Water warriors tackle leaks

The water hero who tried to fix the burst water hydrant.

As the water crisis grows ever more dire, the City of Cape Town admits its pipe-repair teams are under so much pressure they have to leave some bursts for hours or even days to prioritise even bigger gushers.

Tabletalk last week reported on a burst pipe (“Leak detection,” Tabletalk, March 1) that took the City six days to fix.

The City responded to our query after deadline to explain their time frame, but then Tabletalk received two more complaints of bursts, as the City released a “name and shame” list of the roads where the top-100 water guzzlers live.

A Koeberg Road business owner said there was another leak in the road – on top of the one we had already reported on – after a pipe burst on Monday February 27.

And also on Monday, photographer Colin Brown sent us pictures of a fire hydrant that had burst after firefighters fought a fire in Boundary Road close to Marine Drive (“Fighting flames,” Tabletalk, March 1).

According to Mr Brown, the fire hydrant burst itself, “gushing plenty of water into the gutter”. He said a resident reported it at about lunchtime and at 7pm, he took matters into his own hands, found an old spanner and attempted, with little success, to turn the valve off.

“While this was going on,” said Mr Brown, “the waterworks chap arrived and finished the job, but not without water being lost at a massive rate between 12am to 7pm.”

While it may have taken six days for the City to fix the first burst water pipe, Stuart Diamond, acting mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, told Tabletalk the City prioritised water leaks in terms of their severity.

He said that when a leak was reported, a first “responder” (a small, mobile unit with the capacity to perform minor repairs), was sent to assess it.

If the unit couldn’t fix the leak itself it would advise the repair team how to prioritise it.

“A large burst can, in a few seconds, let more water run to waste than a slow leak would in a few weeks,” he said.

The City’s water conservation and water demand management programme had reduced the “burst rate” from 63.9 bursts per 100km of piping in the 2010/2011 financial year, to 31 bursts per 100km according to the latest statistics, “saving millions of litres of water in the process”, he said.

Water losses had been reduced from around 25 percent in 2009 to below 15 percent for the latest statistics.

“This being said, where we can improve efficiencies in our own operations, we are making every effort to do so. An additional budget of R22.4 million will be allocated to the City’s water and sanitation management department in the new financial year for an additional 24 teams to do first-line response, nine additional dispatchers and three additional shift supervisors at the dispatch centre to serve areas in the city.”