By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU-A water crisis is looming countrywide with the capital Maseru left with only a less than a month supply of raw water from Maqalika Dam.
This year’s portable water supply shortage has been attributed to the drought experienced countrywide between January and March, this is despite the fact that Lesotho exports millions of litres of raw water to South Africa every day.
That is not all.
If the Maqalika raw water pump station valued at US$6.828.228.46 (M38 million) commissioned in 2011 was operational, the water crisis would be less acute.
The World Bank-funded pump station has not worked since it was commissioned and test-run, according to some authorities at Water and Sewage Company (Wasco).
Shockingly, the water company had to recently take some pumps for repairs in South Africa.
GWC Consulting Engineers and UNIK Engineering, the two companies that implemented the pump project last week distanced themselves from the mechanical hiccups, saying all was well when they handed over the pump station to Wasco. In 2009 Wasco sought funds from the World Bank for the construction of the Maqalika pump station in Maseru.
The structure was meant to draw water from the Mohokare River to be pumped into the Maqalika reservoir for use during the dry season or after heavy rains when the water in the Mohokare River is muddy.
In addition, the pump station was also meant to pump water released from Muela Dam by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) into the Mohokare River to the Maqalika reservoir.
The components of the pump station include the river intake structure, discharge structure, supply and installation of three raw water pumps – one of which is a standby pump and 900milimetre diameter iron pipeline.
However, Chief Executive Officer for the water company, Mathealira Lerotholi said it was worrisome that despite the huge investment, the capital city of the Southern African region’s water tower, as Lesotho is known, was now desperate for water.
“This is because none of the pumps were working when we recently tested them. We have since had one fixed by our South African supplier and another is being repaired.
“We hope that in a week’s time, we would start receiving water from ‘Muela and be able to start pumping water from the river into Maqalika and from two other intakes to Matsoatlareng and Thetsane water treatment plants.”
GWC Consulting Engineers who designed the pump station and supervised works by UNIK said the pumps were working when they handed over the project.
“The pumps were test-run to ensure that they are operational,” Mohan Bakaya of GWC said last week.
Bakaya confirmed that although the test-run had eventually gone well, there had been certain mechanical problems experienced when the pumps were initially tested, but these were rectified before the commissioning.
“The mechanical problems included excessive vibrations due to the water hammer effect, which was fixed by installing surge protection devices.
“Minor defects identified during commissioning were attended during the defects and liability period in 2012,” Bakaya said.
Another problem was the inadequate capacity of the transformer.
“The problem with the transformer was that it could not allow two pumps to run simultaneously. The rest of issues were taken care of before our client issued a certificate of completion,” he said.
In addition, the damages caused by the floods that occurred in January and February 2011, which were mainly limited to the river bank protection works, were also fixed before the client took over the project, Bakaya said.
However, the bottom line is, the pumps did not kick-start when the capital city needed them most this dry season.
Bakaya could not explain the specifics of current problems at the M38million pump station.
“We don’t know what has been happening because the station is now under the care of Wasco.”
On the other hand, Unik Engineering, which installed the pumps said although their concern was the structure and not the pumps, they checked them after they heard they were not working.
Engineer X.J Yang said he had found the suction pipe buried in sand, a situation that might have damaged the pumps.
“There is need to ensure good care of the system and also ensure correct operations because these are special Germany flood pumps. It is for that reason that we trained the water company personnel to ensure they understood the operations. They have to remove all the sand in the wet-well before they start operations, and because there are flood pumps, the level of water in the Mohokare River must be correct.”
However, Lerotholi said the problem was not incapacity to run the pumps.
“We fully understand how to operate and care for the system,” he said.
Some officials at Wasco who spoke on condition of anonymity indicated if the pumps were meant for raw water and not portable water, their design would be more tolerant and have the ability to deal with various rough elements associated with raw water.
“What we know is that, there is corruption somewhere, because these are not the right pumps for the intended job,” one of the workers said.
Wasco has been rationing water for the past two months causing many residents of Maseru to go without water for days.
With hopes once pinned on the pumping station fading away, residents can only pray the summer rains, which start next month would come just on time.