Progress on the 25m-high tower reservoir at Thornhill, but where is the water coming from?

FROM LAST WEEK’S TOTT

VIEW FROM THE TOP: Mamlambo Construction is the contractor responsible for building the 25m-high tower on top of which will be cast a 2.5Ml reservoir to gravity feed Thornhill and Nemato residents with potable water. However, concerns over where the water will come from have been raised Picture: ROB KNOWLES

The new R33-million water tower being built at Thornhill has no water source to fill it.

Talk of the Town looked into the issue after receiving a tip-off that the tower was being built based on a contract for a water source that was cancelled, pre-dating the new seawater reverse osmosis plant (SWRO) presently under construction, and even pre-dating the Amatola Water Quick Wins projects.

We approached Ndlambe Municipality and company building the tower for answers.

One of the largest water reservoir towers in the Eastern Cape, the R33m tower breaks the skyline and overlooks the Thornhill, Nemato and Station Hill locations of Port Alfred. But, without water the tower could stand as a monument to a distinct lack of planning on the part of Ndlambe Municipality.

The Eastern Cape is a water scarce province, as are most other areas of the country, and has suffered regular droughts for many years. The 2.5Ml concrete reservoir is intended to feed essential potable water to the Nemato and Thornhill areas. It will stand 25m in the air and gravity-feed water pumped to it in off-peak times to those in the area. However, the tower, when complete, will stand empty until Ndlambe sources water in order to fill it.

In the meantime construction of the tower is proceeding at pace and, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and unanticipated high winds, the build should be completed in July this year following the granting of allowable extensions to the contract.

“We had help from 43 Air School as they measure wind-speed on a continuous basis. Once complete, the project will be one of the largest concrete tower reservoirs in the Eastern Cape,” said Donald Davies, construction manager for Mamlambo Construction, the contractor responsible for building the tower. Davis also acknowledged that the province had been of great assistance in keeping the project moving during the pandemic.

Davis was asked where the water to fill the reservoir was coming from.

“That could be a problem,” was Davis’ honest answer. “Our responsibility is to build the reservoir. The source of the water is for others to determine. Our focus is in pumping 2.5Ml of water 25m into the air to keep the reservoir full.”

Davis said that, in order to achieve this it would require the water treatment plant to be operational 24/7.

For over 10-years the municipality and the province have played with different schemes to provide potable water to the town, but all have ultimately failed. From the Albany Regional Water Supply Scheme, through the Amatola Water Bulk Water Scheme and the failed RO plant outside Nemato, to the Amatola Quick Wins projects and the recent debacle over QFS and the RO plants, none have provided the much-needed water to the area.

Although outside of his purview, Davis suggested that a pipeline from the Fish River to feed the town was probably the best option, but that such a project would be prohibitively expensive. He also mentioned other proposals he had discovered by researching the internet, including a scheme to run a pipeline from Sandile Dam in the Amathola mountain range, a distance of 180km.

Municipal spokesperson, Cecil Mbolekwa was asked where the water was coming from to fill the reservoir.

“There has been a lot of planning that took place before the reservoir was built, looking at the future development,” Mbolekwa wrote.

“The municipality have available sources of water like Sarel Howard Dam, central belt boreholes and East bank dunes. Once the RO plant is complete, that will assist in providing water to this tower. The intention of the project is to store more water [as] currently the existing elevated tower is too small to feed the Thornhill area. Hence there is a need for additional storage. QFS has been paid for the work done and is currently working on site.”

However, it is clear that these existing water sources are not able to provide enough water to feed the area, and bleeding off 2.5Ml per day to keep the tower full is not feasible.

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