Free State municipality leaks millions as 56% of water trickles away

09 March 2023 - 13:36
Water losses in the Matjhabeng municipality amounted to R323m in the 2021/22 financial year.
Image: Alaister Russell Water losses in the Matjhabeng municipality amounted to R323m in the 2021/22 financial year.

Fifty-six percent of water meant for Matjhabeng municipality residents in the Free State is lost due to leaks, with taps running dry for days.

The losses are mainly due to metering inefficiencies, ageing infrastructure, burst pipes, leaks and unmetered connections, according to a recent auditor-general's report, and cost R323m in the last financial year. 

Speaking to TimesLIVE, Bloemwater executive operations and maintenance head Maruping Rapudungoane said: “Bloemwater [supplies an estimated] 90% to 100% of the demand. The demand from the municipality includes at least a 56% water loss in the reticulation. So for every 100 litres of water supplied by Bloemwater, 56 litres are lost in the municipal infrastructure and are not distributed to consumers.”  

Rupudungoane added that most of the water board's infrastructure was old and had not been properly maintained for years due to the municipality not fully paying its debt to Bloemwater. It owes the utility about R4.8bn for the 2021/22 financial year.  

“This hampers the maintenance and refurbishment process on this ageing infrastructure and is a contributing factor, but if sufficient money was available, most of the infrastructure could be refurbished to serve for another 10 to 20 years. Some electronic systems have become obsolete and if a breakdown occurs it takes a long time to repair them,” he said.  

“This has a very negative effect on water service delivery as the entity cannot further pay its creditors which impacts on its ability to supply water uninterruptedly.  

“Water boards ... do not receive funding from the fiscus as they are supposed to sustain the business with bulk water sold to their customers. Therefore, Bloemwater does not receive any money or grants from the National Treasury,” said Rupudungoane.  

According to the department of water and sanitation, Bloemwater has allocated R25m for infrastructure maintenance in the municipality for the current financial year.  

The department said the required budget for overall maintenance and refurbishment to address backlogs was R402m, presenting a budget shortfall of R377m.  

The municipality has various infrastructure problems. In November, water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu visited the municipality after it was declared a sewage disaster area.    

At least 51 pump stations and nine waste treatment plants were not working, with ageing infrastructure cited as among the causes.

Mchunu said his department would give the municipality R425m to assist in resolving wastewater problems. 

Previously, municipal spokesperson Tshediso Tlali told TimesLIVE the municipality would get R1.6bn from government in the next three years to refurbish water infrastructure.

While residents of Riebeeckstad, Hennenman and Ventersburg continue to experience water shortages, Tlali said the municipality was constructing boreholes in affected areas.

There has been no indication regarding when the municipality will stop implementing nightly water cuts in high-density areas near Welkom, including Thabong, Kutlwanong and Odendaalsrus.

Speaking to TimesLIVE, Thabong's Makhotla Sefuli said residents think twice before relieving themselves at night if they failed to store enough water before the cut-off.

“In my area, water-shedding runs from 7pm until 7am every day. Using the toilet at night is a problem, especially for big families, if you do not store enough water.”

Sefuli said residents who could not afford storage tanks filled their baths with water and some used buckets. 

“My area falls under Welkom. We were told we consume too much water and they have to cut us off during the night to save water for other small towns. It is a difficult situation for residents.”