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POWER CRISIS

Western Cape pumps R89-million into generators as backup for municipal water supplies

Western Cape pumps R89-million into generators as backup for municipal water supplies
(Photo: Leila Dougan)

‘The reality is that all municipalities struggle to provide water and wastewater services as soon as there is Level 4 load shedding,’ says Western Cape MEC for Local Government, Anton Bredell. The provincial government will release R89m in emergency funding to resolve water supply issues caused by rolling blackouts.

Western Cape’s MEC for Local Government Anton Bredell says his department is appraising the need for generators for 24 local municipalities.

Bredell told Daily Maverick on Thursday that five district municipalities would also receive generators “which can be moved around as needed”. 

The Western Cape government announced this week that R88.8-million had been authorised for the procurement of backup generators to ensure reliable water supply in scores of municipalities. 

Throughout December, higher stages of load shedding saw municipalities across the Western Cape struggle to cope with the provision of a steady water supply. The blackouts also had a negative impact on wastewater plants.

The provincial government said emergency funding was needed to mitigate the impact of unprecendented levels of power cuts on the Western Cape economy, municipal services and the environment. 

The move, said Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, was urgent. 

“We must act to urgently stabilise municipal services such as water supply, wastewater treatment and sewerage infrastructure for our citizens.”

South Africa beset by scheduled power cuts, at Stage 5 since Wednesday morning, where areas are left without power for up to four hours at a time.

Closed beaches and discoloured water

Bredell explained to Daily Maverick that water distribution, purification and wastewater management relied on large electrical pumps designed for continuous work.

“When we have a disruption on the drinking water side, reservoirs do not fill up adequately which causes pressure problems in pipe networks… interrupted sewage treatment can lead to spills which are an environmental and human health risk,” said Bredell.

The problem is not new. 

In December, Daily Maverick reported how municipalities such as Matzikama in the northernmost part of the province had undergone water supply problems caused by prolonged, high-stage power cuts. Residents were left with discoloured water.

Mayor Johan van der Hoven put the blame squarely on power cuts, which left reservoirs unable to function effectively.  In Cape Town, several beaches were closed during the busy holiday period due to sewage spills caused by prolonged blackouts, Daily Maverick reported.

The Matzikama municipality is still facing issues with its water supply. On Tuesday, the council called for residents of towns such as Ebenhaeser, Doringbaai, Papendorp and Strandfontein to use water sparingly since dam levels were low after power cuts.

Bredell told Daily Maverick that the province was reaching a point where combined dam levels in the Western Cape were close to 50%, and summer was not yet over.

Bredell said the public needed to help reduce water usage as there was no indication yet of winter rainfall levels.

“When we use less water, we also lessen the load on emergency generators — which burn expensive diesel — to keep the basic water system running,” he said. 

How will this work financially?

The R88.8-million came from the Provincial Revenue Fund, said Finance MEC Mireille Wenger. She told Daily Maverick the emergency funds would be transferred to municipalities via the department of local government. 

“The municipalities will purchase and own the generators and will also be responsible for their operational costs, including fuel and maintenance,” she said.

Since these are emergency funds drawn from provincial reserves, the transaction needs to be reported to the Auditor-General’s office within 14 days, as well as to the Western Cape legislature.

Strict measures have been put in place to ensure transparency, she said. 

All municipalities that receive funds for generators have made signed commitments that they will use municipal revenue to fund the secondary costs over the lifetime of the generators, said Wenger.

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All municipal managers have signed “certificates of commitments” to ensure the generators will be put to optimum use and avoid wasteful expenditure.

While it is not clear if any other provinces are taking similar measures, the DA in the Western Cape had lauded the provincial government’s effort. 

DA member of the provincial legislature, Cayla Murray, who serves as spokesperson on finance, economic opportunities and tourism, said the party wouldn’t carry the burden of Eskom’s energy problems.

“It is clear to see that where the DA governs, things are done differently. We are using all of the resources available to us to address this crisis, despite it being completely engineered by years of corrupt and inept ANC governance,” she said. DM

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