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Boven residents unhappy about water quality

Waterval Boven resident Mr. Rudolph Pretorius is hopping mad about the ongoing problems with “dirty” water experienced in the town over an extended period. And it seems he is not the only one… A number of other Boven residents have subsequently come forward to complain bitterly about the same problem – many of whom have shared hair-raising stories with THG journalists, as well as supplying a number of images to back up their claims.

On further investigation, it would seem that, in many cases, their claims are valid. The accompanying pictures have not been altered in any way and clearly show that there is something wrong with the water. In many instances, it comes out of the tap a “murky, brown” colour. If a sample remains undisturbed for a few minutes, whatever is suspended in the water quickly settles to the bottom and forms a dirty, brown layer. Definitely not what the average resident wants to see in their drinking water. And the problems caused by this sediment go a lot further as well. Residents routinely have to call in local contractor Mr. Wouter Erasmus, to clean out their clogged “lacto” valves at the point where the municipal mains water supply enters their homes – at (at least) a cost of R250 a pop. Once it gets into people’s homes, it also accumulates in the hot water geysers – eventually clogging the entire system and often resulting in geyser failure. Here, the damage is a lot more expensive. Mr. Erasmus reported that he has personally been involved in the repair and/or replacement of “dozens of geysers” over an extended period, almost all of which, according to Erasmus, “are as a direct result of high sediment levels in the municipal water supply”.

So, what to do? There is definitely a problem, so THG journalists approached Emakhazeni Local Municipality (ELM) officials for answers.  And the answers are actually quite surprising – and not quite as straightforward as may be expected. According to an ELM official directly involved with the bulk water supply to not only Boven, but also the other three towns in the ELM municipal area, officials are not only aware of the problem but have already taken steps in the past to address the problem and are currently completing further measures aimed at finally eliminating the problem. The current system was explained as follows: Boven simultaneously utilises both an “old” and a “new” water treatment plant in order to supply sufficient good quality water to residents. Not necessarily the best system but, due to budget constraints, the only one available. It was demonstrated to THG how the “raw” water is first treated with lime to correct the Ph level and then a flocculant is added to begin the process of separating any sediments that may be in the water, before it passes through a combination of sand filters and settling ponds. Finally, very small quantities of chlorine are added to remove any remaining bacteria or micro-organisms before the purified water is pumped to the town’s reservoirs for use. A simple, but efficient system that, most of the time, works well.

So, if the system works, why the problem? The (perfectly reasonable) reply we received was this: “Regularly, the system needs maintenance and this means that sometimes, unavoidable small amounts of dirt or sediment get into the system. This is the exception, rather than the rule. In the past, we were able to flush the system of any sediment before it became a problem for consumers. The simple fact now is that almost all of the fire hydrants in Waterval Boven have been repeatedly stolen by criminals who sell them to scrap metal dealers. This has, in many instances, resulted in the municipality having no choice but to permanently “cap” many fire hydrant points – effectively preventing officials from flushing the system in certain areas, even if they wanted to. The end result of this criminal activity is the unavoidable build-up of contaminants in the water,” officials said. “We sympathise with residents and have put measures in place to minimise the problem on an on-going basis.”

It would seem that the problem seems set to become a recurring one due to, ultimately, circumstances beyond the control of ELM. It would seem prudent for all affected residents to, where possible, be vigilant and take responsibility for the monitoring of their own water quality with a view to flushing their individual water systems before a problem arises.

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