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Water ‘profiteers’ cash in as Cape Town’s taps begin to run dry

15 October 2017 - 15:04 By Petru Saal
Drought water tap
Drought water tap
Image: Gallo Images/ Thinkstock

“Hello. How much do you charge for 10‚000 litres of water and how soon can you deliver?”

With water rationing under way and dire warnings about “day zero” when taps run dry‚ this is the telephone conversation happening between residents and “water profiteers” in drought-stricken Cape Town.

Some of these transactions are illegal‚ says the department of water and sanitation.

Some swimming pool owners are willing to pay R5‚600 or more per 10‚000 litres of water‚ trucked to their homes. Water restrictions‚ threats of prosecution and a palpable sense of panic has some residents seeking alternative water supplies for gardening‚ swimming pools and flushing toilets.

Several adverts are doing the rounds offering bulk water delivery‚ from a variety of sources.

TimesLIVE contacted various companies for water delivery quotes. One quoted R5‚600 for 10‚000 litres‚ sourced from a Cape Winelands farm that rinses glass bottles. A second offered to deliver 5‚000 litres for R3‚500 and a third quoted R4‚500 for 10‚000 litres of water - delivery guaranteed within two days.

Henk Meyer‚ invested in a 7‚500 litre tank and a truck to collect run-off water from a bottling plant. He told Cape Talk radio station that his construction business would die without water‚ which he also sells.

Mr Water Delivery advised clients that "due to high demand" they were running an extended service at the weekend.

Water Shedding Western Cape is a fountain of information about saving water on Facebook. The group is also a battleground where "water wasters" are shamed. Buying water is a hot topic of conversation.

Water and sanitation department spokesman Sputnick Ratau said government was the custodian or trustee of water resources‚ including dams‚ rivers‚ lake‚ pans‚ and wetlands‚ and groundwater.

“It is illegal to sell water. Even the department does not sell water‚ instead it charges water resource management charges. The municipalities charge service fees for treatment and reticulation. The only case in which water is sold legally is as bottled water‚” he said.

“Use of water without an authorisation is a serious offense in terms Section 151 of the Act‚ which carries a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment or a fine.”

He said a person who filled a pool with municipal water could not sell it on to a neighbour. The same applied to groundwater.

Ratau added that storing sea water inland required special authorisation to avoid groundwater contamination.

Senior Associate at Cullinan and Associates‚ Melissa Groenink said people should be wary about buying water.

“Under the city’s by-law‚ a person cannot sell water supplied by the city‚ unless permission has been obtained from the city. In providing permission‚ the city may stipulate the maximum price at which water may be sold.”

While most transgressions needed to be monitored or reported at local government level‚ the department's hotline to report water related offences is 0800 200 200.