The company contracted to build the V&A Waterfront desalination plant recently made a claim that the seawater that feeds into the plant is sometimes up to 400% more polluted than the specifications handed down to the company by the City of Cape Town.

The company – called Quality Filtration Systems (QFS) – stated it had been awarded the tender by the City when Cape Town was still facing the threat of Day Zero in April 2018, and claimed that it had cost them millions to update the desalinations plant’s filtration systems to adequately produce clean water from the reportedly filthy seawater.

“The City gave us tender data about the feedwater – everyone that tendered had to work off the same data, not do their own tests – and we designed a plant accordingly. Then when we did tests during the commissioning of the plant, we found contaminants that were not in the tender data,” Director of QFS Musa Ndlovu told News24. “400% [over the specifications] is abnormal. We realised the variation was caused mainly by raw sewage – which the City itself puts into the sea. They didn’t disclose that in the tender specification data, otherwise we would have designed a plant fit for that purpose.”

“It was never a requirement for us to treat sewage contaminants. We had to spend our capital on treating the 400% abnormal feed water variation. Our plant always produced compliant water. The City has never questioned that. The City, however, decided not to compensate us for our plant upgrade and the high operating cost caused by them dumping sewage into the ocean,” Ndlovu said.

The City received the news that QFS had decided to terminate their water supply contract, and is retaliating by pursuing legal action.

“The City is disappointed with this unilateral decision and is now considering the legal ramifications. Given this latest development, we consider it opportune to state our version of events, notwithstanding the City’s reluctance to debate contractual matters in the media,” City spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said in a statement. “The City would like to state upfront that QFS has been paid to date for the actual amounts of drinking water delivered to the City since May 2018.”

It should be noted that in terms of the contract, the City does not own the plant and equipment. QFS were responsible for the cost of establishing the plant, which cost would have been recovered by QFS through the sale of water to the City.

According to Tyhalibongo, QFS was awarded the tender on January 8 2018 for the establishment of a small temporary desalination plant at the V&A Waterfront to be operated, by a suitably experienced water treatment specialist team, for a period of two years.

“A requirement of the specification was that the plant would be able to cope with varying sea water quality conditions likely to be encountered at a selected site at the V&A Waterfront close to the harbour entrance,” Tyhalibongo said.

The contract was awarded to QFS to produce and deliver two-million litres of potable water per day in accordance with the South African National Drinking Water Quality Standards. In May 2018, the plant began delivering water to the City.

“However, between May 2018 and January 2019, QFS were unable to fully comply with their obligations in terms of the contract. This led to various contractual disputes with the supplier, which culminated in the institution of a mediation process in January 2019,” Tyhalibongo said. “It is now public knowledge that the confidential mediation process failed to resolve the various disputes. In terms of the Mediation Agreement, there was no mediation report required.

“The City made every attempt to find a workable resolution with QFS and during the mediation process placed a number of proposals on the table. Each of these were rejected. The City has done everything possible to protect the service provider’s interests while staying within our mandate to meet the requirements of the Municipal Finance Management Act.

“In light of the termination of the contract by QFS, the City is in the process of taking legal advice on the way forward.

“The Strandfontein and Monwabisi desalination plants continue to operate. The City is committed to augmenting its water sources using desalination as per the City’s recently published Water Strategy,” Tyhalibongo said.

Picture: QFS

Article written by

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.