Bay back on tap today

Hendrick Mphande, Kathryn Kimberley and Rochelle de Kock

A MAJOR water disaster has been averted in Nelson Mandela Bay, with municipal workers repairing a large feeder pipe and water supply expected to be restored to the affected areas by this afternoon.

On Thursday, two feeder pipes from dams supplying water to the city collapsed near the Van Stadens River Resort, causing seven of the 54 reservoirs to run dry.

The burst pipes also brought to light the municipality’s dire infrastructure crisis, with the infrastructure starting to buckle because of a lack of critical maintenance and insufficient funding.

The city needs about R374-million a year to eliminate the backlog of required water infrastructure, such as pump stations, reticulation, treatment works, reservoirs, dams and bulk water supply, and it needs R176-million a year to maintain the infrastructure.

Only about R180-million was allocated in the 2012/13 capital and operating budget for both maintenance and replacing water infrastructure.

Municipal officials and contractors have worked around the clock over the past four days to fix the problem, which affected large parts of the city, including Central, Deal Party, Summerstrand, Charlo, Newton Park, Walmer, Humewood, North End, Korsten, Struandale, Mount Pleasant, Lovemore Park, Lovemore Heights, Algoa Park, Gelvandale, Gelvan Park, New Brighton and Kwazakhele.

The municipality said yesterday that one of the two pipes, a 700mm steel pipe, had been fixed, meaning water supply could be back to normal later today.

It could take up to two weeks to repair the slightly bigger concrete pipe as the municipality still had to order special adaptors.

Car washes and laundromats have been urged to close shop and residents asked to use water sparingly.

And with the assistance of the municipality, it was business as usual at hospitals.

St George’s Hospital spokeswoman Natalie Henman said the hospital still had enough water in its taps. However, the municipality had conducted a dry run on Friday and additional water tanks would be filled up if the hospital encountered any problems.

“It is quieter over the weekend so we were not too worried about the water running out,” Henman said. “But now that things are expected to get busier, we have a back-up plan in place.”

She said the hospital had also stocked up with enough bottled water for patients.

Provincial Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said public hospitals had similar contingency plans in place.

He said although there was still enough water in the reservoirs, the department had trucks on standby to dispatch water.

Greenacres shopping centre set up portable ablution facilities for customers, while coffee shops and restaurants in the centre had to bring in bucket-loads of water for cleaning purposes.

Other coffee shops and restaurants in affected suburbs also had to find alternative ways to cater for customers.

Abbey Mukasa, the acting manager at El Greco restaurant at the Boardwalk, said he had stocked up with buckets of water.

The Bay lived up to its Friendly City status as residents also clubbed together to assist those in the worst-affected areas.

Wandie Snyman Greeff, from Charlo, said friends living in Fernglen, who had been without water since Friday morning, had made use of her bathroom.

Lize Standring of Colleen Glen said her family of four was used to conserving water, so they had all the measures in place for water shortages.

“We rely entirely on rain water,” she said. “We have a water tank that catches rain water, a water cooler for drinking, and an outdoor camping shower that works with a gas bottle and a small water pump, so no worries about smelling bad.

“Problems may arise once we have to do washing. But it is amazing how versatile we prove to be in times of need.”

Infrastructure and engineering committee chairman Andile Mfunda commended the municipal workers who had worked around the clock to ensure the pipe was repaired.

“I want to thank the mayor, the acting municipal manager, the communications team and the infrastructure and engineering workers who were proactive in getting the work done quickly,” he said.

“Immediately after we discovered the crisis, water tanks were dispatched all over the city and to hospitals.

“We know the situation is an inconvenience and we want to thank all the residents for their patience, but the team is working around the clock to provide water and we are managing the situation.”

Infrastructure and engineering acting executive director Barry Martin said they had made substantial progress in containing the problem.

“We expect the supply of water [to resume] to all affected areas by lunchtime today,” he said. “We urge residents to stick to basic [needs] and use water sparingly.

“The municipality will continue to dispatch water tankers to all affected areas.”

Martin said a full report on what had gone wrong and the implications would be discussed at the next infrastructure and engineering committee meeting.

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