Cape Town water tariffs will not be decreased to pre-drought levels, despite overflowing dams

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The current total capacity of dams supplying Cape Town is 101%, compared to 96.3% last year.
The current total capacity of dams supplying Cape Town is 101%, compared to 96.3% last year.
Jacques Stander, Gallo Images
  • The current total capacity of dams supplying the City of Cape Town is 101%, compared to 96.3% last year.
  • Mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg says the amount of water in the dams does not directly influence the cost of delivering water and sanitation service.
  • The water tariff increased by 5% in the last financial year to the current.

Dams supplying water in the City of Cape Town may be overflowing, but water tariffs will not be lowered to what they were before the drought.

"It's ridiculous," said ratepayer Domonique Parker.

"There is no longer a reason to charge so much. People learnt from what had happened and are saving. But what's the use if the [water tariff] isn't coming down?" he asked.

Parker, from Kraaifontein in Cape Town's northern suburbs, lives on a subdivided plot with other family members. Cumulatively, their water bill averages about R500 per month for 10 people.

Before the 2017-'18 water crisis, their water expense was about R200, he recalled.

And despite the dams supplying the city being filled to capacity, the Parkers have continued to keep their consumption low.

"If we don't, we could probably easily pay R1 000," he said.

READ | Cape Town says goodbye to another desalination plant

They use rainwater to do their laundry. During a downpour, the water flows from their gutters into a tank from which they fill containers with a five-litre capacity. They then carry the containers to the washing machine.

They try to change their dishwashing water every three days, while Parker's mother, who is a pensioner, takes short showers only every second day.

He said:

If you consider the water expense, coupled with the recent increase in the price of electricity, the cost of living is difficult.

He was not the only one with this sentiment. Others questioned why, when the city's water availability had improved, they were still required to fork out amid a pandemic which had resulted in retrenchments, salary cuts and working on short time.

"I still flush my toilet with reused shower water, but it feels like it's all for nothing. Is it worth all the effort when we still have to pay more than it cost before the drought and all that Day Zero talk?" a single mom trying to save on her living expenses asked.

Mayoral committee member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg said tariffs were set to cover the cost of providing a reliable water service, which "remains largely the same regardless of how much or how little water flows through the system".

PICS | Cape Town dams full for first time since 2014

"Put more simply, the transporting, quality and reliability of the water supply must remain at the same standard, whether people are using a lot of water, or a little," she said.

"The service includes the treatment and scientific quality testing of water; operation, repairs and maintenance of infrastructure; and transport and treatment of waste water. The amount to be recovered to fund the service however depends on how much water is used by the customers," she added.

Pre-drought sales in the lower stepped tariff were being sold "well below the cost of production" owing to the ability to cross-subsidise, she said. 

Limberg said:

The post-drought sales in the lower stepped tariff – now with much less cross-subsidisation as the sales in the higher steps have significantly reduced – now need to be sold much closer to the cost of production. The increases felt by some customers at lower consumption levels are as a result of them no longer being subsidised from the consumption in the higher steps.

Last week, the total capacity of dams supplying the city was 101%, compared to 96.3% last year. For the second year running, it has crested the 100% mark – this year earlier than in 2020, when dams hit full capacity in October, Limberg said.

Prior to that, dams were last full in 2014.

She said the amount of water in Cape Town dams, which was shared with several other municipalities, did not directly influence the cost of delivering the overall water and sanitation service.

"The direct impact relates to the volumes used to recover the cost. The relationship between the volumes used and low dam levels, however, becomes critical when managing a drought," she added.

According to Limberg, the city is located in a water-scarce region where the climate is proving "increasingly unpredictable".

"The City is enhancing its management of existing water supply, and it accepts the responsibility that it needs to step beyond its municipal mandate in terms of bulk water supply provision, as we did during the recent drought. In the face of rising temperatures globally and erratic rainfall patterns, the City is pushing ahead with realising the objectives laid out in the Water Strategy of building resilience and water security for this generation and generations to come."

The tariff increased by 5% in the last financial year to the current.

According to Limberg, it was the lowest increase for services in all metros.

Limberg said Cape Town's registered indigent residents were provided the largest water and sanitation allocation in the country, at no charge to the household.

READ | Cape Town water restrictions to be lifted from 1 November, move to 'water-wise tariff'

"Forty percent of households in Cape Town receive water and sanitation services free of charge."

She said the water tariff comprised a fixed part and a usage part.

"The fixed/variable tariff model helps stabilise revenue streams so that variations in usage patterns, as with a drought response, service operations and maintenance programmes, are not negatively impacted."

She said if the fixed portion of the tariff model was removed, the usage part of the tariff would need to be increased significantly to compensate.

"All water and sanitation revenue is used to cover the costs of delivering a reliable service and building a more resilient water service through our New Water Programme, which aims to produce approximately 300 million litres per day through groundwater abstraction, desalination and water re-use by about 2030."

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