The increases are for the 2020/21 financial year, which begins in April.
Department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the process began earlier this year and had been discussed across the country, with input from stakeholders and municipalities.
The increases, which range from 0% to 16.5%, are to be approved by Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu within the next two months.
Ratau warned there could be two increases in the 2021/22 financial year to work such as the maintenance of pipes, and rising labour costs.
These increases did not include the costs added on by individual municipalities when purifying their water. The tariff hikes were only for raw water.
An economist, Professor Bonke Dumisa, said water was a scarce and expensive resource. Consumers needed to absorb the costs of the increases while the government tried to get its house in order as it fought corruption and water leaks, he said.
It was not only residential consumers, but businesses as well that needed to reflect on their water consumption, Dumisa added.
Another challenge was how municipalities used water and electricity as revenue- generating cash cows, and milked as much money as possible from their small ratepayer bases.
Dumisa said that the country was quickly running low on water and that there was currently a fight over whether to build more dams.
He said it was not practical to have dams situated every 100km. But there was also a challenge that access to water was a constitutional right for both rich and poor.
People needed to accept the increased water tariffs, he said.
Akesh Teeruth, the chairperson of Stoneham Ratepayers Association in Phoenix, said an increase in water tariffs would hit the poor the hardest.
“How are people supposed to survive?” he asked.
Teeruth said that water was a basic resource. He would have understood the hikes if it was a luxury item, but this was not the case.
He said money that was lost through corruption could have been used to mitigate the increase in the cost of water. He expected a revolt against the hikes from the poor.
Msawakhe Mayisela, the eThekwini Municipality’s spokesperson, said it should be understood that it was a costly process for the municipality to provide clean water as it had to be chemically treated, and the electricity used in its production was expensive and ran into hundreds of millions of rand.
Mayisela said water losses through illegal connections also cost the country billions of rand every year.
Sisulu in July said her department lost about R9.9billion in non-revenue-generating water every year. “The plan allows us to have a cost-recovery mechanism. Water is severely under-priced and cost recovery is not being achieved,” she said.
Mayisela said illegal water connections were also damaging infrastructure. He urged people to be more frugal when using water, and to report water leaks to the municipality.