By Mamello Mokaeane
A recent alert of high levels of manganese in the Metolong Dam by the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) has left consumers doubting safety of the water supply services from the same company.
Metolong serves as a catchment for the supply of clean water in Maseru, Roma, Teyateyaneng and Morija.
And residents in some parts of Maseru have grappled with mucky, stinky and elsewhere the water was reported to bear reddish worms, in the recent weeks.
Amid public protests, the supplier – WASCO – has come out to indicate that the challenge had come with high temperatures that caused severe stratification in the Metolong Dam, “resulting in elevated manganese.”
Despite the unusual characteristics, WASCO human resource director ’Mamojela Koneshe told a press gathering last week the water was “safe to drink,” adding it was discoloured due to high levels of manganese.
“Due to the past weeks high temperatures, the dam stratification became severe resulting in elevated manganese in raw water” Koneshe said.
The water colour, she added, changed because of high levels of manganese, “a problem discovered from the inception of the Metolong Dam.”
Koneshe indicated before construction of the dam, studies undertaken established that the catchment has high levels of manganese deposits, “and a provision was made during the design stage to allow for the plant to treat manganese levels through aeration and dosing of potassium permanganate.”
But some consumers interviewed by the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) have expressed views, including that consumption of high level manganese was deadly to humans.
Tsietsi Leteane, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health graduate, said high levels of manganese ingested can cause harm to a persons’ nervous system.
Leteane said although manganese was effective to people’s life, “it should be noticeable that the presence of manganese in drinking water will be objectionable to customers if the manganese is deposited in water mains and causes water discoloration.
“The concentration below 0.02 millilitre per litre of manganese form coating on water pipes that later slough off as black precipitate. At about 0.05 millilitre per litre discoloration of water occurs causing stains on laundry and giving water a bad taste,” Leteane said.
Some of the effects, he added, were disorders similar to Parkinson’s disease characterised with stomach and abdominal pains.
Some residents reported having drunk and seen coming out of their water taps mucky water instead of normally clear water. In some instance some villagers reported having ingested red worms that were later said by WASCO to be just worms that are not harmful.
Gerald Monatsi said his customers came back complaining saying that their water is unclean and surely their food are also not healthy after using the company provided water.
He said they were surprised to hear that but few days later they realized that the main problem is the unclean water from the taps in Maseru.
Monatsi said possible loss of business due to unclean water is bad for his business.
Mohale Mohale, a resident of Khubetsoana, said water started changing colour this previous Saturday until Wednesday. She said Thursday morning water came to its normal colour but the bad stench is still left.
She said they came across few challenges whereby they had to buy bottled water daily or fetch some water at Sehlabeng for cooking and drinking.
Mohale adds since the water problem came about, she continuously tried boiling the water to kill germs, but the she insists the bad smell and discoloration was left behind.
“I personally drank that mucky water and before the end of that day, I had developed stomach-ache. Immediately I stopped drinking and cooking with that water from the taps” said Mohale.
She further said she suspects WASCO could have made a huge loss in water because they had to spill from their tanks thinking there will be clean water afterwards.
Lebohang Ntsoha from Nazareth said he was surprised the past two weeks when he found water in Maseru town different from water at his rural home village.
He said he was shocked that a big city water supply was unclean, exclaiming “it’s reddish in colour but our Nazareth water is so clear”.
He claimed after having drank the dirty water he caught a stomach bug.
However amid the Maseru residents’ complaints, the Koneshe said the water was still safe to drink and could not cause any harm to residents of Maseru.
Koneshe, addressing a media briefing conceded the water was discoloured due to high level of manganese.
Mamathe Makhaola, Director of Operations and Maintenance explained that the chemical manganese is one of the most abundant naturally occurring in the earth’s crust therefore the changes in the colour of water are due to different levels within the dam.
Makhaola countered Leteane’s claims arguing “manganese is not a dangerous to a person’s health but it changes colour in water and food”.
She said WASCO uses potassium permanganate to control the level of manganese in water and it made a change.
Makhaola added they test water to see that it does not taste bad, it does not have a bad smell and the colour is still normal.
“Water shook in the dam because of heavy rains and high temperatures and manganese level rose up, she said they started controlling it and checking it every two hours and using lime to reduce acidity in water,” she said.
She also revealed there has also been a challenge regarding faulty automation of some dosing systems resulting in treatment ineffectiveness.
Makhaola said WASCO has been working hard to restore water quality and it’s getting better this week.
She further added WASCO stared flushing water at strategic points in Maseru to remove the colourful water and expedite delivery of clear potable water to WASCO customers.