Family bears burden of water device

If you’re a water-waster the City of Cape Town will send you a warning letter that they will be installing a water management device (WMD).

The Reverend Michelle Mac Gillicuddy-Day is not a delinquent water user and has always paid her bills on time. But the municipality, without warning, installed a WMD at her home.

Over the past 12 years she and her sister with their families moved back to the Plumstead house which has been the family home for over 47 years. And there are eight people living there.

In November 2017 they received a water bill for R7 571.30. This after their October bill showed a credit balance of R186.05.

Despite numerous emails, the reverend couldn’t get a satisfactory answer.

“My father who will be 83 has cancer and my mother, 79, has her own struggles. During the time my parents lived here and since we moved back, we have always paid our municipal bills,” Reverend Mac Gillicuddy-Day said.

“Without warning towards the end of July 2017, the municipality fitted a WMD because of ‘excessive consumption’.

“My parents continued to pay and in October 2017 we received a credit of R186.05.

“In November 2017 we received a bill of R11 330.89 – for rates
R1 177.77, water R7 571.30, sewerage R1 215.47, refuse R119.47 and VAT R1 246.88.

“I emailed a Mr Ebrahim at the water department four times, the last one on January 3 (2018), and got no response.

“Meanwhile I went into the South Peninsula municipality with my mother to see if we could resolve it.

“I spoke to Sakhi who said I should apply for a water quota increase as there were now eight people living in the house, not four. And I had to submit documentation.

“I returned a few days later and spoke to Keith, who said I had to provide the ID numbers of all the people living at home, a copy of my parents’ bank statement, an acknowledgement of debt and an agreement to pay. So, we hit a stalemate,” Reverend Mac Gillicuddy-Day said.

“My parents don’t believe it’s possible to use so much water, especially after we received a credit. Again, I tried to contact someone who could help. I emailed the mayor’s office four times and finally even DA leader Mmusi Maimane, to no avail.

“So, as you can see we haven’t sat on our laurels waiting for something to happen, we were proactive. About two weeks ago my parents received legal correspondence threatening action. I wrote to the City explaining everything we have done to find resolution; but without success.

“In the interim we have lessened our consumption considerably by taking less than 2-minute showers, flushing toilets with grey water, purchased another washing machine (front loader) – so it is not for lack of trying. And since November our water consumption has dropped.

“However, a plumbing company, Zephron, arrived to put in a WMD. When I told the plumber that one had been fitted last year in July (talk about lack of departmental communication) he said the municipality was restricting us to 350 litres a day … that’s less than the 50 litres allocated each person a day.

“Please help. We are getting desperate and the undue pressure on my parents is really taking its toll,” Reverend Mac Gillicuddy-Day said.

Mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg, whose portfolio includes water and waste services, said a WMD is installed when the old meter reaches the end of its lifespan; when residents contravene water restrictions; at the request of homeowners to help manage water consumption; as part of the underground leaks rebate agreement and for indigent residents who qualify for a debt write-off.

Ms Limberg said if a property exceeds 10.5kl consumption for the month, a warning letter will first be issued instructing occupants to reduce consumption or have a water management device installed at their cost.

“If residents reduce consumption to the required levels in the following billing period, they will not be liable to further corrective action. The warning letter also requests the consumer to make application for a quota increase should the higher usage be justified. If no application for an increased quota is received, and consumption does not drop to within required levels, then action will be taken to install a WMD,” she said.

The relevant form is on the City’s website or at any of the walk-in centres.

Ms Limberg said the debits and credits relate to adjustments according to previous estimates, and the updating of the readings when the new meter was updated on the system.

I asked her why, if the City’s billing system is correct, was I getting so many queries from residents.

“Common queries include objections to the use of estimates; the effect of longer billing periods; queries about tariff changes, residents who have experienced an underground leak, or residents who believe their meter may be faulty,” she said.

“The ‘plumber’ was there to fit a water management device or to programme the daily allocation into an existing WMD due to contravention of water restrictions.

“Despite warnings, the residents did not reduce water consumption to required levels or submit an application to increase their allocation.

“If no application for an increased quota is received then the meter will be set to provide a quota of 350 litres of water each day,” said Ms Limberg.

“The customer will be helped once they submit all the documentation.”

Reverend Mac Gillicuddy-Day said she looked through rates bills for 2017 and could not find any notification or warning that a WMD would be fitted.

“But I did see a notice about the change-over of meters and the billing.

“Otherwise we weren’t informed.”