Paul Trafford, Somerset West

Throughout the country – as has become the norm during the December and Easter holiday seasons – burst water pipes have become the bane of many people’s lives.

During early December, Somerset West experienced a major burst water main/pipe almost every week. The following points have become the general trend relating to this problem:

* Unannounced water cut-offs;

* Major inconvenience during the hottest time of the year;

* The testing of infrastructure stress limits that cannot cope;

* Major excavations on both road and residential areas, taking months to recover, or left neglected;

* The overburdening of water response teams who are increasingly challenged with these bursts.

While not professing to be a “water systems savant”, I have a great grasp of common-sense when problems such as these are tabled.

Without having the inside-track information when it comes to water infrastructure and the nuances associated with this imperative requirement, I stand corrected on any of the following solutions if they are not possible or viable;

* In general terms, most of our local utilities infrastructure has been neglected over years. This aging system obviously breaks down from time to time; however steps can be taken to mitigate any down time and related repair costs as follows;

* Certain periods throughout the year see increased influxes of people to our country and in particular the Western Cape, courtesy of the desirable location that attracts many tourists and the annual returning, residential “swallow” migration, placing additional stress on the infrastructure.

* With regard to the Somerset West area, over the past few years there has been a significant and protracted effort made by the local authority to replace water pipes that are now again under strain and bursting.

* The localised area remains scarred by these repairs, with some of the poorest suburban road surfaces in the province, citing the two top local roads for repair as being Reservoir Road and Parel Vallei Road, outside the high school.

* If ever the phrase, “our children are our future…” is to be taken seriously, then the area immediately outside the above school is an accident-in-waiting due to seriously poor and uneven surface, non-existent curbing, and poor storm water management that is defeated by the poorly-designed and positioned giant speed-bumps.

* Additionally, there is no effective traffic or pedestrian management as a parental/family/friend driver free-for-all, and a “me first” attitude prevails at least twice a day.

* The avenue of eucalyptus/blue gum trees has no doubt contributed to the poor road condition due to the trees’ invasive root systems.

However, the poor condition of Reservoir Road can be wholly attributed to the constant, repeat diggings and excavations associated with water utility and cable repairs.

Solutions to the above could be as follows:

Rather than wait for the water piping system to overload and burst, a better option for all concerned would be to regularly monitor and lower the water pressure. By doing this the following would be achieved:

* Unannounced water cut-offs and shedding would be averted.

* Consumers would always have water, albeit at a reduced pressure, that is more desirable than a total cut-off. This option could also be introduced to better control water usage when the dam water levels are low or during drought periods.

* By increasing the water tariffs to curb water usage, this will not deter those in the community who have both the financial means, coupled with their bad/arrogant conservation attitudes to pay more for their unlimited water supply, this only unfairly penalises the average conservative consumer, who are in the majority.

The down-side to this option will be an overall reduction in water usage by all, which would be detrimental to municipality revenues, something that the municipalities have to creatively come to terms with, on behalf of ‘their’ consumers.

lThe pipe/water flow pressures would be significantly reduced at the pipe joints and sub-stations.

* Damaging water surges would be eliminated as the return to normality would be a gradual return rather than unleashing a pressure torrent.

* Generally when pipes burst they are often repeat bursts, suggesting that there may be either major ground movement or junction pressures that are too high. These repeat locations should be reviewed by engineers and improved by way of better pipe and junction protection.

* Where repeat locations are identified, consideration could be given to raising the junction sections to ground level, protected by concrete access hatches for ease of future repairs. There are at least six of these high-risk areas in the vicinity of Parel Valley Road – Dummer Road – Reservoir Road and Aberdeen Road.

* When replacement pipes are laid, they could be subjected to a cushion sleeve material to allow for the clay soil to move without stressing against the rigid, fixed pipes.

* Road surface repairs would be reduced; resulting in a capital cost saving that would be reflected in the improved road surfaces that would become more durable, improving both road and pedestrian safety.

In summary:

If the will is there from the authorities, most of the above is eminently achievable.

The beleaguered water consumer would both get used to and accept lower pressures at certain times as their lives would not be totally frustrated by adhoc water shedding or cut-offs.

Naturally they would enjoy any respite along with the improved environment that they reside in.

A qualified municipality response would be most welcome through the Bolander to the people.

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