The state of Joburg’s pipes

Mail & Guardian - - News -

Jo­han­nes­burg’s in­fra­struc­ture in­cludes

220 000 man­hole cov­ers. To get wa­ter to homes, the util­ity has 117 reser­voirs, 31 pump sta­tions and 11 000km of pip­ing. Treat­ing the wa­ter re­quires a fur­ther 35 pump sta­tions, six treat­ment plants and an­other 11 000km of pip­ing. Jo­han­nes­burg Wa­ter ob­tains clean wa­ter from Rand Wa­ter, which gets it from the Vaal Dam. The util­ity then has to treat dirty wa­ter un­til it’s safe to re­lease into the rivers.

In the north of Jo­han­nes­burg, most of the raw sewage heads to the gi­ant North­ern Works wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant, next to Diep­sloot. Any dirty wa­ter spilled here ends up in a sys­tem of rivers that flows all the way north to the Lim­popo River, and even­tu­ally the In­dian Ocean via Mozam­bique.

The na­tional wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion de­part­ment, the owner of all this wa­ter, has con­stantly stepped in, is­su­ing di­rec­tives to faulty sewage treat­ment works, to force the city to fix the prob­lem.

But, along the Jukskei, the prob­lem is so big and the bud­get so small that there is lit­tle en­gi­neers can do. The plan for this area is part of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion sce­nario that has been drawn up for the Croc­o­dile West catch­ment area.

Each river sys­tem has a sce­nario drawn up for it. This one, from 2009, says wa­ter de­mand in north­ern Jo­han­nes­burg at that time was 220-mil­lion cu­bic me­tres a year. By 2030, it will be 302-mil­lion cu­bic me­tres — far more wa­ter for drink­ing will need to be treated at sewage plants.

En­gi­neers are strug­gling to get wa­ter to the sewage plants. The stand­out ex­am­ple of this is the Aca­cia Street pump sta­tion. Built in a wet­land in 2005, it’s sup­posed to take sewage from es­tates in the area and pump it to North­ern Works. It fre­quently fails to do this, and the wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion de­part­ment has threat­ened to is­sue a direc­tive to force Jo­han­nes­burg Wa­ter to fix the prob­lem. The util­ity, in re­sponse to this, has said there’s lit­tle it can do. It doesn’t have the bud­get to build a new pump sta­tion out­side of the wet­land.

And the prob­lems at the cur­rent sta­tion are mostly not of its own mak­ing. Elec­tric ca­ble theft halts the pumps and there are il­le­gally con­nected sew­er­age lines di­rect­ing stormwa­ter into the treat­ment plants.

To help, the ca­pac­ity of the North­ern Works wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant is be­ing in­creased. An­other plant in Drie­fontein is also be­ing up­graded and a new plant has been fin­ished at Lanse­ria to the west. This is start­ing to solve the prob­lem of sewage spilling into rivers. But the back­log in other parts of the sys­tem, in­clud­ing pipelines, is both crit­i­cal and ex­pen­sive. A kilo­me­tre of new pip­ing costs R1-mil­lion. Jo­han­nes­burg Wa­ter has 22 000km of age­ing pipe­line. —

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