File picture: Antoine de Ras
File picture: Antoine de Ras

Durban drought levy reality

By Barbara Cole Time of article published Oct 21, 2016

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Durban - It’s been expected and now two months after coming into office, new local councils are faced with the prospect of slapping households with an additional bill.

Seen by some observers as a political hot potato, the extra surcharge is a “drought levy” imposed by supplier Umgeni Water on its customers - including councils - to get people to save water, charging more as they use more.

The Daily News reported last month that Umgeni Water was looking at implementing the levy because good rains in its catchment area were only expected towards the end of the year.

The six local municipalities which get their bulk water from Umgeni Water pass on bills to individual consumers, based on usage, and it is expected councils would pass on the new levy to households.

“That is unless they take it on the chin,” and meet the extra surcharge themselves, Thami Hlongwa, Umgeni Water’s chief financial officer, told a press briefing yesterday.

The municipalities were “not happy” and there “was resistance”, Hlongwa said.

Apart from the political implications, municipalities were also faced with the burden of administering the extra levy.

eThekwini, for one, “has objected to the implementation of the drought levy,” said Tozi Mthethwa, the municipality’s spokeswoman.

“However, the levy has been approved by the national Department of Water and Sanitation,” she pointed out.

It was tabled last November at Umgeni’s tariff increase consultation with its customers and water services authorities, including eThekwini.

It was implemented from September 1 and the municipality’s next invoice from Umgeni Water would include the additional surcharge, she said.

“The city is finalising a report which will be presented to council. Recommendations by council will determine whether the city will implement the levy to customers,” Mthethwa said.

Giving an example, Hlongwa said if the surcharge was passed onto households, a minimum drought levy of 64c/kl would be imposed. This would be in addition to their normal tariff of R5.90. The levy could rise to 95c/kl.

“It is a step tariff, depending on how much people use,” Hlongwa said.

The surcharge was only imposed during times of emergencies, such as severe water shortages - and it would cease when the drought was over, the briefing on Umgeni Water’s annual performance noted.

“This levy is to encourage people to save water, otherwise we are going to be in a worse situation than we are at present,” Hlongwa said.

While the drought has begun easing in some parts of Umgeni Water’s operational area, it showed no immediate signs of abating in others, the briefing heard.

Steve Gillham, Umgeni Water’s general manager of engineering and scientific services, said consumers were using more water than they were saving.

People also believed the recent rainfall meant the drought was over, but this was not the case because the rainfall had been along the coastline, not in the catchment areas where it was needed, he said.

The drought also had a financial impact on Umgeni Water because four emergency transfer schemes had to be constructed to augment water resources at considerable cost; projects that had not been part of the planning.

Energy costs had also shot up because of the drought because water had to be pumped to where it was needed.

The six municipalities which are customers of Umgeni Water are:

eThekwini Municipality

Msunduzi Local Municipality

iLembe District Municipality

Ugu District Municipality

Harry Gwala District Municipality

uMgungundlovu District Municipality.

Daily News

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