We are in a water crisis

Makhanda (Grahamstown) was our canary in a coalmine.

Their water crisis started long ago, ours is in its early stages.

Ndlambe Municipality has sent out occasional notices reminding residents that we have a water shortage and are on restrictions, but most people still live like there’s no problem. Until the taps run dry – as has happened for days at a time when there was a burst water mains or problems with the balancing dam – we just go on living like we always have.

Port Alfred’s main water source, the Sarel Hayward Dam, is at less than 50% capacity. This should alarm us.

In the midst of this, the bulk water supply project assigned to Amatola Water is at a complete standstill. More than three years ago I wrote a series of articles on the massive waste and highly questionable and possibly corrupt contract appointments in the project, including the “quick wins” that turned out to be slow losses.

Projects were delayed by months and even years, at ever-increasing cost; contracts were terminated after botched jobs and had to be redone at a cost of millions of rands; water leaks wasting millions of litres a month were not being attended to; in one instance a subcontractor not named in an award letter was found working on a project without any notification; and expert advice by engineering consultants was ignored.

I have written several stories on the white elephant reverse osmosis plant just north of town, which with its associated infrastructure cost about R200-million in figures available in 2016. It has not provided a drop of water to us.

We have a story in the paper this week reminding residents that Ndlambe has been under water restrictions since 2018 – they have never been lifted. The restrictions prohibit the use of hoses to water gardens or wash vehicles. The municipality also appealed that residents ensure all taps are switched off and any report any leaks to the municipality.

The municipality must heed its own advice. Starting last Friday, I twice called the municipality’s infrastructural directorate to report a water leak from the mains leading into my property. No one came to fix it.

It took an e-mail yesterday morning to municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni, director of infrastructural development Noluthando Vithi and our jolly municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa to actually light a fire under someone’s posterior. They came to fix it shortly thereafter. Good.

Until there is a viable solution to our water shortage, let us all be prudent in our water use, heed the restrictions, and report leaks and wastage.

The municipality for its part must chase up the defaulters who are not paying their water bills, which totals a staggering R32-million. It takes huge amount of use over a number of years to rack up that debt.

– Jon Houzet

Leave a Reply