The quality and supply of Grahamstown’s water has improved dramatically over the past six months under the stewardship of Amatola Water and the gradual implementation of the R54 million Water Crisis Intervention Project. But, Makana’s water systems are still on the mend – and are often turbulent and leaky. Embizweni reporter Emily Corke fills us in.
Earlier this year new water monitoring systems and technologies were introduced at all the water treatment works in the district and water was being sampled and tested every hour. Amatola’s Chris Nair hailed these new technologies and tighter scheduling of water sampling as “the Rolls-Royce of water testing.”
Sadly, some of this new equipment was vandalised at the end of June. The culprits were never found and Nair said that Amatola still feared for the safety of the new equipment.
“These stations are in remote areas and the current security is not working,” said Nair, “They have managed to breach both electric fences.”
Until the security has been strengthened there has been a hold on the replacement of the vandalised technology.
This is typical of Makana’s epic water saga – two steps forward, one step back.
Following the extended collapse of large amounts of Makana’s water supply last year, Amatola Water was contracted to manage water allocation, water treatment, water management and to facilitate the training of the municipal staff operating our water systems.
Amatola Water was supposed to be paid using funds allocated to the Department of Water Affairs and various other parties, including a R50 million rescue package administered by the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC).
However, the intervention project hit another snag in July when Amatola Water workers were asked to withdraw from Makana after they had received no payment for their services.
After an emergency Makana council meeting, ECDC money was redirected to Amatola for the next financial year.
Further problems arose when the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) embarked on a nine-day-long wildcat strike. The strike affected Amatola with localised interruptions at the water reservoirs.
The relationship between municipal workers and Amatola has been fraught with tension. Municipal workers were initially unhappy with Amatola’s arrival. SAMWU confirmed high levels of tension between municipality staff and Amatola.
Nair said, “The Makana staff did not want to take orders, especially in October last year when we first came in and it was all about rapid response.”
He went on to say that the problem was from the supervisor level down to the worker level. In March, striking intensified and there were reports of intimidation against non-striking Amatola workers.
Nair has confirmed that while their relationship has improved, it will never be perfect.
Despite this, the water supply was consistent throughout the National Arts Festival.
Since the end of the festival there have been a number of major pipeline leaks. Nair said this was causing a higher demand on water traveling to Grahamstown East. “But, we are managing that and all plans are working at an accelerated pace,” he said.
He added that the updating of standby equipment was well underway and should be completed by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Grahamstown’s water quality is on the mend. The Waainek Treatment Plant rose to 99.4% compliance with the national standards in April this year compared with a 54% rating for the same plant in October 2013.