Pipeline project goes slowly

2015-11-09 13:16
Custom made pipes lie unguarded on the side of the road.

Custom made pipes lie unguarded on the side of the road. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - A multi-million Rand pipeline in drought-stricken Greytown has nearly ground to a halt.

The 35 km pipeline is part of a multi-year project to improve access to water in the town and its surrounds.

But strikes on site, the non-payment of local suppliers, compounded with general delays expected in a project of this scale have seen large parts of the site dormant for over a month while locals find alternatives to their water needs.

The completion time frame has moved repeatedly from March 2014 and even on its adjusted timeline, which anticipated the project be completed by May 2016, will not be met, with authorities believing September is the most likely date.

However, time is running out quickly for the town, whose only source of water, known as the Lake Merthley, has been closed by the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation as it has dropped below 10% capacity.

The bustling town’s inhabitants now survive on boreholes and water brought in by tankers.

Yet along the R622 road between Craigieburn Dam and Greytown, hundreds of custom-made 580-mm diameter “mortar-lined” pipes are waiting for the workers, of whom only a few could be seen along the length of the project.

This pipeline is phase two of what is known as the Greytown Bulk Water Supply Scheme.

According to the scheme’s 2011 “Business Plan” jointly drafted by the Department of Water Affairs and the Umzin­yathi District Municipality, Phase 1 of the project, which was implemented between 2008 and 2011, “addressed the raw water supply from Lake Merthley and necessary improvements at the water treatment works”.

Phase 2 “will provide the town with a new raw water supply from Craigieburn dam, together with expansion of water purification capacity at Greytown Water Treatment Works”.

The delays, by Umzinyathi’s own admission, have led to a considerable rise in costs from R253-million to R489-million — excluding the additional “acceleration costs” intended to speed up construction of R6.6-million.

The 2011 Business Plan “tentatively” put March 2014 as the completion date. However the Environmental Impact Assessment was only completed last year and contractors moved onto site in March 2015.

The municipality’s technical director Thami Malunga said the delays are in part due to the size and multi-faceted nature of the project, which demands co-operation from various state entities and private land owners.

“The drought has no doubt brought this project to everyone’s attention. The contract still has a long way to go with September being the likely completion date although the Department of Water and Sanitation has allocated acceleration funding in order to help us target May. Finishing in May is critical as Lake Merthley will be bone dry by June,” said Malunga.

When operational, the pipeline is expected to pipe water from the Craigieburn Dam, halfway towards Mooi River, and it is expected to give the town, with an anticipated growth of three percent per annum, water security for at least the next 40 years.

Pipeline contractor Shamiel Woods said each contractor was experiencing “their own challenges”.

“We have been on site for about two months and have dug 50% of our trenches and laid three kilometres of pipeline. We had to wait four months for our pipes to be custom made. On Monday staff went on strike over wages.

“We believe this has now been resolved and hope to have workers on the ground from Monday [today],” said Woods.

The Witness has learnt that another pipeline contractor Soundrite Construction and Plant Hire has also had a strike and been off site for three weeks while the third pipeline contractor Bankuna Engineering and Construction has faced technical issues — largely out of their control — that include negotiations with private landowners where the pipeline is expected to be laid.

Umzinyathi’s municipal manager Dr Elliot Ntombela said the delays largely lay with the contractors. “We are aware of a dispute between some of the employers and their staff,” said Ntombela.

Asked about cost escalations he said it would have been due to “delays in the project” and “appreciation of prices”.

Ntombela, who only started at the district in September, said he could not say as yet whether the cost increases were excessive or not, but that they wanted “Craigieburn sorted out as quickly as possible”.

The national water department referred queries to the district municipality.

Witness reporter Chelsea Pieterse yesterday spoke to Ugu district municipal spokesperson France Zama, who said the municipality has implemented water restrictions and in some areas even the boreholes are running dry.

“We are in the process of building more boreholes but most of them have run dry because there is not enough water underground.

“We are trying to drill deeper but we are supplying everyone with water. We have to,” he said.

He said meanwhile the municipality had succeeded in treating the salt content in residents’ tap water, which had been a problem.

“There is still salt coming out in the tap water but due to the municipality’s interventions, the amount of salt has been reduced,” he said.

The Uthukela Dstrict Municipality (Ladysmith) has also clamped down on water usage.

The municipality issued a notice two weeks ago asking residents not to fill their pools or water their gardens; to not use hosepipes and said that the district would be implementing water restrictions.

The notice warned that anyone who did not follow the orders would be liable to pay a fine of R2 500.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pipeline

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