Homeowners face fines for 'stealing' water

05 February 2017 - 02:00 By MATTHEW SAVIDES and SIPHE MACANDA

With dam levels dropping at the height of the crippling countrywide drought, two Pretoria men are said to have connected a hosepipe to a fire hydrant to fill a swimming pool.

David Klaas, assistant supervisor for Umgeni Water at the Albert Falls Dam, stands near the dark stain of the high-water mark left on the dam wall from previous years. The dam, which holds Durban’s water supply, is now 25.2% full and only 10m at its deepest point.
David Klaas, assistant supervisor for Umgeni Water at the Albert Falls Dam, stands near the dark stain of the high-water mark left on the dam wall from previous years. The dam, which holds Durban’s water supply, is now 25.2% full and only 10m at its deepest point.
Image: JACKIE CLAUSEN

According to court papers, the municipality's metro police nabbed the two men at a home in Deodar Street, Centurion. They will appear in court this month.

The pair are not alone. The Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Cape Town metro councils have issued altogether 1,302 fines or warnings since the restrictions kicked in at various points last year.

Now the municipalities have vowed to clamp down further on offenders, particularly as they tighten up water restrictions ahead of the dry winter inland.

If the two Centurion men, whose names are known to the Sunday Times, are found guilty, they face R2,000 fines each.

In court papers, Sergeant Riaan Swart said that on November 17 last year he received a complaint about a house using water from a fire hydrant.

"We arrived at [the house] and found that the fire hydrant was covered with a maroon blanket," he said.

"We could see there was a hosepipe going from the fire hydrant to the wall of the house. There was water dripping from the blanket."

The homeowner told officers that his swimming pool had been repaired by a contractor, who had made the illegal connection. The contractor claimed he was given permission.

But Swart said that the official who allegedly gave the go-ahead denied having done so.

While the two men await their date in court, Tshwane spokesman Selby Bokaba said the city would step up its programmes to ensure it conserved as much water as it could. Despite this, reservoirs were still only half full, at best.

"The city is managing the drought situation quite well," he said. "Ninety-five percent of reservoirs are more than 50% full, the remainder are more than 40% full. To deal with the drought we are implementing 15% water restrictions, doing awareness campaigns, limiting water flow and doing pressure management."

In neighbouring Johannesburg, spokesman Tony Taverna-Turisan said that water restrictions had saved between 10% and 17% of previous consumption levels.

"Although good rainfall was experienced thus far, the dam levels haven't recovered enough when compared with last year.

"The 15% restriction in supply will still be enforced into the foreseeable future. The city will continue with the water restriction initiatives," he said.

Of the seven metropolitan municipalities, only East London-based Buffalo City is not implementing restrictions.

Cape Town is arguably worst affected. According to mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg, if seasonal rainfall does not arrive by April, there will be major problems. Restrictions to reduce consumption by 30% are in place.

"The City of Cape Town normally starts receiving winter rains during April, and assuming the rate at which the dams are currently emptying, we estimate that dam levels will fall as low as 20% by that time," said Limberg.

"This leaves a very small margin of safety as it is very difficult to utilise the last 10% of a dam's volume due to high levels of sediment."

Twenty extra staff have been appointed and have their sights set on the biggest water users.

"The city has identified the 20,000 highest water users and will be targeting them to ensure that they reduce consumption to justifiable levels," said Limberg.

In Ekurhuleni, officials have targeted business and residential properties since restrictions came into effect last year.

Spokesman Themba Radebe said: "I can confirm that about 124 or 125 accounts, which include business and residential, have incurred over R23-million of fines as at December 2016."

In KwaZulu-Natal, the three dams that supply eThekwini could run out of water by next year unless there is significant rain. Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) has water supplies for only about 15 months.

Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation spokesman Sputnik Ratau said the last few months of summer had to produce rain or there would be dire consequences.

Leaks and skills lag cost water

A skills shortage is at the heart of South Africa's water crisis as leaky pipes and poor planning make drought conditions even worse.

These are among the findings of an auditor-general's report on the Department of Water and Sanitation released in November. It found that the department:

• Has not conducted a skills audit for 15 years;

• Has a shortage of technical capacity;

• Does not have a retention policy or succession plan; and

• Employs some project managers who are not registered with their professional body, "which indicates a critical skills gap".

Asked about the role the skills shortage played in exacerbating the drought, Professor Bob Scholes of the University of the Witwatersrand said it "certainly contributed".

Water expert Anthony Turton agreed, saying that over the past two decades there had been a phasing out of experienced engineering staff.

Leaking water pipes are also proving a challenge. In eThekwini, more than 40% of water is lost, while the Nelson Mandela Bay metro loses 37% of its water. Tshwane loses 28%, Johannesburg 22.6% and Cape Town 14.7%.

Department spokesman Sputnik Ratau admitted that this was a serious concern.

"There has been deliberate action to address the water losses through ring-fencing municipal funds towards operations and maintenance as well as the current training of artisans, plumbers and water agents through the War on Leaks programme," he said.

savidesm@sundaytimes.co.za