SITE OFFICE: Residents who walk on East Beach have been curious and concerned by the appearance of machinery and materials at the East Beach dunes parking lot. They are for the construction of an ‘outfall’ related to the reverse osmosis plant Picture: JON HOUZET

    R85m reverse osmosis project begins north of Port Alfred dump

    PORT Alfred is a step closer to drinkable tap water as construction begins on an R85-million reverse osmosis (RO) plant at the balancing dam north of the town dump.

    The RO plant is one of the “quick wins” in the long-anticipated billion-rand bulk water project for Ndlambe, being overseen by Amatola Water.

    Related to the RO plant, pipes will be laid at East Beach to discharge brine effluent offshore. Residents who walk on East Beach were surprised to see the first heavy machinery and construction materials arrive at the dunes parking lot early last week. This was followed by more diggers and huge pumps for the project, and the establishment of a site office.

    Several residents, including Royal Alfred Marina developer Justin de Wet Steyn, called TotT expressing their concerns, and wondered if an environmental impact assessment (EIA) had been done for any disturbance to the beach and the disposal of brine effluent out to sea.

    Public Service Accountability Monitor eco-expert Nicholas Scarr was able to obtain a copy of the environmental authorisation granted in August 2013 by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the management programme prepared for Ndlambe Municipality and Amatola Water. The RO plant will abstract about 5 megalitres (ML) of raw water per day from four to five boreholes located about 10km north-east of Port Alfred.

    The raw brackish groundwater will be transferred in 350mm diameter pipelines, mostly within the existing road reserve, from the well field to Port Alfred. This water will then be treated at a new water treatment works (WTW), using brackish water RO technology.

    A new reservoir may also be constructed. Potable water will be transferred in 250mm pipelines to existing WTW reservoirs for domestic distribution in Port Alfred. The pipeline route is located within the urban edge and will cross a water course.

    An estimated 0.9ML of brine per day will be discharged offshore at East Beach. The 250mm brine discharge pipeline will follow a route within the existing road reserve along the R67 to the coastal zone.

    From there it will follow an existing pipeline route within a section of dune forest, then cross dunes and beach before discharging into the sea within a section of rocky shoreline through an outfall pipe to a depth of 2m.

    Among the conditions in the authorisation, there has to be daily monitoring of salinity, temperatures and dissolved oxygen in the surf immediately adjacent to the discharge pipeline and at 20m, 50m, 100m, 200m, 500m and 1km distances in both directions along the shore at least two weeks before and one month after the RO plant starts operating, to ensure limits are not exceeded.

    Once compliance with these requirements has been achieved then monitoring frequency at the nearby stations may be reduced to once a week and monitoring at the more distant stations may be discontinued.

    “A wetland monitoring programme must be implemented on the established borehole sites and must be monitored to record any dramatic changes in habitat and hydrology,” the authorisation states.

    “A detailed plant and animal species inventory must be part of the monitoring programme to help determine if any significant changes in species composition occur over time.”

    A detailed plant and animal species inventory must be part of the monitoring programme to help determine if any significant changes in species composition occur over time

    The DEA recommended that during const ruction either hand labour should be used to lay the pipe, to minimise impacts to the natural vegetation, or the pipe should be installed aboveground.

    Responding to residents’ concerns, Mayor Sipho Tandani said, “it is agreeable for our residents to have the right to know what is happening at East Beach. “Sometime in 2011, the former minister of water and environmental affairs commissioned a study of all sources of water in our area and how short-term solutions could be found while looking at the regional bulk water scheme.

    “One of the quick-win solutions for Port Alfred was a huge RO plant to augment existing sources of water.”

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