Message from the Chief Executive of Umgeni Water, Cyril Vuyani Gamede, at Dam Safety Event Monday, 27th June 2016 Mhlabatshane, Ugu District

Dam Safety Demonstration

An Umgeni Water team is here today on an important mission, and that is to help in the process of information and education provision, as part of our commitment to assist in the protection of communities that live close to bulk water storage and treatment infrastructure.

For those who are not entirely familiar with Umgeni Water, we abstract, treat and supply safe drinking water in bulk to six municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal. The municipalities are: eThekwini Metro, Msunduzi Local Municipality, Ugu District Municipality, iLembe District Municipality, uMgungundlovu District Municipality and Harry Gwala District Municipality.

We are here with representatives of KZN Aquatics and officials of Ugu District Municipality and Umzumbe Local Municipality who have joined us to share their knowledge and experiences on how to prevent accidents, incidents and deaths in unprotected areas where people swim.

Simulation exercises have already been held on what to do should you get into difficulty while in a river or a dam, and learners have participated in various competitions that illustrate the extent to which they understand the purpose of today’s event.

In Phungashe, Umgeni Water has addressed the need for a reliable supply of safe drinking water through construction of MhIabatshane Bulk Water Supply Scheme. However, it often happens that provision of infrastructure, such as dams, is accompanied by certain risks to people who live close to this infrastructure. Umgeni Water’s participation in this initiative is driven by its need to help save lives by minimising these risks. For many years we have been concerned about the number of people who have drowned in rivers and dams.

Dam Safety Demonstration

When we leave, the initiative that we implemented here today will not end: the legacy of training, information and education that have been provided can be imparted by recipients to others in the community. In this way many hundreds of people will become water wise and ambassadors for water safety.

While on the subject of safety, it is important I share with you another area of concern for Umgeni Water.

Like many other State entities, Umgeni Water has infrastructure, such as dams, pipelines, reservoirs and water treatment plants, in its service area. If, for example, in the planning phase a pipeline is to cross through a privately-owned or State-owned property, Umgeni Water negotiates with the owner. If this negotiation is successful, it pays the owner compensation for the part of the property that will house the pipeline.

Dam Safety Demonstration

This part is called a servitude which is registered in the name of Umgeni Water. Despite servitudes being clearly marked, informal dwellings have been built on them without consent.

Construction of dwellings on or close to servitudes poses a huge problem. What follows is that Umgeni Water staff cannot access pipelines for maintenance and repair purposes and if this cannot be done, a pipeline rupture could occur.

These are high-pressure pipelines that carry huge volumes of water. Imagine this: a pipeline bursts and there are dwellings on or close to it. Everything in the path of the pipeline will be washed away.

This is precisely what happed in Molweni in 2009. One of Umgeni Water’s pipelines that carry raw water from Nagle Dam to Durban Heights ruptured. A house built close to it was washed away in the force of the water. Two children who were in the house were also swept away and were found dead the following morning. A school and some houses that were further away from the pipeline were also damaged.

Umgeni Water is taking the issue of servitude encroachment very seriously and has begun a campaign by engaging Mayors, Ward Councillors, Amakhosi and schools to create awareness of the dangers of living on or near a pipeline and also of the consequences of infringement of the legal rights of owners of servitudes.