Water shops cashing in on #DayZero panic warned over municipal water use

Shops cashing in on Cape Town’s water panic by selling filtered municipal water without a licence will be targeted in the coming days, a city official said at a briefing on its #DayZero plans on Sunday.

“Either you stop this or we going to have to cut the water flow to the facility to a much lower level and the rest of your shops in the entire centre is going to suffer,” said Richard Bosman, executive director of safety and security in the city at a briefing on the city’s preparations ahead of the dreaded Day Zero.

He said most of these shops were in shopping facilities, and were not metered individually, so officials have started fanning out to check that they are not selling water illegally, as panic buying sets in.

“You can only sell municipal water if you have got a licence from the city,” he said.

Current water consumption in the city is around 600 Megalitres (ML) a day – 350ML from households and 250ML from commerce and industry – but to avoid declaring Day Zero, the city is urging people to “save or queue”.

‘Save like a local’
Tourists are also being asked “save like a local”, with the city’s deputy mayor Ian Neilson saying that industry and commerce cannot afford to collapse and then start again later just because of a water shortage.

“We can’t crash this economy, even in the circumstances of Day Zero. So it’s very important that we keep going and that we find ways, more and more efficient ways, to use water in every industry,” he said.

If Day Zero does arrive – April 12 at current rate of water consumption – taps will be cut off, except in the CBD and commercial and industrial zones, and people will have to queue for water.

“I would say please come,” Neilson said about potential tourists.

“But when you come please recognise the local circumstances, in joining with us in the way that you operate.

“Capetonians also need jobs. This is a difficult balance that we are seeking to achieve here, but the tourism industry provides a lot of jobs here.”

He thanked businesses for all the water saving they have already made, and asked them to find ways of saving more.

On Sunday the city revealed that it has already given the all-clear to 186 Points of Distribution, known as “Pods”, so that when the dams that feed its water supply reach 13.5% it will declare Day Zero and kick into emergency water supply mode.

The average level of dams that supply the city is now at 26.8%.

Water collection points
Schools, hospitals, informal settlements and the Cape Town International Airport will stay online, and efforts are being made to keep businesses and industry going to protect their income. The informal settlements will stay online because they currently already rely on water collection points.

All the water collection points will be monitored by the police and military, and the Pods will distribute water at 25l per person, with no ID required for now. People may give proxies for those who are unable to collect, up to a limit of 100l, and at the Pod manager’s discretion.

Neighbourhood watches and community policing forums, along with other volunteers will help the city make sure that the vulnerable such as the elderly, get their water.

Guest houses and other small business will have to prove that they need extra water, and this will apparently only take one day to check, to cover them for future collection.

The city’s sanitation director Pierre Maritz said that should Day Zero arrive, his department might have to set times for people to flush their toilets so that there will be enough velocity to clear the pipes.

The current time estimate is that it will take five minutes to give out each person’s water ration.

The sale of water at water shops has caused an outcry on social media where people pointed out that panic buying was taking place at specialist filtered water shops, and water filtration points within some supermarkets, while private homeowners and other businesses kept to their limits.

JP Smith, member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for safety and security said: “If it [is] simply coming from pipe connected to the back of the water shop – you are not helping.”

News24 submitted questions for clarity on water shops last week as many draw municipal water to filter and sell – 3 000l in one day for one shop visited.

Unlawful water sales
The city said at first it was completely illegal to sell municipal water, but then said the sale of “modified” water is permitted, with a licence.

“The sale of unmodified municipal water is unlawful in terms of our bylaws. It is, however, not unlawful to sell ‘prepared water’ (ie water that has been modified with added flavours, bubbles, or otherwise),” said a statement attributed to Xanthea Limberg, the city’s MMC for water and sanitation.

Limberg said that if water is being taken from the municipal supply it will constitute the resale of water which is prohibited in terms of section 31 of the City of Cape Town’s Water bylaw, 2010.

This attracts a fine of or imprisonment in terms of section 64 of that bylaw.

She urged consumers to do their homework to find out where the water they are buying comes from, and whether approval has been granted by the national government for such use.

“Consumers must ensure that what they purchase is not unlawful. Demand proof of the source of the water and whether it has been legitimately extracted,” said Limberg.

Naas Du Preez, Group Managing Director of Oasis told News24 on Friday that the company uses municipal water, with each franchise owner required to have a licence from the city or municipality in which it operates.

However, Oasis has not been told to limit how much it supplies to consumers.

Du Preez said that on Friday he and another Oasis executive had a meeting with city officials to offer to help with checking water purity standards, storage, and to bring water from other provinces if necessary.

“We are not here to exploit,” said Du Preez, adding that the company had already assisted other provincial governments get through droughts.

New national regulations

Oasis already pipes the brackish water left over from its filtration process to laundromats and toilets in some shopping centres in which they are based.

The SuperSpar in Parklands, Cape Town, is among businesses that have been offering customers filtered water on tap for sale, but the recent surge in demand forced the store to restrict the amount each customer could buy.

“Just to calm the situation down a bit, we’ve started to limit [the water] to 25l per person,” said a store head who only wanted to be identified as Graham.

This applies to bottled water too.

“We did this just to try and spread the load so that everybody can get some.”

Their water filtration system is operated by a third party, and is regularly inspected by City of Cape Town officials on site for wastage and other bylaws such as hygiene, he said.

“We have a business licence to sell products including water that is why we are able to have his system in our store,” he said.

On Sunday Limberg said that in line with new national regulations there are further restrictions on borehole and well-point water use.

When Level 6b restrictions start on February 1, boreholes and well-points should be for more essential purposes such as flushing toilets.

If borehole or well-point water is needed for irrigation such as vegetables, this will be limited to a Tuesday and a Saturday before 09:00 in the morning, and after 18:00, for a maximum of one hour.

Owners also have to install a meter and their record of usage will be checked. – News24

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Jenni Evans
Jenni Evans
Journalist at News24. Love reading, sunshine.

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