CoCT ‘knew water was contaminated’ before awarding desalination plant tender

The desalination plant at the V&A Waterfront. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

The desalination plant at the V&A Waterfront. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 28, 2019


Cape Town - The company that built the desalination plant at the Waterfront, and is threatening the City of Cape Town with legal action over outstanding payments, said the city knew the water was contaminated before the tender was awarded.

Quality Filtration System (QFS) said they had uncovered information that the city was aware of the same

contamination in the seawater in 2017 but neglected to divulge this information during the tender processes.

Herman Smit, managing director of QFS, said: “QFS have, via their legal adviser, formally advised the City that QFS do not believe the city is meeting its legal obligations to comply with the necessary water safety regulations. The city should be conducting routine tests of the local seawater quality and identifying any potential health risks.

“This is a statutory obligation, which the City insists has been contracted to QFS. That is legally impossible. As the local water services authority, the city is not legally permitted to contract out its responsibilities.”

The company said a report by University of the Western Cape Professor Leslie Petrik outlines the issues QFS have had with the feed quality of the seawater, which had affected the plant’s operations and led directly to the dispute with the city.

“The city does not want to acknowledge their responsibility or pay the extra costs for this treatment. The city had, until now, claimed they had no awareness of the poor water quality and have held QFS responsible throughout for the poor seawater condition,” Smit said.

QFS was contracted in January last year to provide one of three desalination plants to provide fresh drinking water using a reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant. These plants were developed in the city’s bid to beat Day Zero.

The company then entered into mediation with the city for five days. No consensus was reached. The mediation process ended on Monday last week. According to the company, the city is now blocking the mediation report from being made public.

According to reports, the plant could not produce desalinated water at times due to turbidity and algae blooms, which were natural occurrences. Turbidity refers to the degree to which water loses its transparency due to the presence of suspended particles.

The plant began producing water at the end of May last year.

QFS has now decided to pursue legal action against the city over outstanding payments totalling more than R20million.

In a letter addressed to the City of Cape Town, Prof Petrik said: “The water reclaimed is termed potable water, and from the tender document description one can assume it will be piped from the plant directly into the water mains serving the suburbs.

“The (daily) injection rate is apparently 8megalitres, which will primarily be supplied into the Molteno zone serving the CBD. Without disinfection and tertiary treatment, there is a danger that persistent organic pollutants,

bacterial or viral loads will not be removed adequately.

“This represents a big public health issue. It seems the assumption in the tender is that if you take the salt out of seawater and perhaps irradiate it with UV, the water is clean enough to drink. This is overly simplistic and incorrect.”

The city was approached for comment on Thursday, but have not respond to queries since.


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Cape Argus