The 17-year water leak
Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness
Pietermaritzburg - A burst pipe in Howick has allegedly been gushing kilolitres of water every day for the last 17 years.
The burst pipe’s constant flow of wasted drinking water is well hidden across the Umgeni River opposite Siphumelele in the town.
Large pools of water cover metres of soil surrounding the pipe, with water gushing with such force, one can feel the spray from 10 metres away.
Dusi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct) member and Howick resident Sandile Masondo said research he had done on the pipes and other poorly maintained infrastructure showed that the pipe had been leaking for at least 17 years.
In 2005, Masondo joined an eco-initiative while still in high school and soon became an avid water conservationist. In 2012, he began measuring the amount of water an individual used in one day, as well as the amount wasted and money lost.
In 2012 and 2013, Masondo started visiting houses and tracking their leaks after discovering the burst pipe across the Umgeni River in 2011.
“I went from house to house to find the leaks and tried to calculate how much water was being wasted,” he said.
“I have met people with water bills that exceed R1.5 million due to the water leaks.”
Masondo said one house with a water bill that ran into the hundreds of thousands had had a burst pipe in the yard for over two years.
“I decided to see how long it would take to fill up a single 25-litre bucket from the leak — it took 30 seconds for that bucket to be full.”
He said in just 24 hours, the water loss through the leak had reached 72 000 litres.
“I made up a presentation with all the facts and figures and showed it to the Umgungundlovu District Muncipality.
“They came out to inspect the burst pipe across the river. I even took photos of them looking at it. That was four years ago, and nothing has been done,” said Masondo.
He said he had tracked over 100 houses in the area with major leaks, and had wanted to form a group of “champions”, locals who would be taught the basics of plumbing, to fix the leaks inside and outside the houses.
“It takes three minutes to fix a leak, and usually costs around R1.50 if all that is needed is a new washer.”
Masondo said he had started giving basic plumbing courses to the children in the area, ranging from Grade 2s to teenagers so they could fix leaking taps and pipes at their own homes.
Duct member Liz Taylor said the organisation always aimed to work with the municipality and hoped the idea of using community plumbers could be implemented throughout the district.
“There are people in the communities who are willing to work as plumbers for R2 000 a month, and if we could start with a few community plumbers fixing leaks in their areas, it could really make a difference,” she said.
Taylor said this had been suggested by the municipality, but it had been suggested to her that the unions did not want community members employed as plumbers.
Umgungundlovu municipal spokesperson Mbali Ndlovu said on Sunday that they conducted annual audits and found the municipality was losing 46% of their water at a cost of R32 million.
“There are assorted contributing factors towards water loss, including old and frail infrastructure, illegal connections, increase in demand, and vandalism.
“As a water services authority, we attend to reported and unreported leaks and these are repaired as and when reported to our call centre, but it may take up to 24 hours.
“We view water wastage as a serious matter, as it includes unaccountable revenue in the region of millions,” said Ndlovu.
“The municipality has implemented the removal of the old infrastructure in Merrivale and Hilton, which will significantly reduce the relatively large percentage of water loss.”
She said the municipality had already employed community members to “assist in the fight against leakages”.
“We urge our customers to call our 24-hour tollfree number, 0800 864 911, to report water-related incidents.
“All reported incidents have reference numbers, traceable through an incident programme.
“We are not aware of a pipe that has leaked for over 15 years, as the public, concerned stakeholders and local ward councillors report all these incidents to technical services, and even the mayor and municipal manager.”