World-class water engineering skills

World-class water engineering skills are being harnessed by South Africa’s municipalities to supply drinking water to constituents.

Water and sanitation are basic human rights enshrined in our constitution []. Access to these services is also one of the Millenium Sustainable Development Goals [].

Yet, there are still many South African communities who do not have access to these essential basic services. This is more than 30 years after democracy. At present, 19% of the rural population does not have a reliable water supply. Meanwhile, 33% of these outlying societies do not have basic sanitation services. Then there are the many South African schools that have been struggling without drinking water for many years. Worryingly, just under 30% of urban and rural schools are without a regular and secure supply of water. Furthermore, almost half of all our clinics have to do without tap water. To provide proper healthcare, these facilities need clean running water. The cornerstone of all infection and control programmes is hand hygiene. This was once again demonstrated during the outbreak of COVID-19. Sound water, sanitation and hygiene [] practices played an important part in curtailing the spread of the virus. It again reaffirmed the importance of WASH professionals.

Our Infrastructure Engineering Division is helping to engineer water security in the country. The new Mathyzensloop Booster Pump Station is a case in point. This water infrastructure is now supplying 57 000 people who reside in Kwaggafontein. They previously relied on water tankers for their water supplies. This was supplemented by an erratic supply of potable water from Rand Water []. It remains a costly alternative for Thembisile Hani local Municipality []. Therefore, it will gradually be replaced by THLM’s own water source.

Water-engineering expertise

Ceenex has remained the first point of contact for water-engineering expertise for THLM. This professional working relationship started many years ago. We were engaged to determine available surface water sources in the area. This informed plans to provide a reliable and secure supply of water to Boekenhouthoek, Mathysenloop, Machipe and Bundu. These areas of Mpumalanga were all grappling with severe water shortages at the time. Without its own source of water, the municipality relied extensive on supplies from other Water Service Authorities [].

We were subsequently appointed to design and supervise the construction of a water-augmentation infrastructure to relieve the situation. The Bundu Water Augmentation Scheme remains a Ceenex flagship project that demonstrates the extent of our water engineering expertise. This is both in terms of our design and construction supervision capabilities. Certainly, it is also a source of pride for THLM. This is considering that it is the largest infrastructure project it has ever undertaken. Despite this, the infrastructure was successfully delivered according to specification. This also highlighted the extensive technical and project management capabilities housed with the municipality.

Funded by the Municipal Infrastructure Grant [Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) – Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (], it includes:

  • A water-treatment plant (WTP) with a design capacity of 10ML of water a day.
  • A new weir and abstraction point with a design capacity of 10ML of water a day on the Moses River.
  • A new 10ML command reservoir in Bundu.
  • An 8km of bulk pipeline associated with the scheme.

Water is pumped from the WTW via a rising main into the two Boekenhouthoek B reservoirs. They are connected to the new existing pipeline that feeds the Boekenhouthoek A reservoirs. From there, the pipeline feeds the new 10ML command reservoir and two water-retaining structures in Matheysenloop.

Quality water engineering services

Considering our track record supplying quality water-engineering services to THLM, we were again consulted to extend supply to Kwaggafontein. This was via a booster pump station in Mathyzensloop.

The water infrastructure has a capacity of 7.5Ml/day. It delivers water from Bundu reservoir to a new water-retaining structure in Kwaggafontein via a 250mm-diameter molecularly modified polyvinyl-chloride pipeline.

The water infrastructure comprises three booster pumps. Provision was made for a fourth unit to bolster capacity should demand increase at a later stage. Two pumps operate simultaneously interchanging with the third unit to reduce strain on the system.

A generator was also installed to supply back-up power during loadshedding and unforeseen interruptions in grid electricity supply. It is housed in a well-ventilated room.

The booster pump station is also equipped with an overhead gantry crane to handle heavy items for maintenance and repair.

This straightforward structure also comprises an office, kitchen and ablution facilities.

Water-engineering skills and experience

Our water-engineering skills, combined with those of very experienced contractors, ensured a successful outcome. Notably, we were able to reach practical completion within 16 months – two months ahead of the initial contractual completion date. This was upon request by THLM so that it could bring urgent relief to community members earlier than anticipated. Our contracting partners demonstrated the grit and determination to meet this expectation.

The mechanical scope of work for the booster pump station was successfully completed by Mbako Group []. Tshwele Construction was tasked with constructing the pipeline.

Ceenex worked with both contractors on the Bundu Water Augmentation Scheme. Therefore, excellent team dynamics were already established between the engineering and contracting teams when they mobilised to site.

This placed the professional team in very good stead. Familiar with the contracting teams’ capabilities, we could anticipate challenges and take the necessary action timeously. Moreover, we were able to work well together to troubleshoot and find solutions to unforeseen challenges quickly. This helped to keep the project progressing according to schedule.

One of the biggest challenges was excavating the pipe trench in mountainous terrain. This required extensive blasting, including conventional and chemical, in addition to the use of hydraulic hammers to break oversize material. Where blasting had to be undertaken close to dwellings, extra safety measures had to be implemented. These were in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 8 (2) (b) []

Due to fluctuating water flow and stresses, some of the pipes also had to be restrained so that they remained connected.

Nevertheless, Tshwele Construction successfully overcame all civil -engineering obstacles.

It also demonstrated sound mechanical engineering capabilities when installing the scour, surge anticipating, isolating, air and level-sensing valves.

Water engineering design

An optimised life-cycle centred philosophy was adopted in the water-engineering design. This included the innovative use of fit-for-purpose materials to construct the infrastructure.

For example, top-of-the-range KSB Pumps [] were specified. Locally based, KSB Pumps can provide fast and efficient technical support to THLM to mitigate downtime. Moreover, high quality imported valves that are supplied by a local company were deployed. This is considering that they comply with the ISO Valve International Standard, namely ISO – 5209 – 77 []. The use of high-quality equipment will ensure the longevity of the water infrastructure. This while also reducing maintenance and operating costs, one of our many water-engineering value propositions.

As far as possible, materials were sourced locally. When they were unavailable in Mathyzensloop and Kwaggafontein, we still sourced materials in the province.

Notably, we exceeded our socio-economic development targets for this project. All of the labour requirements were sourced locally. This provided employment, as well as skills development and training opportunities for community members.

We also did not experience a single incident of community unrest that would potentially delay the project. This can be attributed to THLM’s approach of engaging the community early and proactive management of expectations. These were complemented by its transparent communication and procurement processes. Both Mbako Group and Tshwele Construction also have experience working with construction small, medium and micro enterprises and community members. This also facilitated good community relations.

Water-engineering experts

A highlight for our water-engineering experts was formally handing over the booster pump station to THLM and its constituents.

This proud moment was attended by honourable Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, David Mahlobo []. He was joined by Executive Mayor of THLM and Nkangala District, Lesetja Dikgale [] and T.D Ngwenya [], respectively. It was also a pleasure hosting Eunice Malekana, who represents Technical Services on the THLM Members of Mayoral Committee. She was joined by Municipal Manager, Dumisani Mahlangu, and THLM Councillors [].

Zeph Nkosi, THLM’s hands-on Project Manager, best describes the importance of this occasion. “Water is life, but access to water is dignity. With Ceenex’s help, we delivered exactly that!”

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