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Water crisis time for Port Alfred

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 03 June 2010

The Ndlambe Municipality has intervened to stave off an impending water disaster in Port Alfred by drastically reducing the pressure in supply pipes.

Port Alfred has less than 3-weeks potable water left.

The decision was taken at a crisis meeting of the Ndlambe council yesterday morning, guided by municipal experts who have warned there is less than a month of drinking water left for the Sunshine Coast town, at the present rate of consumption.

It was implemented immediately, starting at midday, Ndlambe communications manager Khulukile Mbolekwa said yesterday.

At the same time, a team was last night set to work through the night compiling a business plan to present to the government to support a plea for urgent funding for a new desalination plant.

The de-pressurisation measure has been implemented equally, across poor and affluent areas, in Port Alfred and adjoining Nelson Mandela Township, Mbolekwa said. “However the town is an uneven area, with valleys and hills, and it is possible residents in the high-lying areas will be more challenged for supply. They will get water, but supply will be more challenged.”

Port Alfred has only about seven days of drinking water left from its main source, the Sarel Hayward Dam, situated in the catchment above Bathurst.

“Besides this there is a holding dam that is still full, and it will give us the extra days for the total estimate of 15-20 days, perhaps at outside a month,” he said.

“If it does not rain, even with the present restrictions in place – after that we will have no water left. That is why we had to act.”

The initial crisis plan for Port Alfred was to cut water completely through certain periods of the day but the authority realised this would be a mistake.

“Port Alfred’s main underground water supply pipe is very old and if the valves were closed completely, and then opened again, there is a chance the pipe would have broken,” he said. “If that happened we would have had a lot of water going to waste and time spent fixing it again.”

The hope is that the de-pressure strategy will give Ndlambe enough time to build a desalination plant in Port Alfred, he said.

There is already one such plant which serves the other Ndlambe hamlets of Kenton and Bushmans, while Alexandria, Boknes and Cannon Rocks have a back-up supply from a spring in the local dunes.

Bathurst is being served by borehole water but its dams are completely dry and it is in an even worse crisis than Port Alfred. So the plan is that the new desalinator will serve Port Alfred and Bathurst.

“The issue was discussed in a crisis meeting in council this morning. A team has been appointed and given four weeks to come up with something concrete in terms of a desalination plan including possible contractors, costs and the time it will take to get it up and working.”

Asked if Ndlambe could carry the heavy financial and energy cost of a second desalination plant, Mbolokwe admitted that the local authority did not have the money.

“But we are in crisis and we took the decision to go all-out for this thing while applying at the same time to Cacadu (district municipality) and national government for them to recognise this as a crisis situation. National government has asked us to submit a business plan and we are doing this immediately.”

He said Ndlambe had not yet formulated a specific strategy as to how it would solve the onerous electricity demands of a desalinator but this detail would be specified in contractor submissions. “Water is a right, and we have to serve our customers. We understand the costs but we need to solve this problem.”

– Guy Rogers
Weekend Post

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