TAPS RUN DRY
Yeoville residents frustrated by ‘sporadic’ water supply
Some residents of Yeoville have had intermittent water supply since the end of March. They say Johannesburg Water has not explained the problem nor has it given them a timeline for when their water supply will be restored.
A technical issue at the Yeoville water reservoir on 30 March caused thousands of litres to flow into the streets, flooding surrounding areas and causing water supply issues in several nearby neighbourhoods.
Although many of these neighbourhoods’ water was restored, some Yeoville residents – especially those living on Highland Street across from the reservoir – say they still only have “sporadic” water supply.
Robert Simmonds, who lives on Highland Street, said he typically has water between three and six hours a day, usually from 1am into the early hours of the morning. But some days, without warning, his water goes off for days at a time.
“Last week, it went off again for about four days during which we had absolutely no water,” he said.
Simmonds said when he has “part-time water”, he often wakes up at 2am to shower or do his laundry before the water goes back off again.
Residents have taken to stockpiling water to cook, brush their teeth and flush their toilets. For some, like Simmonds, who live on the upper levels of multifloor buildings, carrying large amounts of water is difficult.
Simmonds said that in his building the lift is in need of repair so residents have to carry water up the stairs.
Tumelo Botsephegi, who also lives on Highland Street, said Joburg City Water has not told him why his water supply has been so inconsistent.
“It’s almost a month now that we’ve had a water issue… It’s frustrating… They haven’t specified what really is the challenge.”
This has left residents unsure about the cause of their water supply issues, and when they will have consistent running water again.
It’s taking time to get hold of the stuff, and they’ve got to repair it, because it’s so old. You shouldn’t run a pump station with bits that you can’t easily replace.
Johannesburg Water spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala told Maverick Citizen that two pumps were damaged in the 30 March flooding and “we are currently pumping with one pump instead of three”.
She said high-lying areas such as Highland Street were the first to be affected by pumping issues.
Water and sanitation expert Richard Holden, who also lives in Yeoville, said pumping issues are also tied to rolling blackouts. Whenever the pumps lose electricity, the system starts to fill up with air.
“So when the one pump comes back on, it’s got to basically fill the entire system with water, and the last bit which gets filled up is the top,” he said. “So [those living in high-lying areas] end up … without water, whilst the rest of us who are a little bit farther down the hill have water.”
To get consistent water supply back to residents in high-lying areas of the neighbourhood, Holden said the damaged equipment would have to be replaced so that the reservoir could run on three pumps.
Carlos Da Rocha, the councillor for Ward 66 – which includes Bertrams, Bezuidenhout Valley, Observatory East, Bellevue East and parts of Kensington and Troyeville – said some residents had been impacted during the initial flooding and pump failures on 30 March.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Joburg’s latest water outages – residents ask: ‘Is this sabotage or secret shedding?’
He said the water supply system needed to be more resilient in the context of rolling blackouts.
“They need to start adjusting the systems to accommodate for the load shedding,” he said. “Pumps work on electricity – they must make sure they have something in place that they can deal with the water pumps if the power goes off … because water cannot stop flowing.”
Shabalala said Johannesburg Water was “in the process of procuring new components for two pumps” and that “it should take us a few weeks to re-commission” them.
Holden said he thinks the procurement process is going slowly because the system was very old to begin with, and so it’s difficult to find equipment that will work with it.
“It’s taking time to get hold of the stuff, and they’ve got to repair it, because it’s so old,” he said. “You shouldn’t run a pump station with bits that you can’t easily replace.”
Holden said the city had not budgeted enough money to replace ageing equipment throughout the city, leading to issues like the one in Yeoville.
Shabalala said Johannesburg Water was “continuously monitoring” impacted areas “and [is] supplying a roaming water tanker as and when it is necessary”.
Botsephegi said he got water from a roaming water tanker on Sunday, 16 April, but when one came by on the following Thursday, he was at work.
“There was a communication that [the tanker] was in the afternoon, so I was still at work,” he said. “Meaning I have to spare myself with the water that I took on Sunday.”
Holden said before Sunday, 16 April, Johannesburg Water had completely ignored the issue.
“Joburg Water has been appalling on the communication,” he said. “It should be available on their Twitter feed … saying, ‘We know we’ve got a problem here.’ Even if people say it will take a week to happen, people can make a plan, people can be resilient. But if you go and look at their website, zilch.”
Simmonds said bad communication from Johannesburg Water about this water supply issue played into a broader dynamic of the city neglecting Yeoville neighbourhoods.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Why Joburg has worsening water issues — even when the dams are full
For example, he said, Johannesburg Water had dug up a section of Percy Street two years ago, just down the road from where he lives, to investigate a leaking pipe. They have still not filled it back in.
As a result, one of the main entrances to the neighbourhood is now difficult to access by car.
Simmonds said when he tried to talk to Johannesburg Water employees about the hole in the road, they ignored him, rolling up their windows or picking up their cell phones when he approached.
“The [city] council has taken a hands-off approach and done nothing, it’s just abandoned this whole area,” Simmonds said. “The whole area… it’s neglected by everyone.” MC/DM