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A monumentally fatal proposal for Bulawayo: Khami Dam water for drinking?

09 Jun 2020 at 10:10hrs | Views
The Bulawayo community read with a shock in The Chronicle about the City's proposal to use decommissioned Khami Dam water to supplement the City's potable water supply. The City of Harare's current water quality woes are a result of a similar wrong decision that was made around the end of the 80s to supplement that City's potable water supply with reclaimed sewage water.Having been at Criterion Water Works Laboratory at that time, I was priviledged with information that we provided through our then late City Chief Chemist Sam Sango to the then Harare City Chief Chemist, a Mr Mkhudu.Whilst Bulawayo Criterion Laboratory provided technical support then, the programme was never seen as likely to provide healthy and clean water to the community of Harare. After a series of tests of Khami Dam Water, it was recommended that it would never be suitable for public consumption because of its high chemical, organic and microbiological pollution load which was not possible to bring down to World Health Organisation Standards required for potable water.

The Khami Dam water is rich in sewage waste content coming in through public water courses like Khami and Phekiwe Rivers and it was abused by the Rhodesian Security system.That made and makes it a hazard to public health.The water has very high Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) and Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and has very high suspended organic waste material of faecal content. The e-coli bacterial levels would be difficult to reduce to acceptable potable water requirements. Cholera epidemics are thus a possibility in future. The ordinary use of a combination of ammonia and chlorine (chloroamines) to kill the bacteria would be very expensive. Chemicals for settling the suspended organic and inorganic wastes as both phosphate based and polyelectrolytes sludge would cost the City and the ordinary citizen an arm a leg.Quantities of the activated carbon, to reduce odours and regernerate a clean clear appearance of the water is also very costly as these chemicals are imported.

The Bulawayo City fathers should inform the public what methods of treatment they propose to use to deal with high BOD/COD, E-COLI, suspended solids, odours and water coulour to meet WHO Standards.The current experience in Bulawayo is that the water has high levels of muddy and decaying leaves (organic) smells that they are failing to remove from the water the City is supplying. This is due to low water levels in the dams and the current treatment regime is failing to give the City's citizenry clean and odourless water.

The City fathers need to convince the Bulawayo public what methods they will use to give mental and physical confort about their proposal to bring dirty water from the Khami Dam. It can be assumed that since 1989 the quality of Khami Dam water has become worse considering an exponential population increase in the Bulawayo City environs.It would be interesting if the current analysis results are coming out better than those obtained then. If the 1988/1989 results retention period has not expired and Criterion analysis results are still available, then a comparison can be done and informed decisions made.

The Khami Dam water programme was abandoned and the Nyamandlovu Aquifer water was taken on as a better alternative.The Aquifer water, however, could not be imbibed in its raw form because of its high mineral chemical load.The water was pumped to McKurtis Farm, the Magwegwe Reservoir, at which it was blended with potable water from Criterion Water Works.Even then 24 hour hourly automatic samplers were installed to determine the right ratios of the aquifer and portable water that could be settled for. Continuous analysis against treatment was done on a preferred basis to meet water supply emergency plans then.

This gives the sense that water is food and monumental care needs to be taken to ensure that the public is given water that meets the WHO Standards. It would be cutting unfairly across the the rights of the residents to respond to an emergency and make a bad decision that will live with the ordinary cititzens for years to come. The City Council fathers would need to give examples of models of purifying sewage waste water to potable levels that have worked against scientifically proven methods of purification anywhere in the world, except the Harare City case.Bulawayo does not need to degenerate water quality standards to what Harare citizens have been exposed to.

That would be criminal.

The City fathers should at least be giving the Bulawayo public options of water harvesting that exclude reclaiming polluted sewage water. One racial sewage Manager at Eiselby, some few decades ago, persuaded one of our previous Mayors to drink reclaimed water from the sewage plant. His argument to convice the innocent City Leader was that the water looked clear in the glass. For goodness sake, the public should not be persuaded the same way to drink what they may not be convinced is properly treated water.

It causes the local Bulawayo public great concern and worry if a consultant has to come from Harare to tell the City and the nation that Bulawayo has no need to have a disaster state for water supply declared because the problem is not one of water shortage, but of reticulation. Bulawayo has Engineers that surely would be able to decipher the source of the problem; that is water shortage or pumping problems. Assuming the consultant is right, which most ordinary citizens doubt and think his conclusions seem to satisfy other agendas, how can we rely on the City's technical staff to advise the Council about Khami Dam water's suitable treatment to bring it to consumable standards. Something seems really questionable with the advice from the consultant that Bulawayo water supply situation is not worth declaring as a disaster. The City population need facts and the truth about the real problem on the ground.
The supply of water to the City's citizens is a service for which they pay rates. It means that the service should be good and it must meet both Public Health and World Health Organisations' Standards. The City's technical staff may need to dig deeper into the sewage dam water reclamation proposal to assist the City's top management and the City Council to make decisions that are implementable within public health standards.  The Bulawayo public refuses to be taken for a ride and the proposal may need a closer reassessment.

There are options that the City can adopt such as water Kiosks. However, for the water projects to aggressively respond to problems of supply sustainably, it may need to transform its approach. One way could be adopting the African City concept and drive the solution from grassroots. People must not be given a problem and the solution. They should own the two. That will assist in water savings, raising alarms where there is water leaks and changing the culture from believing that water is permanently available in unlimited quantities to accepting the reality that even a drop of water is now very valuable. A mantra like, to give an example, 'ithosi lamanzi emlonyeni yimpilo'(‘a drop of water into the mouth is life'. The concept of ‘umthombo' localises water sources and the protection of pumping equipment. The infrastructure may already be there within the city. The African City Concept integrates the traditional approach to the solution of water supply problems with the modern engineering skills that the City already has.This is a concept that may inspire the suffering masses and gives them hope that real solutions are supposed to be homegrown centred on water conservation at household and community levels.

The public in Bulawayo is banking on the proficiency of the City's technical staff in gathering up data and facts that should enable decision making process in this water supply emergency. During the emergency and ‘pre-disaster' time, if it is indeed pre-disaster,  the City Council should have grassroot people awareness programmes based on facts and embark on preparedness plans that should mitigate the water supply disaster and negative livelihoods impacts.

Prince Zwide Khumalo
+263 772 350 443

Source - Prince Zwide Khumalo
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