Port Alfred Business Forum update on current status of water and sewerage in Port Alfred

After the absence of a report from the Ndlambe Municipality Joint Operations Committee (JOC) for several weeks, the Port Alfred Business Forum has released a statement on the water crisis, with a summary of interventions over the past year, an update on the reverse osmosis (RO) plant project and also briefly alluding to the High Court case that overturned Ndlambe’s first tender for the RO plant for being irregular and unlawful. For context, see past articles on the water crisis and court case on Talk of the Town’s website.

The PABF statement:

INTRODUCTION: Against a growing backdrop of misinformation and speculation spread on social media with regard to the water crisis in Port Alfred, the Port Alfred Business Forum called for an urgent meeting with key officials in Ndlambe Municipality. We requested the local ward councillor, Raymond Schenk, Dawie van Wyk of Port Alfred Residents and Ratepayers Association, and Russell Jackson-Moss of CDR Electrical to join the meeting and to give their input. A number of local business people were also present at the meeting.

The object of the meeting was to reach an understanding of the current situation with regard to water and sewerage issues, and to form a working committee alongside the municipality to ensure that the correct facts surrounding these contentious issues are communicated to residents and businesses alike.

 

REPORT ON THE CURRENT WATER SITUATION IN PORT ALFRED:

– The water situation at present: Infrastructural development director Noluthando Vithi explained that the current water situation in Port Alfred is critical. Water can no longer be pumped from the Sarel Hayward Dam by conventional pumps, thus a small submersible floating pump is presently being used to extract water from the very base of the dam. The East Bank dune pumps are currently producing 50% of their capacity per day (0.18ML per day), and additionally, two farm boreholes are supplying water to Bathurst and Port Alfred on alternate days. Total current water production is approximately 2.2ML per day.

On average, the town uses 6.8ML per day off season, and up to 8.6ML per day during peak season. Thus there is a shortfall of approximately 4.5ML per day. In essence this means that it is impossible to pump water to the elevated areas in either the West or East Bank.

 

  • – Factors leading to the current crisis and actions taken to mitigate:
  • o East Bank Dune Pumps and Central Boreholes: The Eastern Cape has been experiencing severe drought conditions since 2018. At that time, application for funding was made to upgrade the East Bank dune system, and to sink boreholes at the Central belt area to supplement Port Alfred’s water. This work was carried out and water is being produced from these sources.
  • o Reverse Osmosis plants: Drought conditions persisted, and further application was made for a 2ML SWRO plant (sea water reverse osmosis) as phase 1, and for a further 3ML reclaimed water reverse osmosis plant. An amount of R20-million was granted for the 2ML plant, and later a further R80-million for the 3ML plant. The plan was to have the plants up and running by March 2020. The tender was, however, contested and went to court. This resulted in the entire tender process having to be repeated in September 2020. Following a lengthy and transparent process the tender was re-awarded to the same company, Quality Filtration Systems, in December 2020. Work commenced on the plant site in Port Alfred on January 29 2021, after the process had been further delayed by another 20 days by the Department of Labour, who were required to sign permits.

The plant itself has already been built in Cape Town and will be sent down to Port Alfred as soon as the on-site preparation work has been completed by the local contractors. It is anticipated that the 2ML SWRO plant will be operational at the beginning of April 2020.

Questions were raised as to whether the process can be speeded up, and if a penalty clause is in place for the 20 day delay. The process unfortunately cannot be speeded up – the plant has already been built in Cape Town and work has commenced on laying of pipelines, etc. The 20 day delay is not the fault of the contractor – it was caused by the Department of Labour.

o Additional Boreholes: Understanding that the water crisis was deepening, the Municipality employed local hydrologist Etienne Mouton from Hallowed Ground, who identified several sites in and around Port Alfred for additional boreholes. Several boreholes were drilled, however, none yielded a significant amount of water, with the exception of two additional boreholes on Hennie Nel’s Farm. These boreholes are presently being equipped and pipelines have been laid. Dawie van Wyk, who is a geologist, also pointed out that boreholes in Port Alfred are not ideal because of the ground water pollution from a number of septic tanks / French drains. Thus boreholes producing water would be most successfully drilled in three fractured quarzitic areas in and around Port Alfred. The Central belt is one of these fractured quarzitic areas between Kleinemonde and Nel’s Farm.

o Jo-Jo Tanks in: Jo-Jo tanks were purchased and installed at strategic points throughout Port Alfred, Nemato and Bathurst, from which residents can collect water. Three water trucks service these tanks. Each of the trucks can carry 2 – 3 tanks loads of water. The water is carted from Boknes. Understandably, the process of filling tanks and carting water takes time, and the Jo-Jo tanks are emptied before they can be replenished. The process cannot be speeded up as Boknes has a RO plant, and it cannot produce water at a faster rate. Surrounding municipalities are in the same water crisis as ourselves, thus they cannot supply water, nor can other areas within Ndlambe.

  • o Water Schedules: Water levels are critical. Producing a maximum of 2.2ML per day of the required 6.8ML per day, means that there is insufficient supply to create enough pressure to pump to elevated areas. Shutting off water to one area and pumping to another necessitates bleeding of pipes when the water is switched back on. This is unavoidable and wastes a great deal of water. Various methods have been tried to supply all residents of Port Alfred, however, until we have good rains and / or the RO plants are up and running, there is little else that can be done.
  • o Bathurst water at Lushington Dam: An alternate source of water has been scoped at Lushington River in Bathurst. Pipelines are currently being laid from this source to the Golden Ridge Dam. This water will need to be pumped and an electrical source secured from Eskom, alternatively a generator can be used, but it is at high risk of vandalism. As soon as this project is complete, the borehole water currently being shared from Port Alfred to Bathurst can be re-directed to Port Alfred.

 

– Conclusion: Whilst it is frustrating that we have a serious shortage of water, we are in severe drought conditions. There are reports on social media of a higher than average rainfall – unfortunately there was not enough, sustained rain to be able to pump sufficient water to fill the Sarel Hayward Dam. The rain in Port Alfred’s catchment area does not fill the Kowie River above the weir from where it is pumped into the Sarel Hayward Dam. Rain has to fall in the Grahamstown catchment area for the water to run into the Kowie River. Last year the Grahamstown catchment area received well below its annual average rainfall. All avenues to find additional water sources have been investigated and exhausted.

 

  • – Communication: Requests were made to communicate issues relating to the water crisis. This has been done on a regular basis on various platforms:
  • o Social Media : Talk of the Town, Water Crisis Group, PARRA group; WhatsApp Groups
  • o Talk of the Town: Reports are sent to Talk of the Town after JOC meetings
  • o Ndlambe FM: Regular talkshows featuring the Mayor, Municipal Manager and Director Vithi are aired on the radio
  • o Loud Hailing: Loud hailing is done on a regular basis through the townships.
  • o Ndlambe Website

Communication will continue on these platforms.

 

SEWERAGE ISSUES RECENTLY EXPERIENCED IN PORT ALFRED: There sewerage in the CBD has recently been under strain with several sewerage spills. The main line between the Putt Bridge and KFC has been regularly cleaned, however, the problem persists. The blame for this build up is excess fat, and although the major businesses have been investigated and they are compliant in terms of the required fat traps, there are several smaller takeaways that have sprung up along Main Street that most likely contribute to the problem. Community protection services director Nombulelo Booysen-Willy explained that the landlords will be contacted regarding their tenant’s infringements. The Landlords will be required to check the terms of the lease agreement to ascertain whether food production is part of the lease agreement, in which case, after inspection the required fat traps will have to be installed by the Landlords. The municipality cannot be held responsible for a landlord’s lease agreement.

To further mitigate against the persist problem, a specialised company from Port Elizabeth will be cleaning out the sewerage lines to ensure that they are all in working order.

ELECTRICITY SUPPLY: Russell Jackson-Moss of CDR Electrical gave a brief outline of Port Alfred’s electricity set up. CDR were appointed as electrical contractors in June 2020 and have inherited some obsolete equipment that needs replacing. An audit of the entire electrical supply system was carried out and various projects have been identified to upgrade the system and stabilize the network. Recent outages caused by contractors excavating has been solved as the CDR requests contractors to contact them prior to digging any trenches. The area is scanned for electrical cables, and if found to be clear, digging can commence. Furthermore Russel promised that any necessary upgrades will be done out of business hours wherever possible. CDR were thanked for the fantastic Christmas light display. We were also delighted to hear that plans are afoot to once again illuminate the Nico Malan Bridge. CDR have managed to obtain technical drawings of the bridge and have contacted a professional lighting company. They are awaiting quotations and decisions regarding the lighting of the bridge will be taken from there.

IN CONCLUSION: Marius Claasens [of CosiHome] pointed out that we are very quick to criticise when things go wrong, and seldom take the time to find out the true facts. Businesses are in Port Alfred by choice and are committed to improving our town. It makes sense to work together on common issues for the greater good of all. We are all committed to growing our town as a tourism destination. At the same time, municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni pointed out that the municipality cannot run the town without businesses, as business creates jobs, vital to the economic stability of the town. Thus, we are committed to working together as a group for the benefit of Port Alfred.

High court sets aside Ndlambe’s RO plant tender

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