Wakkerstroom residents want R13m water pipeline project halted

Prof Mary Scholes from Wits University and her team attempt to gauge the depth of Martins dam (Credit: Owen Castleman)
Prof Mary Scholes from Wits University and her team attempt to gauge the depth of Martins dam (Credit: Owen Castleman)

Residents of Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga have called for a R13m water pipeline project to be halted, saying it will put their water supply at risk.

Speaking via the Wakkerstroom Interest Group (WIG), they say the pipeline project - from Martin's Dam, above the Wakkerstroom Wetland, to Vukuzakhe in Volkrust - may have a negative impact "on the environment, tourism - and job opportunities and ultimately impact on the sustainability of Wakkerstroom itself".

"Residents are of the opinion that the construction process must be put on hold until all the legally-required processes are duly completed, including environmental impact assessment, hydrological evaluations, alternative water supplies, heritage assessments, and local consultation," WIG said in a statement.

The proposed 30km pipeline by the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Local Municipality is a three-year project and it is expected to cost about R13.3m, according to the residents. 

Martins dam, Wakkerstroom, Wakkerstroom, Martins d
  Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme municipality wants to construct a water pipeline from Martins Dam in Wakkerstroom to Volksrust (Credit: Owen Castleman)

WIG alleged that the environment impact assessment was not performed, "nor was any geo-hydrological study undertaken".

"These processes are only now being initiated after the decision was taken to construct the pipeline and award the tender for its construction. The tender for construction of the pipeline was awarded in November 2018, without any meaningful consultation with the local community," the statement said.

No capacity

They said they were concerned about whether Martin's Dam had the capacity to support an additional water demand.

Martin's Dam, built in 1953, has a small catchment and has substantially silted up. It already supplies the water requirements for Wakkerstroom (although all parts of Wakkerstroom have been exposed to water shortages as a result of infrastructural issues), according to WIG's statement.

"The overflow water is the main source of water which supports the wetland. It is understood that there is no new water use licence. It is not clear what the supply capacity of Wakkerstroom (which supplies Martin's Dam) is, nor is it clear what volume of water is currently used and what the anticipated additional demand from Vukuzakhe will be," the residents said.

WIG said Vukuzakhe already gets water from the large-capacity pipeline from the much larger Zaaihoek Dam, which is in turn, fed by the Wakkerstroom Wetland.

"The reasons for building expensive new infrastructure to do the same job are opaque, and apparently due to inter-government payment-for-water issues.  It is understood that in 2017, the municipality owed the Department of Water and Sanitation in excess of R86m," said the statement.

WIG said the municipality had been made aware of residents' dissatisfaction with the entire process. 

"Thus far, the municipality has failed to respond to any communication from residents, nor to provide information on the tender for the pipeline, the proposed water offtake, and the technical studies on which this decision was based.   

Wakkerstroom, Martins dam, Pixley ka Isaka Seme mu

                                    A team attempts to gauge the depth of Martins dam (Credit: Owen Castleman)

According to WIG, they requested to meet with Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme municipality officials on November 20.

"The purpose of the meeting was to make the municipal authorities aware of the range of concerns that the interested parties have with respect to this project, and to solicit factual information and the studies on which the project is based. None of the required information has been supplied, so on 30 November 2018 a lawyer's letter was served, requesting the same information, along with a Public Access to Information Act request," the statement read.

According to WIG, acting municipal manager Mercia Phetla was also sent a document containing residents' grievances and a briefing document "highlighting the background and facts we have been able to elicit with regard to this proposed pipeline".

"She has confirmed receipt of them," WIG said.

News24 could not get answers about the project from the municipality.

Municipality spokesperson Sibonelo Ndlela told News24 on Wednesday: "I escalated the matter to those who are intimate with the subject but I am just like you, as I am not finding any joy from them. But I will inform you of the latest developments."

Last Thursday, Ndlela asked News24 to send him an email so he could follow up on the matter but at the time of publication, he had not responded.

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