Water security in hand

2019-11-29 15:11
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There is enough water to supply the uMgungundlovu and eThekwini regions over the next 12 months, but its conservation still remains Umgeni Water’s top priority because future rains are not guaranteed.

This was said by Umgeni’s chief executive, Thami Hlongwa, when the water utility presented its 2018/19 performance report to the media on Thursday. The utility also unpacked plans to invest its R1,4 billion surplus on new infrastructure and upgrades.

Hlongwa said both the Midmar and Springrove dams were full, so they were not too concerned about the low level at Albert Falls, as it has been averaging at less than 40% most of the year.

“The Albert Falls is a non-production dam in a sense that we don’t take water directly from it and produce it for potable supply. However, it helps fill up the Nagle Dam and Inanda downstream. Currently the Nagle is in the 90s and Inanda is around the 60s, so we are comfortable that we have enough water in the upper system.”

He warned, though, that the 2015 drought had taught them that even summer rains were not guaranteed so water remained a limited resource.

INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

Hlongwa said Umgeni currently has several projects that are either under construction or in the pipeline. These include the much-anticipated Mpophomeni wastewater treatment plant, which is hoped to alleviate the load on uMgungundlovu District’s system as well as prevent blockages and sewage spills like the recent one at Midmar.

Explaining what caused the spill, Hlongwa conceded that there was inadequate stormwater and sewage infrastructure so it was battling to cope with high volumes when it rained heavily, but said the community was also to blame because of what they dumped in the drains. “The spillage took place as a result of [water] reticulation infrastructure failing to cope, simply because of stormwater ingressing into the sewer network. Because of the heavy rains we’ve had, there was an ingress, whereby water from the rains ingressed into the sewer networks.”

He admitted that while the sewer network in the Mpophomeni area required an upgrade, the company and government also needed to embark on a community education programme on what drains are meant to be used for.

He said some of the things they found in the screens included whole cows and chickens. “This means the community are just opening the manholes, and dumping in there, and when it gets pushed by the rains, naturally it gets blocked on the screens and it gets pushed back into the manholes and a spillage takes place.”

He said the site for the Mpophomeni plant was handed over to the contractor, Stefanutti Stocks, last week after a three-year delay due to a court case over the tender process. The project is expected to cost close to R390 million and take 24 months to complete. They would also be engaging uMgungun­dlovu on the upgrade of its pipeline to increase capacity, he said.

CHALLENGES

In his report, Hlongwa said Umgeni Water encountered some hurdles due to challenges with contractors on the upgrade of Darvill wastewater treatment plant and the Mpofana bulk water supply scheme in Rosetta.

In Darvill, the main contractor filed for business rescue. “In order to ensure work continuity, Umgeni Water applied for consent from National Treasury to negotiate with sub-contractors on the project to complete the remaining work. Consent has been granted and work will resume,” he said.

One of the two contractors on the Mpofana project also filed for business rescue. The sub-contractors have been allowed to be engaged by Umgeni Water directly through cessation of contracts so that work can be completed.

However, these were not the only challenges that delayed projects as Umgeni also had to deal with mafia-style business forums and members of the Mkhonto we Sizwe Veterans Association who demanded work in eThekwini and uMgungundlovu. As a result of the disturbances on projects, he said, Umgeni could only spend R1,1 billion on infrastructure instead of the R1,6 billion the entity had planned to use.

Hlongwa said through their engagements with the parties they had reached an understanding that these forums were not entitled to the tenders and that Umgeni already had a policy where 35% of the work was being given to contractors. The entity was, however, helping them formalise themselves as developing enterprises, which includes getting the necessary training.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  water security
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