infrastructure audit, which will include cost implications, we will embark on a phased refurbishment programme over a period of time.

We have since appointed three firms of locally based maintenance service providers to do proactive and regular maintenance and emergency repairs, while we are beefing up our own capacity to maintain the inherited infrastructure on an on-going basis. (We can supply their names upon request.)

Have you or are you in the process of applying for grants from the national government to carry out infrastructural overhauls?

Most certainly. We have a positive relationship with Dwaf, which has, since the new administration took over, injected capital investment into the district municipality. Upon the completion of the infrastructure audit, we will approach the national and provincial fiscus for financial assistance for refurbishment and new infrastructurel programmes.

Finally, there has been talk that the Mpophomeni sewerage plant, which was closed down because it was running at half capacity, is to be reopened because of the load on the Howick sewerage plant due to major housing developments in the area. How far along the way are you in this project?

Umgeni Water has agreed to assist the district municipality on a build, operate, train and transfer arrangement over 15 years. Over this time, this facility will be built and transferred to the district municipality in a manner that will build capacity to sustain this infrastructure over time. The meeting to agree on time frames for this project will be held on November 4 at the district muncipality offices.

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