Water user bled dry

Nosipho Makapala's meter readings were on 123 litres when Northern News visited her home early Thursday afternoon, June 7.

A Kraaifontein pensioner says she is drowning in thousands of rand worth of water bills that have come her way after a water-management device was installed.

Nosipho Makapala, 60, of Peerless Park, says her family of six is also battling to live on the 350 litres of water a day the water-management device, or WMD, allows before cutting the supply.

But the problem is her family might have been living on much less than that: the City says it appears the Makapala’s WMD was set “erroneously” at 100 litres less than the 350 litres they thought they were getting.

The retired police officer gets a pension of R10 000 a month but she has to support herself and her five children with that.

She said the bills she had been getting for the past three months had brought her close to financial ruin.

Her April bill was R9 424.63, May was R10 522.76 and the latest, for June, was R13 136.92.

She said she had become a familiar face at the Kraaifontein municipal offices in Windsor Park, where she said, someone had told her that her WMD could be faulty or leaking.

Ms Makapala said she had seen two men working on the WMD on May 8. When she asked them what they were doing, they told her they were looking for a leak but had been unable to find one.

“They don’t even come and knock on your door to tell you they are busy with your meter. It was just my luck that I saw them through the window,” she said.

Ms Makapala was doing her laundry when Northern News visited her. Was it possible that she was using too much water, we asked.

“No,” she replied. “It was raining over the weekend and we put out buckets to catch the rain. I am using that water to do my washing.”

She said the family had been careful about saving water.

“My family is not allowed to bath anymore; they must shower and catch their shower water in a bucket, and that water is used to flush the toilet. So I cannot understand what is causing my bills to be this high.”

Ms Makapala said she had never been behind with payments but had not paid her water bill for May because she wanted “the mistake to be rectified.”

Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance spokesman Philip Bam said that since October 2017 the City had increased the number of WMD installations and more than 46 000 devices had been fitted at high-use households.

They restricted supply but also cut it if a leak was detected.

“The cutting off of the supply does not seem to work in many cases, leaving consumers with a bill in some cases of over R100 000,” he said.

The manufacturers of the WMDs, he said, had claimed it was faulty installation, and not faults with the devices themsleves, that was to blame for the many reported problems.

“The volume of reports of water leaks at the meter connection itself support this and there needs to be an investigation into the competence of the installers which are contracted by the city,” Mr Bam said.

He said there had been many reports of the City sending out accounts with “massively exaggerated” readings and it was causing residents stress.

“Consumers should verify the readings reflected on their account with the reading on the meter. If the meter reading reflects usage excessively over their actual usage, the consumer should enter a query at their municipal office.

“There is a requirement under case law for municipalities to submit accurate meter readings. It is the municipality’s responsibility to prove the readings are correct. It is not the consumer’s responsibility to do the municipality’s job,” he said.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said Ms Makapala’s case would be investigated.

“In this case it appears to be a high consumer. However it appears that the meter was set erroneously at 250 litres a day as opposed to 350 litres per day,” she said.

However it’s also unclear why the Makapalas were getting 350 litres a day in the first place because under current Level 6B restrictions, which permit a 50-litre-a-day individual water ration – a family of six should only qualify for 300 litres. The City was investigating that, said Ms Limberg.

Ms Limberg said customers were warned to reduced their water usage or apply for an increase in their quota before a WMD was installed.

“In addition, for almost a year it has been well publicised that due to the extreme drought, water management devices will be installed at properties who are breaking the restrictions.”

Ward 111 councillor Brenda Hansen asked residents to call her at 072 338 8425 or 021 987 7290 if they need help.