Water worries

A faulty water meter that led to flooding, after a pipe burst.

Cape Town is bracing for a humanitarian crisis with fewer than 90 days to go before it becomes the first city in the world to run out of water.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille met with the army, the police, National Disaster Management the State Security Agency, among others, at the Provincial Disaster Management Centre, at Tygerberg Hospital, on Monday.

She was also due to meet with SAB, which has offered to help bottle and distribute water drawn from the Newlands spring.

Meanwhile, work has started on the 200 collection points across the city where Capetonians will go for their daily 25-litre water ration, under armed guard, after the taps run dry.

Last week, council voted to ratchet up water restrictions to Level 6B from February 1, only a month after Level 6 restrictions started on January 1. Level 6B rations residents to 50 litres a day or 6 000 litres a household per month.

A planned drought levy was scrapped in favour of punitive tariffs with exponentially higher rates for those using more than 6 000 litres. A household bill will jump from R28.44 to R145.98 at the
6 000-litre mark.

A household using 50 000 litres will pay thousands of rand more: R2 888.81 to R20 619.57.

In a sternly worded statement last week, Mayor Patricia de Lille warned the city had “reached a point of no return” and that Day Zero was now “very likely” to happen on April 21 because 60% of Capetonians were still “callously” using more than 87 litres a day.

Parow resident Philip Lloyd is among the one third of Capetonians who have been taking the crisis seriously. There are six people in his household; two are children.

“When we shower or bath, we use very little water and do so every third day. We use a wet cloth to clean ourselves on the other days. We also use the shower and bath water to flush the toilets and only do one bundle of washing every second day,” he said.

Mr Lloyd said he couldn’t understand how the City had let the crisis get so bad.

“It should never have come to this. I also think the 50 litres of water allocation per day per person is fair and manageable.”

On Friday January 12, Mr Lloyd was stunned to find water running from the side of a City water meter. He phoned the City immediately to lodge an official complaint.

“They assured me that someone would be coming out as soon as possible to deal with the water leak. I went to bed at around 1am, and when I awoke the next day and went out on my stoep, I saw that the water was still flowing freely.”

On Saturday January 13, at 8.15am, he called the customer call line for the second time.

“The person who answered said they will report the complaint again. At this point, I was so upset, that I took photos of the thousands of litres of water going to waste.”

Desperate, he took matters into his own hands and “dug a hole, bent the feeder pipe and blocked off the water” to stop the waste.

“As I was almost done, a man stopped and said he was there to sort out the fault. He then called someone who I believe to be the water-meter suppliers, and 40 minutes later, someone arrived and replaced the meter.”

Mr Lloyd said it was the second time the City had replaced the “crappy” water meter.

“After an hour, another group of people came to fix the problem, but I told them that it had been attended too. They were surprised to find that the fault had been fixed. This was not the end. An hour later, a third group of people from the City came and again they found the fault had been fixed.”

Mr Lloyd said the way the City had dealt with the problem showed it had a poor handle on the water crisis.

“It seems there is very poor communication among its top brass.”

The City had known “long in advance” about Cape Town’s looming water crisis but had done nothing to prepare for it.

“This was certainly bad management by Mayor Patricia de Lille and her team.”

The City, he said, should have done more to divert water run-off from rain into dams instead of letting it go into the sea. Dam walls should have been raised and pipe bursts handled more efficiently to prevent wastage.

“It also needs to be said that the areas in which residents are punished are the savers and payers of their water bills and rates. I know the City won’t admit it, but the areas with free and open taps will not be included in their restrictions as they know these people will start rioting. So before this happens, the City should now start preparing for the safety of its citizens,” Mr Lloyd said.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said a broken fitting had caused the leak reported by Mr Lloyd. She said the leak had been repaired and the meter replaced on Saturday January 13.

Richard Bosman, executive director for the City’s safety and security directorate, said the City would notify the public soon about where to find their nearest water-collection point.

Brian Lawson, chairman of the Goodwood Ratepayers’ Association, said it was pointless at this stage to complain about the City’s handling of the crisis.

“We have never faced a situation like this before, and, at this point, there is no use in pointing fingers at officials we feel have not done enough to prevent the drought,” he said.

The crisis had led to some coming up with innovative ways to save water, he said.

“We need to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in and trust in the efforts of the City.”