Squeeze to start after new penalties are signed into effect
Nelson Mandela Bay residents can expect substantial water price hikes once mayor Athol Trollip’s proposed restriction penalties are approved by council tomorrow.
And if water consumption over the holiday season does not decrease by at least 15%, the metro could hit emergency status and a kilolitre (kl) of water could cost up to R196.
This was announced yesterday during a meeting in Kamesh, Uitenhage, where Trollip and mayoral committee member Annette Lovemore appealed to the public to use water wisely or face the possibility of having no water at all.
At present, under Part A of the tariff schedule – normal water availability with no punitive restrictions – a household that uses 24kl of water a month would run up a bill of R279.
After tomorrow, when Part B restrictions come into effect, the same usage will cost R314.
If, by the end of January, water consumption is not down by 15%, Part C will be implemented, and that same monthly usage will cost R483. Under Part C tariffs, if consumers use more than 24kl a month, they could pay up to R59 for each kilolitre over the limit.
If they use more than 48kl a month, each kilolitre over that could cost R196.
Yesterday’s announcement dealt specifically with residential water usage, while punitive tariffs for businesses still need to be finalised and confirmed.
Trollip said residents alone were not to blame for the water shortages and restrictions as municipal officials were battling daily to fix major water leaks across the metro.
Schools are also being targeted, with measures being taken to cut off water after hours and during holidays to prevent wastage from leaks or broken plumbing when no one is around.
“We receive 3 000 complaints about leaks every month, which is a terribly high amount that goes to waste,” Trollip said.
“We are aware that our actions against leaks are not enough, but we are grateful for the people who report them because we can only fix leaks we know of, and we rely on our residents to inform us.”
Last month, the average turnaround time for leaks – from the time reported to when they are fixed – was 24 days.
Now it is down to 15 days – a vast improvement, but still not near the ideal of three days the municipality is aiming for.
“Hopefully next year, we can fix leaks more quickly, and the year after that even more quickly,” Trollip said.
“We are aware that we are nowhere near what is required, but we are working towards improving it.”
He said that with the present water shortages, the metro was expected to save 50 million litres a day, but was only managing to save about 30 million.
It hoped that the punitive measures would now help to save the rest.
“Unfortunately, our pleas have not been enough, so now people will have to feel it in their pockets,” Trollip said.
Lovemore said even if consumption dropped by 15%, the Part B restrictions would stay in place for at least two years, until projects to bring water from the Gariep Dam were completed.
She said the directive to cut water usage in the metro had been issued by the national Department of Water and Sanitation about two years ago, but the municipality had never implemented restrictions.
“The metro waited too long to save water, which is why water restrictions was one of the first actions taken by the new government in Nelson Mandela Bay,” Lovemore said.
“Now we face a crisis, and it will take years before everything is back on track.”
On leaks, Lovemore said the municipality was supposed to employ 51 plumbers to respond to repair them, but there were only 23 at present.
“We are working hard to have these positions filled, but until then our current plumbers are working huge amounts of overtime.”
Projects had been put in place in which plumbers from Port Elizabeth are sent to Uitenhage and Despatch over weekends to attend to problems, and over the last three months they had fixed 2 500 leaks.
Officials are also concerned about the levels of the Chelsea reservoir that supplies water to Port Elizabeth’s western suburbs, as it dropped to 6% capacity yesterday.
Households could run out of water today if residents do not reduce their consumption significantly.
The reservoir’s level dropped when some pipelines had to be shut and repeated power failures prevented repairs from taking place.
Metro water and sanitation director Barry Martin said residents would have to cut their consumption by about 50% to prevent the reservoir from running dry.
“We are trying to transfer water from other reservoirs, but it has to run through about 600km of pipeline, and that is another time-consuming and costly process,” he said.
Trollip said the “poorest of the poor” would not be affected by the tariff increases, and the burden would have to be carried by the people who paid monthly municipal bills.
“We are facing a crisis that requires our daily attention,” he said.