City left to fix water crisis

Premier Helen Zille at the Eversdal Ratepayers Association meeting.

The City has had to find its own fixes for the water crisis, including hiking tariffs, because the national Department of Water and Sanitation is bankrupt and can’t help.

This is according to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, who spoke at an Eversdal Ratepayers’ Association meeting, last month.

Mayor Patricia de Lille’s draft budget proposes a salvo of above-inflation increases, most notably a 26.9% hike in water and sanitation, as well as increases of 7.2% for rates, 8.1% for electricity, and 5.7% for refuse (“Ratepayers to pay more,” Northern News, April 5).

The City also wants ratepayers to pay a fixed monthly levy determined by the size of the pipe feeding them — from R64.40 for a 15mm pipe up to R25 875 for a 300mm one.

Domestic customers whose homes are valued at more than R1 million will be moved to a home user tariff and will have to fork out a monthly R150 service charge.

The period for public comment on the draft budget closed on Friday May 4, and according to a weekend news report, the City received more than 37 000 comments, of which 80% were objections.

Ms Zille told the meeting that the City had had to take over the department’s responsibility of providing bulk-water services.

She said climate change and maladministration were the biggest culprits in the water crisis.

“The City had approached the department to assist in the water crisis and only found out in November that they couldn’t help as they did not have money,” she said.

According to media reports last week, the department had overspent its R14 billion budget by R2 billion under previous minister, Nomvula Mokonyane.

The department is reportedly owed R11 billion by municipalities and water boards with the debt having risen by R1.3 billion between April 1, last year, and January 31, this year.

Many residents questioned the increases, saying they had tried their best to use less water but were now paying even more for it.

Ms Zille said those who could afford to were now going off the grid for water and electricity, and that meant average ratepayers paid more because there was no “cross-subsidisation”.

Residents also questioned water usage in informal settlements.

Ms Zille said the City had been relying increasingly on technology — water meters, electricity meters and drones — to enforce water regulations.

Another resident said they would soon not be able to afford the higher tariffs and asked when they would come down.

“We have cut everything to the bone. We are using only 100 units of electricity a month, but at what point does it stop? Ratepayers can’t foot the City’s bill,” he said.

Sputnik Ratau, spokesman for the national Department of Water and Sanitation, said they had several plans to keep the province supplied with water, including using groundwater, better enforcement of water regulations, more effective water saving, and drawing on aquifers and the remaining water in Theewaterskloof Dam.

“It must be emphasised that the drought in the Western Cape is part of the recent drought not just in South Africa but in the SADC region; and that there is also the impact of climate change,” he said.

Mr Ratau said the department was responsible for delivery of bulk-water services and supplies (not reticulation), such as rivers, streams, wetlands, major dams and infrastructure, operations and maintenance of major dams and infrastructure, regulation, compliance monitoring and enforcement.

“The department will continue to deliver on its constitutional mandate,” he said.