Herald probe reveals massive water leaks
Less than a week after newly elected Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip made an urgent plea to residents to save water or face restrictions, more than half a million litres of drinking water has already gone to waste due to existing leaks.
The appeal prompted The Herald to launch a three-day investigation – as it did two years ago – into leaks around the metro which revealed that an eye-watering 542 000 litres of clean water had been wasted in 130 hours since Trollip’s speech.
The mayor made his plea at his first media briefing last Tuesday, saying that “in the next few days, or a week, we will most likely move on to water restrictions”.
While The Herald received almost 90 reports of leaks on Facebook – with a handful of duplicates – the majority of the more than 30 sites visited by the newspaper were considered to be minor ground leakages and therefore were not measured.
However, major leaks in Chatty 1060; Old Uitenhage Road behind Khayamnandi; Bhucu Street in Mandelaville, Uitenhage; and the Scouts Hall at St George’s Park, spewed out more than 500 000 litres in less than a week.
Armed with a stopwatch, three different sized bottles, a calculator and covering more than 500km, The Herald team discovered streams of clean water going to waste.
Using 500ml, 750ml and 1-litre bottles, the team used simple calculations to draw up measurable readings. If it took one minute to fill a 1-litre bottle, it was then calculated how much would be wasted in an hour. This was then multiplied by the 130 hours.
● Chatty 1060 contributed 175 500 litres with water bubbling out of a water main and flowing down three gravel streets before trickling into a dam;
● In Old Uitenhage Road, a torrential flow of water from several leaks in an RDP development resulted in 117 000 litres lost and caused the road below to erode and made many roads in the Khayamnandi township extension itself unusable;
● In Bhucu Street, a stream runs along an open field in Mandelaville, adding the loss of a further 156 000 litres which disappears in a stormwater drain in Shuttle Street; and
● For months at the abandoned Scouts Hall in the St George’s Park precinct – now inhabited by vagrants – a hosepipe running from beneath one corner of the structure has been running non-stop, wasting 93 600 litres in 130 hours.
These discoveries enraged residents and small businesses around the metro.
Car wash owner David Seekoei, 49, said: “This municipality has the audacity to tell us to be wary of water waste, yet they are the biggest culprits. “I have owned my car wash for more than 10 years, yet in that time I have not wasted as much as the municipality.
“And at least the water I use I pay for – the water lost by the municipality is paid for by residents of the metro.”
“Almost every second street in this area has some type of water leak. “The municipality first needs to take the log out of their eyes before the splinter in ours,” Seekoei said.
His comments were echoed by Bhucu Street resident Daniel Kingsley, 50, who first noticed that leak last month.
He reported the problem earlier this month, but since work was done on the site a little more than a week ago the leak has become even worse.
“We hear of water restrictions looming but here I see thousands of litres of crystal clear water just run away every day,” Kingsley said.
“Now the ground has turned to mud, the water runs into my yard and starts to stink, and we have more mosquitoes than ever before. “I have to chase kids away here regularly because they come to play in the water. It’s becoming dangerous. We live like pigs and no one seems willing to help us.”
Despite water leak issues having drastically improved since The Herald’s previous three-day investigation two years ago – which revealed in excess of three million litres being wasted – the situation remains bleak.
The municipality is battling a massive increase in consumption in recent years and reporting losses of more than R130-million between July last year and March due to leaks.
The municipality failed to respond to daily requests since Wednesday for updated water loss figures, progress reports on the 300 plumbers deployed to various wards through the War on Leaks Programme, and answers to questions on the water leaks uncovered by The Herald.
Despatch resident and owner of Wishy Washy laundromat Sandra van Antwerpen, 47, said: “Water restrictions make a huge difference to my municipal account. We use our quota of water for ourselves at home, then my whole business account comes at a higher tariff. ”
“And when there are restrictions, more people bring their laundry to me to save their own water “And even when there are no water restrictions, our water supply is often switched off without warning. Then we hear there is a leak that needs to be fixed. Other times they say it’s just maintenance. “But every time the water is off, or tariffs go up, my business suffers.”
In Qunu informal settlement, the residents have to use wire to stop water flowing out of pipes as they do not have stopcocks.
At his briefing, Trollip called on residents to police themselves and each other to use best water-saving practices.
Proposed restrictions, referred to as “soft restrictions”, mean that watering gardens, plants, golf greens and sports fields with a hose will be banned. Buckets and watering cans must be used instead.
The restrictions have not yet been implemented as the council still has to give its approval. A meeting is expected to be held this week. – Additional reporting by Yoliswa Sobuwa