Hitch in water plan

2013-11-05 00:00

DESPITE an assessment indicating the eThekwini municipality would have the capacity to take on the functions currently delivered by Umgeni Water, the municipal manager has raised concerns about this mammoth task.

Topping his concerns are that the expected saving in water tariffs could be gulped up by cross-subsidising other municipalities.

Three months ago, the city revealed its plan to take over the running of the Durban Heights Water Treatment plant from Umgeni Water.

The proposal was to take back control of the waterworks, which supplies purified water to residents. In addition, they would be responsible to provide water to at least four other municipalities.

But at the forum for the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the 61 mayors in KZN on the weekend, eThekwini municipal manager Sbu Sithole seemed less confident.

He said there will always be pros and cons in terms of what is feasible or not. He said the city has done its assessment, which basically indicates that the municipality is able to take over all functions carried out by Umgeni Water.

“I think in matters like this we can’t be emotional. The implication if we go that route, it would mean the price of water in eThekwini would come down tremendously.

“However, cross-subsidising other municipalities — Msunduzi, Ilembe and Ugu district municipalities — would make it impossible.”

The city’s head of water and sanitation Neil Macleod, however, is confident the city can pull it off. He carried out the feasibility study, including which employees should be transferred to the city’s books.

Yesterday, Macleod said Exco decided that the most recent report needed to be discussed with the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs. A meeting time must still be finalised.

The plan would have serious implications for the city’s neighbouring municipalities, because of the high bulk water subsidy paid by customers in the eThekwini municipal area. The tariff in other municipalities serviced by Umgeni Water could increase by an estimated 40%, if eThekwini moves out the equation, according to Macleod.

He said taking over the water treatment plant would help the city to save over R150 million a year. “Definitely, we have the capacity to perform the duties required in the plant,” he said.

Durban Heights Water Treatment plant supplies more than 50% of the eThekwini municipality’s water demand. Macleod said taking it back would reduce the cost of water from that works by about R350 million a year. “This cost reduction would be partly offset by increased costs from other treatment works operated by Umgeni Water to give the net benefit referred to above,” he said.

DA caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said the plan seeks to reduce the burden of high water cost in the city. “While we are busy with the plan we must guard against the implication to the lives of other people in smaller municipalities,” he said.

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