THE Water and Sewage Company’s (WASCO) has denied reports that it deployed under-qualified engineers to operate the Metolong Dam and Water plant resulting in poor quality water being supplied to residents in Maseru, Mazenod, Roma, Morija and Teyateyaneng.
WASCO insisted that its engineers underwent a rigorous training exercise and are suitably qualified.
The company also said it had overcome the challenges that had seen residents being supplied with water that was discoloured and also contained blood worms.
“WASCO wishes to inform its customers in Maseru, Morija, Roma and TY that following weeks of experiencing challenges in the treatment of manganese at the Metolong Treatment Works (MWTW), a breakthrough has been achieved and water quality has been restored to normal and/or desired levels,” WASCO said in a statement this week.
“This success is attributed to weeks of hard work in changing some of the design elements and tackling the operational challenges at the Treatment Works.”
Some internal sources within the company had laid the blame for the poor water quality on WASCO’s alleged decision to employ under-qualified engineers to operate the Metolong Dam and Water plant.
The water plant was constructed by a Chinese state-owned company hydropower engineering and construction company, Sinohydro, under the supervision of Metolong Authority.
The Metolong programme is the first phase of the Lesotho Lowlands Water Supply Scheme which aims to ultimately supply water to all the communities living within the lowlands of Lesotho.
The first phase of the M5 billion project began supplying water to Mazenod, Roma and Morija in September 2014 while Teyateyaneng and Maseru began receiving water from the same plant in 2015.
The Metolong Authority handed over the plant to WASCO in 2015 and according to company sources, WASCO was advised by the former to send its engineers for further training under the supervision of Sinohydro who constructed the plant.
According to the sources, the training was necessitated by the observation that the Metolong plant is “different and larger” than any of the plants WASCO uses to supply water to different communities across the country.
However, WASCO allegedly refused to send its engineers for the training exercise on the grounds that it believed that once they were trained they would leave the company in search of greener pastures outside the country.
“The engineers manning the Metolong plant were never trained to effectively run that plant,” one source said.
“Sinohydro and the Metolong Authority wanted the WASCO engineers to undergo a rigorous training exercise but the management refused, saying most Basotho leave their companies for greener pastures after acquiring such rare skills.
“The recent discoloration of water and presence of bloodworms were a consequence of the engineers’ lack of skills to run the plant.
“Since WASCO took over the plant, it has been one issue after another. The Metolong plant is different from the kinds of water treatment plants that our engineers are used to because of its huge size and complexity. The engineers needed to be trained to ensure that they fully understood how this plant is operated but WASCO management decided against doing so. The presence of bloodworms and uncontrolled manganese clearly shows that they are struggling,” the source added.
However, WASCO has refuted the allegations and insisted that its engineers underwent a one-year re-training programme to enable them to effectively operate the plant.
Speaking at a press conference in Maseru this week, WASCO Director of Operations and Maintenance, ‘Mamathe Makhaola, said after the re-training WASCO engineers were now able to operate the plant on their own and without encountering any serious problems.
“When we were given authority over Metolong in 2015, we discovered that the plant was way bigger than the ones we have been using. Therefore, from April that year, we received training from the contractor until April 2016.
“Since then we have been operating the plant without any hiccups and the recent challenges (blood worms and the coloured water) were not because of the inability to handle the plant.
“The blood worms are products of the midge flies which enter the plant through air ventilators but we have devised a plan to deal with that because it is not proper to have worms in water.
“The coloured water was due to excessive manganese hence the brownish colour and the smell. Besides making washed clothes look dull, the water is not dangerous at all,” Ms Makhaola said.
Following complaints over the water quality from different communities, Ms Makhaola said WASCO is now treating manganese in its first stage of the water treatment plan instead of the last stage as it used to do.
She said WASCO had successfully brought the manganese levels down to 0.2mg per litre of water which is way below the World Health Organisation prescription of not more than 0.4mg per litre of water.