As I might have previously mentioned the water in the hospital is massively unreliable. Most mornings it will be off and in a normal week it will probably be off completely for at least three out of seven days.
Living in the hospital this is very annoying to say the least but you get used to showering when you can rather than when you want and stockpiling a strategic reserve of 5 ltr bottles filled from the fire hoses.
For patients in the hospital it can be worse than just annoying. The same water supply goes to the wards, operating theatre, pharmacy and so on.
This has recently come to a bit of a head. For the last three weeks it’s been pretty solidly off (thankfully I was away for the first two) with just a sixteen hour quick appearance in the middle (the first eight hours of which were muddy and rancid). As a result there have been a couple of newspaper pieces and the Namibian‘s SMS pages have been full of angry comments.
There are a wide range of theories on why the water problem keeps happening. A few days ago I drove one of our artisans to the Regional Council offices and we went with a NamWater guy up to the reservoir and then up our water tower so he could show us the problem.
So… exclusively to Dave’s Boring Blog here is the cause of the water problem:
Water Supply Pipe
The above picture shows how the hospital water supply is connected up above us at the NamWater reservoirs.
The big pipe comes from the reservoir down to the Regional Council offices (from the top of the picture to the bottom). Our feed pipe is the one joined to the top of this pipe.
Now I’m no hydro-engineer but logic tells me that, especially in a gravity powered system near the head (i.e. little pressure), the water flowing down a big pipe will continue to flow down that pipe and not decide to jump upwards and through a smaller pipe.
In fact as the NamWater engineer was keen to point out, although the big pipe should be full, lack of pressure means it often isn’t quite full so there is an air gap. At the top. Where our pipe comes out.
When the valve you can see is shut (cutting off the Regional Council) water backs up and then starts to go down to the hospital. When the valve is re-opened flow is actually backward through the hospital pipe.
We have now reached agreement with the Regional Council to have their supply turned off at various times. Also there is an ongoing discussion about having our supply pipe taken directly from the reservoir and not piggy-backed onto the Regional Council supply (all possible and easy but the question is now who will pay for the work).
But the story doesn’t quite end there, oh no.
The Regional Council supply had, by the time I got a look, been shut off (and so feeding the hospital) for three days yet still no water came from our taps.
This problem is related to our water tower that I then got to climb via a rusty sectional ladder missing many rungs and covered in guano (who says the life of an IT Advisor is all glamour).
Inside the Hospital Water Tower
Here you can see the water going into the tank and the massive ballcock (snigger I said b**l and c**k).
On the central pillar just peeking out from behind the water you can see the outlet for the tap supply.
The water tank has three pipes at three different levels. The feed pipe comes in (naturally) from the top of the tank. Halfway up the tank is the outlet pipe to our normal plumbing (taps, toilets etc). At the very bottom of the tank (where you would expect the normal outlet to be) is in fact the outlet for the fire hoses.
You can see this more clearly on this picture of the middle of the tower:
Central Well of Water Tower
On the right of the picture – the top pipe is the water inlet and the bottom pipe is the standard outlet. On the left you can just see the fire hose output from the bottom of the tank.
In normal operation this makes sense – the tank is full (and kept full, as soon as the level drops the ballcock opens and the water fills up). If the water supply fails then we always have half a tank of water (the top half) in reserve which is probably enough to last a day or two (or maybe even longer).
Once that runs out then we still have half a tank available for the fire hoses and maybe some other emergency needs.
Fine for intended operation.
What’s just happened though is this; the water supply failed (lack of pressure from the Regional Council supply), the top half of the tank was used up and then, through people using the fire hoses for water, the bottom half was totally emptied.
When the supply was turned back on this meant it took over three days to fill up to the half-way mark and give us precious water back to our taps, showers and (importantly) toilets.
We do now have water and have for 48 hours. We also have a solution to the problem (why this has taken eight plus years I shan’t wonder about) and maybe, just maybe, will get it permanently fixed with forty feet of two-inch plastic hose and a T-junction (all that is required).