Water worries

A taste of Day Zero, queues and traffic congestion at Newlands spring.

The City of Cape Town says no tender for the Granger Bay desalination plant has been awarded and no funding has been allocated for the project.

They would be looking to alternatives such as the aquifers other than desalination plants as Day Zero, the day the taps will be switched off, draws nearer.

Day Zero has been moved forward to Thursday April 12, less than 80 days away.
In a dramatic U-turn, the City of Cape Town last week overturned the controversial water levy at a special council meeting.
The levy drew harsh criticism from residents with 65 000 comments made during the public participation phase.

It would have seen a water levy based on property value introduced.

However, it has been overturned in favour of punitive tariffs.

But residents have criticised local government’s handling of the water crisis.

One of those residents is the vice-chairperson of the Camps Bay and Clifton Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (CBCRRA), Richard Bendel. “The City keeps on blaming the residents only. This, I believe, is counter-productive and an insult to the residents that have done everything (and in some cases way more than what could be expected of them) to help the situation. There has never been a mention of businesses coming to the party and helping by cutting their water usage by say 50% (residents have had to cut theirs by way more than 50%).”

With regards to the tariffs being introduced, Mr Bendel added: “If I am not mistaken, the tariffs are set for the financial year of the City. I believe that this attempt to charge punitive amounts is a way of raising the funds that was suggested by means of the charge against properties which resulted in an outcry (proposed water levy that failed). Now to the word ‘punitive’. The synonyms for this are things like ‘punishing’ and ‘retaliatory’.”

Mr Bendel said he believed the City needed to change their approach when it came to the handling of the crisis. “They need to include businesses in the mix in all correspondence instead of criticising and blaming only residents. They need to install water management devices on businesses (and not just easy targets, i.e. residents). The City needs to communicate things way better. I, like many citizens of Cape Town, are really here to help, but do feel marginalised.”

Osman Shaboodien, chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association (BKCRA), said he was very disappointed with the way the City had handled the water crisis. “There was no need to reach a point of no return. We are very concerned. It is incompetence and the City has not done its job. We don’t see any difference between a water levy or a tariff.”

Mr Shaboodien said water projects such as involving the aquifers and the desalination plants should have been in place years ago.

“The City has shown it is unable to handle this crisis. We call on an independent body to not only manage the crisis but to investigate how it got to this point.”

Mr Shaboodien said while it was important for citizens to do the right thing and continue to save and conserve water, he also said residents must hold politicians accountable for their actions.

Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, Xanthea Limberg, confirmed that no tender had been awarded for the Granger Bay desalination site yet. “The project is not currently funded, but groundwork has been done so that implementation can be expedited in future, if need be.

“After advice from the World Bank, the City has shifted focus from desalination to optimising the use of aquifers in the short-term, as this is more cost-effective and quicker to implement than temporary desalination.”

The desalination plant would contribute an extra eight million litres of water a day in theory, she added. She added that if desalination plants are built the water would be safe to drink. “The desalination plants will have online monitoring equipment installed to check the efficacy of the desalination process and adherence to the SANS standard.”

If or when the taps run dry in April, residents will have to queue at designated points for an allocation of water.

The City’s executive director, of safety and security, Richard Bosman, said more information about water collection points would be made available soon.

“Proposed water collection points are currently being assessed in terms of whether they can accommodate the 10 000 to 15 000 people per day that would need to collect water from each site.”

He said special provision is being made at the points of distribution for those who are physically disabled.

“We are also engaging with national government, provincial Government, businesses, communities and NGOs to support us to care for our most vulnerable residents such as the elderly and those with disabilities. Provision is also being made for vulnerable groups such as persons in old age homes who will be supplied with bottled water.”

When asked how water projects would be paid for should the levy be scrapped, mayoral committee member for finance, Johan van der Merwe, said the City has engaged with various financial institutions especially Development Funding Institutions (DFIs) for the funding of the water products. The City has received concessional offers and is now in the process of requesting proposals for funding of up to R2.1billion for various capital programmes (i.e. new infrastructure).

The City is in the process of evaluating whether these offers have provided the best possible terms and also to ensure that the City has followed a transparent process. “Concessional funding refers to loans that are extended on terms substantially more generous than market loans. Typically, development funding institutions offer interest rates below those available on the market or give grace periods to pay back the money, or a combination of these.”

On Monday, January 22 Premier Helen Zille met with the South African National Defence Force as well as the South African Police Service to discuss plans for Day Zero. She also said that she had written to President Jacob Zuma to ask him to declare the Western Cape a disaster area.