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LOUIS Mwape.

Beware of water valves, fire hydrants

JUST recently, the CEOs from commercial utilities across the country wrapped up an intense 5 day 2019-2021, Sector Planning Meeting called by the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection.
And what partly dominated news in the mainstream media at the start of that August gathering was that, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) had a deficit of 198,000 cubic litres of water daily.
The Minister of Water Development, Dr Dennis Wanchinga, disclosed that the water utility company was only able to supply 202, 000 cubic litres, out of the required 400,000 cubic litres every day.
Granted that the demand for the commodity continues to outstrip supply in Lusaka and that more projects are required to boost up supply, the biggest commercial utility in the country, LWSC is not alone in that water stress puzzle.
This is because increased water demands are widespread and there are some commercial utilities that could be facing the same problem for one reason or another, sometimes not necessarily because of increased populations but partly because of other odd activities and vices.
Reference could to made to some new revelations that indicate that even in drips and drabs the much needed water volumes supplied by utilities, might be going to waste in some cases without reaching targeted areas. Usually some activities that affect water supply draw less attention than one could imagine.
For instance, not too long ago news broke out on a fairly dramatic discovery where a fire hydrant was being used as a water access point, to green some lawns at one of the premises in Kabwe. That case among other unknown cases means that water points that are not necessarily meant to supply water for daily domestic purposes are being used otherwise.
The implication is that utilities lose out because in most cases that water is unbilled. On the other hand, water pressures in the water network are affected and consequently erratic or no water supply in some areas becomes inevitable.
At this point it is clear that while some people perceive fire hydrants as red neatly designed visible fixtures placed inside or outside buildings, mostly tucked on the walls of big institutions, on the sides of highways or other strategy places to instantly provide water required by fire fighters, others ignorantly perceive them as multi-purpose water points.
Ideally fire hydrants are designed to instantly provide the water required by fire fighters to extinguish a fire. That is their core purpose, nothing more and nothing less and anything else other than the known usage contributes to water losses.
While water companies might turn their attention towards monitoring fire hydrants in order to cushion the impact of water losses, it turns out they equally need to up-scale sensitisation too. At one of the health institutions for instance, some maids were spotted mopping floors using water accessed from fire hydrants, while others were doing laundry.
In fact there could be other social subtexts to issues of water scarcity. Apart from swelling populations, climate change, and proliferation of boreholes that are consequently depleting ground water, coupled with demand for new water connections, either for domestic or commercial purposes, other vulnerable water points such as water valves have been prone to vandalism.
One discovery which was recently busted by alert service men in Kabwe was that of a damaged water valve on the side ways of the road which was being used as a water point, for not only a car wash but also other domestic purposes.
There is no doubt that if some institutions and individuals continue to access water through vandalised valves and fire hydrants, then the combined fortune of how much water companies are losing could continue to affect service delivery and revenue collections.
Regardless of where we stay, either in urban or peri-urban areas, we can all relate to the story of car washes and other questionable businesses enterprises that had been busted due to their reliance on illegal access points.
It is such kind of developments sometimes that continue to happen over our heads without paying much attention to their impact on water supply. Commercial utilities therefore must continue to scale-up their efforts to reduce water losses by putting teeth and nail behind their well-crafted strategic plans.
The close monitoring and busting of odd vices such as vandalism of water valves and abuse of fire hydrants by firms trying to escape grinding water loses could yield good results.
Secondly, there is no question that being proactive and increasing well-secured strategic water access points even in public places could culminate into an important break-through in the fight against water losses and increased provision of water supply to unserviced areas.
The recent discoveries on how subtle odd vices and abuses could be impacting our communities negatively, both offer not only insights into the big picture but also a thorough checklist of what utilities should equally pay attention to.
So whether or not commercial utilities are already feeling the impact of abused fire hydrants and vandalised water valves, it is actually hard to ignore the fact that it is abuse of facilities that equally contribute to water losses and consequently power service provision in some cases.
The author is communications officer at Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited.