Jo’burg ‘loses’ 165-billion litres of water

South Africa’s major metropolitan areas lose billions of litres of piped drinking water each year, and the reason, says water affairs director-general Mike Muller, is poor management and control by local authorities.

”It is not that water leaks away; it is unaccounted for,” he told members of Parliament’s water affairs and forestry, and land and environmental affairs committees on Monday.

Muller said most of the losses were the result of water not being metered and billed efficiently. The joint portfolio and select committee sitting was being briefed on the intergovernmental fiscal review (IGFR) on water and sanitation, copies of which were distributed to members.

According to the document, ”a major problem in most municipalities is the extent of unaccounted-for water, which includes physical losses as well as water not billed and/or paid for”.

It says unaccounted-for water was an important performance indicator.

”It measures both business efficiency in metering, billing and collection, as well as technical efficiency in the maintenance and repair of infrastructure.”

According to a table in the document, the City of Johannesburg was unable to account for 42% of the water it paid for in 2001. The difference between the amount it bought and sold at the time amounts to 165-billion litres.

Other cities did not suffer as high a loss: eThekwini (Durban) could not account for 32% (85-billion litres) of its water; Tshwane (Pretoria) 24% (29-billion litres); Nelson Mandela (Port Elizabeth) 20% (14-billion litres); and Cape Town 12% (36-billion litres).

Muller told members its was very important local authorities established good control over water usage.

On the unaccounted-for water, he said the figures suggested ”poor management accounting of the system”.

Besides losses due to the poor condition of pipes and inadequate maintenance, ”it is also a case of water not being metered and billed”.

The problem was exacerbated by illegal connections, he said.

The IGFR attributes some of the water losses to ”poor infrastructure in former black townships… leakage of pipes which cannot be identified, illegal water connections and physical losses”.

National Treasury director for local government and budget processes, Malcolm Booysen, told members water losses by local authorities were a key revenue issue.

”The high level of water losses is cause for concern,” he said.

Muller also warned of above-inflation water tariff increases to come.

”The cost of bulk water will continue to rise at more than inflation, highlighting the fact that we’re a water-scarce country.”

He said the reason for this was the capital costs of large water projects, such as the Lesotho Highlands scheme, which ran at ”six to seven percent above inflation”. – Sapa

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Richard Davies
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