Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
BULAWAYO City Council (BCC) has said water levels at its supply dams that are 52 percent full as well as a drastic drop in supplies from Epping Forest due to vandalism of infrastructure have worsened the water crisis.
The council is now implementing a 72-hour weekly water shedding programme as part of its water management system.
Bulawayo dams recorded insignificant inflows during the 2021/22 rainy season.
The country has reached the summer season and it is expected that water consumption will increase.
Bulawayo municipality has for the past few months been postponing decommissioning Umzingwane and Upper Ncema dams due to the scheduled water shedding programme.
Recent council statistics showed that both dams were just 7 percent full.
What is worsening the water crisis is that as opposed to getting 15 megalitres per day from Epping Forest, the city is only receiving 5ML/day due to alleged vandalism at water works.
Furthermore, the council has been hit by numerous pipe bursts which has resulted in the local authority failing to maintain its water shedding programme with some areas going for more than a week without water.
Bulawayo has been experiencing perennial water challenges with the ongoing construction of Lake Gwayi-Shangani expected to bring an end to the water crisis upon its completion.
BCC acting director of engineering services Engineer Sikhumbuzo Ncube said if the city conserves water it will remain under the 72-hour water schedule until late in December.
“Our water levels are now 52 percent.
While we are supposed to get 15ML/day from Nyamandlovu and Epping Forest at the moment we are receiving just 5ML/day due to what we have been told as vandalism of infrastructure at the site.
If we were getting 15ML/day from Epping Forest and Nyamandlovu we were not going to have a problem. We were going to continue with the 48-hour water shedding exercise until we reached December.
The Epping Forest strategy is that if you decommission Umzingwane, which was providing us with 17ML/day and we draw 15ML/day from Epping Forest we will have a deficit of 2ML/day which would not have affected our supplies,” said Eng Ncube.
He said council has been gradually increasing the shedding programme from 24 hours to 48 hours and now 72 hours due to the depreciating water levels in the city’s supply dams.
“The reason why residents are not getting water is not because we have not mounted new pumps, it is because we don’t have water.
In the past residents could not feel the impact of the breakdowns, because we had raw water at the Criterion Reservoir.
But after that fault which occurred in July we exhausted all the water that was at Criterion Reservoir and we were left with nothing in our reservoirs,” said Eng Ncube.
Eng Ncube said higher lying areas in Pumula South and Nkulumane suburbs were not getting water under the 48-hour water shedding programme due to the high demand when council reopened its taps.
They are now getting water under the 72-hours shedding.
“By introducing the 72-hour weekly water shedding exercise the plan is to make sure that we balance our system so that all the residents can get water.
This is also aimed at ensuring that we fill up raw water at the Criterion Reservoir and from (last) Wednesday our clear water has been above 96 percent as it gives us breathing space,” said Eng Ncube.
“We were no longer able to get some breathing space when we were shedding water for 48-hour but with the introduction of the 72-hour water shedding, it allows us that breathing space.
As we try to balance our systems, those living in high lying areas if you open valves under the 48-hour water shedding timeline they will definitely not get the water.”
He said the water crisis has been exacerbated by the hoarding of water, storing more than what is needed, as residents have bought bulk water containers which they fill up when council restores water supplies.
Eng Ncube said the early introduction of the water shedding programme has delayed the decommission of critically low Umzingwane and Upper Ncema dams.
He said if residents use water sparingly council will continue under the 72-hour water shedding up to December.
“We have reached a 72-hour water shedding programme, but we have not decommissioned Umzingwane and Upper Ncema Dams.
Why? Because I’m saying let’s try to push with all our dams up to December. What used to happen in the past is that we stuck to the 48-hour water shedding programme over stretching the capacity of our dams,” he said.
“We would then move to weekly 72-hour in September before we quickly migrated to weekly 96-hour before December and gradually move up to 144-hour weekly water shedding programme.”