|Bushmead Water Works|
...officials watch as chemicals store gets empty
…city engineer’s job hangs on the balance
…council risks lawsuit from affected residents
City of Masvingo recently pumped half treated water to residents after staff in the engineering department negligibly watched as one of the critical water purification chemicals in the stores run out, TellZim News can report.
From the last days of November 2019, TellZim News has been investigating the cause of the decline in municipal water quality.
Many residents contacted claimed that on many incidences from the end of November, municipal water had failed to convincingly pass the eye test as it had done in the past
Information at hand shows that the city’s engineering department slept on the job and deliberately ignored as aluminium sulphate supplies in the stores dwindled.
To get to the bottom of the matter, council has since formed a commission of enquiry made up of all departmental deputy heads whose findings are expected to be tabled any time this month.
In water purification processes, aluminium sulphate is used as a coagulant which causes suspended impurities to coagulate into larger particles and then settle to the bottom of the clarifying tanks to be filtered out more easily through a process called backwashing.
At the end of November, senior city managers and councillors were taken by surprise when they were informed that at least a day’s water supplies had been pumped half treated as aluminium sulphate had run out of stock.
Shocked and disappointed, acting town clerk Edward Mukaratirwa rushed to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) where he borrowed three tonnes of the chemical as part of emergency measures to avert a full-blown crisis.
Under normal circumstances, the city procures the chemical from Chemplex Corporation in Harare.
Meanwhile, the city had continued to pump inadequately treated water to the residents, but would at times stop all pumping as the emergency plans were being made.
Sources said city officials exaggerated the effects of power cuts by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) for the prolonged stoppages in pumping as they made frantic efforts to replenish the chemical stores.
“There is gross incompetence in council especially in the engineering department where there seems to be a reluctance to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. The city engineer (Tawanda Gozo) is particularly underfire as he continues to preside over the worst performing department. There are indications that the chemicals debacle was deliberately created as part of cheap in-house politics, sabotage and point-scoring,” said a close source.
Other key chemicals that council often uses in water treatment throughout the year include activated carbon to remove taste and odour, lime for PH correction and chlorine gas or calcium hypochlorite for disinfection.
Depending on need, council sometimes uses sodium silicate as a flocculant aid which densifies unwanted particles.
TellZim News contacted five of City of Masvingo’s 10 councillors who, speaking on condition they are not named, all confirmed that council had on some occasions pumped semi-raw water as ‘some chemicals’ had ran out of stock.
The rest said they had no finer details about the matter but pointed out that it was an embarrassing development coming from the ‘same department that often gives council many problems’.
“It is disappointing that people could be that negligent. We could have understood had it been a case of shortage of money to buy the chemicals. The money was there and people knew our usual suppliers yet they chose to ignore the usual stock-taking routines for reasons best known to nobody but themselves. We eagerly await the outcome of the enquiry before we can take measures. What I can assure you is that it would be a gross dereliction of duty on our part as councillors if heads do not roll,” said one councillor.
Another one said it was high time council took stern measures against acts of gross negligence by council employees.
“We hear that some people are mobilising each other to sue council. That would be costly to us and the only recourse would be for some people to go home. We cannot continue paying people who deliberately put residents’ lives at risk,” said the councillor.
When contacted for comment, Mayor Collen Maboke professed ignorance of the debacle, saying no report of such error of omission had reached his desk.
“Nothing of that sort has reached my office. If it indeed happened, it probably then all happened behind my back,” said Maboke.
On the town clerk borrowing chemicals from Zinwa, Maboke said council and the water authority had a working relationship allowing them to lend each other chemicals in times of need.
However, when Mukaratirwa himself was contacted for comment, he hesitantly confirmed the debacle and said disciplinary procedures were in progress.
“We had to take emergency measures to contain the situation. Disciplinary processes are happening and we would not have wanted this to be in the media prematurely,” said Mukaratirwa.
He made assurances that the city now had enough chemicals in stock to meet its daily requirements.