Makana Municipality has advised residents to boil municipal water due to high concentrations of bacteria, including e.coli. The problem is expected to be resolved with the delivery of the correct chemicals to Makana’s water treatment plants today.
A notice dated Monday 21 May from the directorate of engineering and Infrastructure Services and signed by acting municipal manager Ted Pillay is headed ‘Public notice: Water quality’. It warns residents of Grahamstown and Alicedale of a high concentration of e.coli – a bacterium found in the faeces of animals and humans – in municipal water.
“The municipality therefore request the residents, as a precautionary measure to… boil the water before drinking,” the notice, issued Monday afternoon, reads. However, the high turbidity in water, while it may cause stains on clothing, does not pose a health hazard, the notice says.
The problem is the result of Makana running out of supplies of the correct chemicals – a problem managers said was caused by supply chain delays. In reply to a question from Grocott’s Mail asking when the problem would be resolved, Pillay yesterday said officials from the Sarah Baartman District Municipality would ensure chemicals would be sent to Makana today (Tuesday).
“[Water and Sanitation Manager] Ntombi Tshicilela and her team will treat the water immediately thereafter and ensure that all problems in the water are sorted out,” Pillay said last night.
During Council portfolio committee meetings last week, councillors and officials expressed strong concern about the quality of the water currently coming out of Grahamstown’s taps. Infrastructure Development and Technical Services portfolio head Mabhuti Matyumza said on Thursday that residents would be informed of the problems with water treatment and storage that might affect quality.
Both the Social Development and Infrastructure Development and Technical Services portfolio committee meetings raised concern that potable water for residents’ consumption wasn’t being treated correctly and that legislated water quality testing is not being carried out. Both problems were the result of the municipality’s financial constraints, officials said.
A report to the Social Development portfolio Wednesday 16 May indicated that municipal testing of water samples in January 2018 had shown a coliform count of 101 at the Alicedale reservoir. The SANS standard is less than 10. SANS 241:15, published in March 2015, is the Drinking Water Standard that lists determinands and corresponding limits that must be measured to determine that the quality of water is safe for people to drink.
The results were forwarded to the water section, the report noted. “They had a challenge with chemicals. Necessary steps were taken and the public were informed to boil water for drinking and cooking purposes.”
While Alicedale’s water showed acceptable levels by March, this was the month that water tested at the Joza reservoir had a total coliform count of 29 and e.coli 2 (standard is 0).
Escherichia coli is a sub-group of the faecal coliform group. These kinds of bacteria are present in the intestines of people and warm-blooded animals and their presence in water indicates a degree of contamination with faeces or sewage. The “count” indicates the degree of contamination and the SANS standard for coliforms in water is less than 10. Faecal coliform is measured in colony forming units per 100ml (cfu/100ml) of water tested.
Director of Infrastructure Dali Mlenzana said this problem was not because of inadequate treatment at the plant, however, but because of contamination in the infrastructure storing and carrying that water. He said reservoirs needed to be cleaned out.
Environmental Health Deputy Director Johann Esterhuizen said in Wednesday’s Social Development portfolio meeting that drinking water in some of Makana’s supplies was currently being treated with swimming pool chemicals.
Esterhuizen said his department regularly tests water quality at the treatment works at Waainek, James Kleynhans, Alicedale and Riebeeck East and that currently it is of an acceptable standard; however, Makana had run out of the liquid chlorine required for correct water treatment and he feared the excessive e.coli levels detected recently in Alicedale’s supply might return.
“What we are giving to the community is not right and we are going to have major problems,” Esterhuizen said. “I would recommend something be done urgently so we know the water is fit for human consumption.”
Esterhuizen described the correct process for chlorinating water, which is the feeding of a constant stream of liquid chlorine into the pipeline carrying filtered water into the reservoir. He explained that water in the reservoirs should thus already be chlorinated.
Instead, Esterhuizen said that in Riebeeck East, untreated water was fed in the reservoir, where chlorine tablets were broken up and dropped into it. “But it’s not mixed and that chlorine is meant for swimming pools.”
However, he confirmed Water and Sanitation Manager Ntombi Tshicelela’s statement that the results of recent quality tests had not shown any current problems. He assured Tshicelela that her department would be immediately informed should they detect harmful levels of bacteria or minerals.
Because water is crucial to human health, the Municipal Systems Act dicatates that alongside testing by the municipality, regular testing must be done by an accredited laboratory to verify compliance with the SANS 241: 2015 water regulations and standards.
This testing was done through Amatola Water, who ensured this Blue Drop System requirement was complied with.
However, Makana owes Amatola R48 million, as well as a smaller amount in laboratory testing fees, and so no independent testing has been carried out recently. A set of tests costs in the region of R4000.
Tshicelela said it had been negotiated with Amatola that the much smaller laboratory fee amount be paid while Makana continues to pay off its multimillion-rand debt to the water utility. This meant the legislated testing would resume.
Mlenzana emphasised that internal testing had continued and that the hiatus in independent laboratory testing was primarily a compliance concern.
“Just because it hasn’t been tested, doesn’t mean the water is not up to standard,” Mlenzana said.
‘Our water is safe to drink’ says Director
By Sarah Connock
Director of Infrastructure and Technical Services at Makana, Dali Mlenzana, is quick to quell rumours about the quality of the water in Makana. Grocott’s Mail approached Makana after some members of the public said they had been advised by clinic staff that the diarrhoea they were experiencing was due to contaminated municipal water.
“At Waainek because of the issues of the supply of chlorine gas, currently we’re using chlorine tablets,” Mlenzana told Grocott’s Mail in an interview on 7 May**. “This is acceptable according to the standards in the Department of Water and Sanitation. As soon as we sort out our problems with our supplier then we will stop using the chlorine tablets,” Mlenzana said.
In a Council portfolio meeting this week, Mlenzana explained that problems in the supply chain management process had delayed the supply of water treatment chemicals.
The water within the plant is tested hourly, Mlenzana said. “We know the quantity that we are testing on a daily basis. For instance, we know at Waainek that on a 24-hour day we treat about 7 megalitres of water, so we know how much chlorine we need and we test it continuously to make sure the water is properly purified.”
The water coming out of Grahamstown taps is tested at least once a month, based on the Department of Water and Sanitation standards, Mlenzana said.
The last tests were done by the Department themselves. Based on their tests from last month, “Our water is safe to drink and no one will get sick from it,” Mlenzana said.
Settlers Hospital also does its own water checks to ensure that the water meets the required standards. If the water does not meet the required standards at any hospital owned or operated by Netcare, they install a filtration system to address this problem. “The last test [was]performed during February 2018,” said Nolene Ferreira, the Clinical Services Manager. “There has never been a need to install a filtration system at Settlers Hospital.”
*One megalitre is one million litres.
**Date of interview added.
The cost of keeping it clean
During a presentation earlier this month to Minister of Co-operative Governance Zweli Mkhize, Grahamstown businessperson Mike Duxbury outlined the extent of his business’s investment to remain viable in Grahamstown.
He established Carara Agro Processing in Grahamstown in 2004. One of the city’s business success stories, the company employs 24 permanent staff; 1400 seasonal staff in the Grahamstown factory and 700 in satellite factories in Stutterheim and George, as well as up to 2000 seasonal jobs on farms.
Duxbury said 95% of their products – all grown and processed locally – are exported. However, to comply with the production safety standards required for export, all incoming water is treated before it is used in the factory.
He had invested heavily in ensuring this compliance, Duxbury said, with the cost of special infrastructure as follows:
Filtering and chlorination: R80 000
On-site water storage due to breakages and irregular supply: R230 000
Contingency water source: R126 000
Reverse osmosis plants: R1 million
Results of a sample taken of incoming municipal water on 7 May 2018 were as follows:
Coliforms 10 cfu/100ml (SANS 241 standard is <10)
Escherichia coli 8 cfu/100ml (SANS 241 standard is 0)
Total microbial activity 4100 cfu/ml (SANS 241 standard is <1000)
As required by Carara’s overseas clients, testing of water after it is treated at Carara is done by an accredited laboratory. It was this laboratory that conducted the tests on incoming municipal water, Duxbury said.
- Originally published in print Friday 18 May; updated online later Friday 18 May, Monday 21 May at 5.15pm (warning to boil water) and Tuesday 22 May at 8.45am (when and how the problem is being resolved).
THE NOTICE FROM MAKANA – 21 MAY 2018:
PUBLIC NOTICE – WATER QUALITY
This serves to notify all the residents of Grahamstown and Alicedale of the high concentration of E.coli and standard plate count colonies on municipal water.
The results came out of the sampling and analysis of water conducted during the month of May 2018. The results further indicated high Turbidity on the Eastern side of Grahamstown resulting to brownish colour of water.
The municipality therefore request the residents, as a precautionary measure to hard boil the water before drinking.
Residents are therefore assured that the high turbidity experiences in water does not pose a health hazard to humans but at most causes brown stains especially to clothes.
Furthermore, residents are requested to allow water to settle before doing laundry to avoid staining of their clothes as that cannot be mitigated by the boiling of water.
The municipality is conducting further investigation to the matter for implementation of mitigation and monitoring measures.