Taps run dry in Queenstown

People in the Queenstown area of the Eastern Cape have been struggling to get water for months. The main dam is at 10%, the augmentation scheme cannot cope with demand, and a new dam project is more than a year behind schedule.

Spokesperson for the Chris Hani District Municipality, Thobeka Mqamelo, said the water problems were due to the severe drought gripping the area for the past three years, GroundUp reported.

Areas affected are Mpolweni, Mlungisi, Ezibeleni, Phase 5, Sabatha Dalindyebo, KwaThemba, Mabuyaze, Nomzamo, Magxaki, Top Town and Blue Rise. Some of these places only receive tap water for two hours a day.

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Bonkolo Dam in Queenstown is at less than 10% capacity. (Photo supplied by Chris Hani District Municipality/ GroundUp)

Bonkolo Dam, which is Queenstown’s main water source, is hovering below 10% capacity. Water is now being drawn from the Waterdown Dam, 60km from Queenstown. However, Waterdown was only ever meant to augment Bonkolo.

"The amount of water we are getting from this source is inadequate due to pipeline limitations," said Mqamelo.

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"The pipeline was constructed as an emergency relief. We are only able to get 250 litres per second, instead of 500 litres per second, which will ensure our reservoirs maintain enough capacity to supply the community."

Consequently, since January 2016, "the municipality instituted water restrictions meaning water supply is cut from 20:00 to 04:00 to allow for our reservoirs to fill up", said Mqamelo.

She said townships in hilly areas, such as Mpolweni, were the worst affected. Residents now rely on Who Can Tell location and Mark Bright location, which are almost a kilometre away. However, both of these also run dry. Then residents have to walk 2km to get water.

'Carrying a 20-litre bucket full of water is not child’s play'

Sinoxolo Mali from Mpolweni said: "Since 2016, water has been on and off, but as from late last year things became worse. We are not receiving water at all in this area."

"Carrying a 20-litre bucket full of water is not child’s play, but we get used to it," said Mali.

Babalwa Siko of Mpolweni is storing water in drums next to her house. "I’m hoping that this water will last my family for a few days because I’m always at work and my children go to school," she said.

Read more: Garden Route, Eastern Cape brace for dry spell as Cape dams continue to rise

Siseko Dushu from Mlungisi said his area only received water for two hours, and some days not at all. Sometimes they get water in the early hours of the morning for an hour and again in the afternoon. Sometimes the water is back on, but people are away at work and miss it.

Mqamelo said the R82m phase 5 of the Xonxa Dam Transfer Scheme, which involves the Xonxa pump station, was a year behind schedule. The original contractual completion date was May 3, 2017, but there had been problems with the standard of work from a subcontractor, which had to be redone; an electrical line which had to be rerouted by Eskom; and payment disputes. The new expected date of completion is September 2018.