New 1ML RO plant to augment municipal supply

Port Alfred’s water woes may be alleviated at least partially as a new 1ML owner-operated reverse osmosis (RO) plant has been approved by the Ndlambe council – at no capital cost to the municipality.

The plant will be placed at the Wharf Street bend on the Kowie River, where one was temporarily situated several years ago.

In a report from municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni in the last council agenda, he said Ndlambe remained in a water crisis mostly due to a drought since 2018. Port Alfred’s main water source, the Sarel Hayward Dam, had been very low since December 2020 and finally ran dry just before the 2ML seawater RO plant built by Quality Filtration Systems (QFS) went online in June.

Other sources are the central belt boreholes, the borehole on Nel’s Farm and the East Bank dune wells, but together than only produce an average 2.7ML/day, while Port Alfred’s daily requirements are 6.3ML/day, soaring up to more than 8ML/day during the holiday season.

Dumezweni admitted QFS was struggling to meet the contractual requirements of its SWRO plant output of 2ML/day, and was averaging about 1.4ML/day. Many residents in the high-lying areas have been without municipal supply since November last year.

QFS’s 3ML wastewater RO plant has not yet gone online as there is not enough sewage reaching Port Alfred’s sewage treatment works adjacent to where the WWRO plant was set up.

A company called Nuwater had initially approached the municipality with an unsolicited bid to supply additional water through an RO plant in February 2020. But the municipality could not entertain it as they had already put out a tender for a 2ML seawater RO (SWRO) plant – with an option to augment to 5ML as funds became available – that was soon thereafter awarded to QFS.

This tender and contract was overturned by the high court for being irregular and unlawful.

It went out to tender again and was again awarded to QFS in late 2020, by which time the specs of the tender had changed to a 2ML SWRO plant and a 3ML WWRO plant. Both plants were placed at the Port Alfred sewerage works in Centenary Park.

Now Ndlambe has accepted the Nuwater proposal because of the ongoing water crisis.

Nuwater will supply the infrastructure, operate and maintain the plant at their cost and sell the water to the municipality at R8.84 per kilolitre. Nuwater will supply the first 0.25ML/day to the municipality free of charge.

Dumezweni said this was a competitive rate to other tenders received and the cost of water from the QFS plant, as well as other service providers providing water to the municipality.

The proposal includes that Nuwater operates and maintains the plant for an initial period of 12 months. The municipality has to supply the electricity, which will be metered.

There are also site infrastructure requirements, like a final water product line to connect to the municipal system, earthworks and civil works to prepare the site, two brine discharge pipelines, site clearing and installation of a shed for security purposes, and local labour employed during construction – the total cost amounting to R1,080,690 (excluding VAT).

Nuwater said it would absorb these costs if it is awarded a five-year contract to supply water.

Nuwater will be responsible for the management and administration of the plant at an additional cost of R86,500 per month. Dumezweni said this was to eliminate risk that may be carried by the municipality if the operations were taken over by the municipality.

“The other reason behind this is that Nuwater are the experts of their own design and for them to operate/maintain will be an added advantage,” he said.

One of the ANC councillors at the meeting queried why the municipality should pay Nuwater R8.84 per kilolitre.

“Water should be free as a right,” she said.

In response, Dumezweni said the municipality was not paying for the water but for the resources and infrastructure that produce the water.

“If the department of environmental affairs wasn’t obstructing us about constructing an additional 3ML RO plant, we wouldn’t need that 1ML RO plant,” he said.

“We need to upgrade the RO plant, but to do that we’ll need to take care of the remaining issues.”

He referred to the impact of climate change and the need to conserve water sources.

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