Camdeboo Municipality on water-related challenges in their municipality; Department of Water Affairs on Bulk Infrastructure Programme in Mopani District Municipality & Cacadu District

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

19 November 2012
Chairperson: Ms A Qikani (ANC, Eastern Cape)
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Meeting Summary

Presentations were made to the Committee by the Mayor of the Camdeboo Municipality and the Department of Water Affairs.

The Mayor presented on the water issues facing her municipality, which included the towns of Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen and Nieu-Bethesda.   These ranged from inadequate water supplies, ageing sewerage infrastructure, calcification of pipes, poor quality of water, and a shortage of local expertise.  The municipality needed funding in order to address these issues, and strategies were needed to effect this.

The Department of Water Affairs said Cacadu district had a low rainfall and high evaporation, so surface water was a challenge to maintain. The Orange River Project diverted water to the Little Fish irrigation scheme. The towns in the Karoo cluster thus needed a greater portion of the water from this scheme. However, investigations into expanding the Project had prioritised making use of local resources first, owing to the lack of sustainability and the high cost of expansion to areas such as Camdeboo. If local resources proved insufficient, then the project would be expanded.

Discussing the Mopani District and the programmes in the area, the Department explained that the area fell below the average rainfall, and was prone to occasional floods and droughts. The Groot Letaba Water Augmentation Project had been authorised and was estimated to cost R125m. This project would raise the Tzaneen Dam and augment the water supply. The project also included the construction of Nwamitwa Dam at an estimated cost of R135m, and would unlock the development in the area. The dam would assure supply for irrigation, ecological reserve and domestic demand. The dam would be integrated with the current emergency work to rehabilitate the existing works. This should benefit 145 000 people and generate 100 direct construction jobs.

The Chairperson said that owing to time constraints, Members of the Committee would send questions to the Department, who should send prompt replies.

The Committee lacked a quorum to adopt minutes, as had been scheduled.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed a delegation from the Department of Water Affairs, and a delegation from the Camdeboo Municipality consisting of the Mayor, Ms Hanna Makoba, and the Technical Services Manager, Mr Ivor Berrington. She explained that a presentation had previously been made to the Committee by the municipality.   However, the Committee had been unable to ask any questions of the official and had thus requested that a political head be available to answer the questions of the Committee.

Presentation by the Mayor of Camdeboo Municipality

Ms Hanna Makoba, Mayor of Camdeboo, briefed the committee on challenges in water affairs within the Camdeboo Municipality. The municipality was situated within the Eastern Cape, and, with a population of 44 370. She outlined the water services situation in the various districts. Graaff-Reinet’s water was sourced from the Nqweba Dam, whose storage capacity had decreased from 80m cubic meters  in 1924 (when the dam was completed) to 47.2mcubic meters in 1998. Phase II in sewerage works required funding of R14, 2m. She explained that it was an old town and a lot of upgrading of infrastructure was needed due to old systems and a growing population. Applications for funding from the Accelerated Comprehensive Infrastructure Programme had been made; but no reply had been received from the Department. In some areas, demand for water exceeded supply and old cast-iron pipes were still in use, which further decreased capacity, due to calcification. The municipality had also applied for R30 million funding from the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG) programme to upgrade the emergency Well Field System for Graaff-Reinet alone.

In Aberdeen, demand outstripped supply, particularly in December, due to visitors. Upgrades to the sewerage system had recently been made.   However, Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) funding would be applied for to implement Phase II. Funding was needed to replace and reconstruct sewers and the water reticulation system, due to old infrastructure. The town needed money to do an investigation into the quality and storage of water. Aberdeen had a problem with the quality of its water, which was classed as class II, according to SANS 241.

Currently there were fewer issues in Nieu-Bethesda, and new treatment works had been constructed in the area. However, the quality and capacity needed to be maintained. The municipality had to prepare itself for a growing population in this area.

General water challenges in the municipality included:
Further funding was needed for the successful Water Conservation and Demand Management Programme which was presented to schools on water usage.
The Karoo cluster needed sustainable water.
Retention of staff, as small municipalities were unable to compete with the private sector or bigger municipalities.
Problems with complying with water regulations, as the sector was over-regulated and required qualified staff to manage.
Replacement of assets due to limited funds.
Unable to receive full grants, as municipalities did not have funding for the “social component” of grants.
Difficulty in implementing by-laws to comply with regulations, due to a lack of qualified staff.
Slow process of licensing water treatment works (WTW), boreholes and wastewater treatment works (WWTW).
However, the municipality was grateful for the support of the Rapid Response Unit.

The Mayor requested that the Department provide feedback on applications and concluded that water was the basis for a successful, sustainable municipality, for without water, there would be increased unemployment and emigration from towns in search of work.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked that as the Department had heard the Mayor’s complaint about a lack of response to the municipality’s applications, the Department should provide clarity on the issue.

Mr G Mokgoro (ANC, Northern Cape) commented that the Committee sympathised with the Mayor, for the municipality was clearly struggling and required a lot of assistance in terms of funding and technical expertise. He asked whether a new dam should be built, which would be able to supply sufficient water to the growing population. Without a dam that was able to support the current population, the municipality would be unable to invite industry to invest in the area. He asked if the bucket system was still in use in the area. If it was, what was the council’s plan to eradicate the system?  What was the municipal plan to resolve the lack of technicians?  In KwaZulu-Natal, 300 youths had been sent to Cuba for medical training at the initiative of the province rather than the government. He suggested that the Mayor establish dialogue with the Provincial MEC about her concerns, so that the province could create a plan to deal with the issue of the shortage of technical staff. He asked what the R18m grant was to be spent on. What steps had the council or Mayor taken to persuade the Department to respond to applications for funding?

Mr Ivor Berrington, Technical Services Manager of Camdeboo Municipality, stated that there were no buckets in the municipality as water meters were in place in all areas. The management was trying to introduce a scarce skills levy to retain staff.  It was difficult for the municipality to attract staff.  Plans and studies were in place, often through the use of service providers, for when funding became available. The R18m grant was needed to upgrade the sewer system in Graaff-Reinet, which still used clay pipes.

Mr M Makhubela (COPE, Limpopo) asked why the council consisted of so many part-time councillors in this municipality. What had caused of the drastic reduction in capacity of the dam?  What were the requirements for placing boreholes in the area?
Did the calcification of the pipes impact the quality of the supply?

Mr Berrington explained that part-time councillors were able to hold other jobs as well, although currently only one councillor in the area was.  There were six boreholes in Aberdeen and about 20 in Graaff-Reinet. Aberdeen required additional boreholes, but the biggest problem in the area was not boreholes but the quality of the water. In order to comply with requirements, the municipality would have to treat the water.  This was expensive and the price of utilities would increase in the area. Nearly every plot in Nieu-Bethesda had a borehole, although few were licensed, and so were illegal. These boreholes were also becoming contaminated. The calcification process took many years and did not affect the quality of the water, nor was it dangerous for human consumption.
 
Mr D Worth (DA, Free State) also asked what was causing the decrease in the capacity of the dam. If the cause was silting, could the municipality dredge the dam? Would the cost be too high?

Mr Berrington explained that the dam had been built as an irrigation dam. The dam had not been built to provide water for the town. The dam was dramatically silting up. The department had investigated the issue and provided the municipality with the figures. Dredging would be too expensive. Heightening of the wall was also not a viable solution. What was needed was a new deeper dam built further upstream. He also explained that the dam had been declared the most dangerous dam in the country. A water safety audit had been conducted and the Department had declared that they would repair the dam and stabilise the dam wall.

Mr Berrington reiterated the Mayor’s thanks for the support of the Rapid Response Unit. The service, which had helped the municipality significantly during the past year, had now been withdrawn. He hoped that their good work could continue.

Department of Water Affairs on RBIG in Cacadu District
Ms Portia Makhanya, Chief Director of the Department of Water Affairs: Eastern Cape, presented on the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant, which supplemented the financing of regional bulk water and sanitation infrastructure to meet government’s targets. The scope of the grant had expanded from regional (cross-boundary projects) to local internal bulk projects. The municipalities were expected to co-fund projects which the grant funded. There was a regional allocation of R514m for the Eastern Cape.

Mr Andrew Lucas, Director: Water Regulation and Use: Eastern Cape Region of Department of Water Affairs, commented on the status of water resources in the Cacadu district. The Karoo cluster had a low rainfall and high evaporation, so surface water was a challenge to maintain. He explained that the Orange River Project diverted water to the Little Fish irrigation scheme. The towns in the Karoo cluster thus needed a greater portion of the water from this scheme. However, investigations into expanding the Project had prioritised making use of local resources first, owing to the lack of sustainability and the high cost of expansion to areas such as Camdeboo. If local resources proved insufficient then the project would be expanded.  An additional issue within the coastal cluster was where state dams were within a local municipality but controlled by Nelson Mandela Metro and the Metro wished to sell the water. The possible Orange River Project scheme expansion for the Upper/Middle Sundays River had always been deemed to be too expensive.

The scheme preferred by the Karoo cluster had been the piping of water from Somerset East across the Karoo, which made it a regional scheme. However, the most economical scheme was the Next Augmentation Scheme, recommended in the All Towns Study, of R6.1m per year for running costs, rather than the R158 million per year for the expansion of the Orange River Project scheme. Thus the local scheme was deemed to be less expensive than the regional scheme. Many groundwater schemes in the Eastern Cape were not effectively managed, and with better management they would become sustainable. South African standards for quality of water had increased, and thus most Karoo towns would need to improve their quality in order to meet these standards, as the geological nature of the area provided a brackish water source.

Ms Makhanya continued with an explanation of the projects within the Karoo area, namely the Paterson Bulk Water Supply in the Sundays River Municipality, to augment the existing water supply, and the Ndlambe Bulk Water Supply in the Cacadu district. A policy had been adopted to move money from slow-moving projects to faster-moving projects.  For example, finances had been moved from OR Tambo Municipality to finance the Paterson Bulk Water Supply project. There were several other projects which were the focus of feasibility studies within this area.

Ms Makhanya responded on the issues raised by the Mayor. She commented on the Mayor’s request for funding by stating that the Department had a budget of R40m for the whole of the Eastern Cape for this financial year. This included water leakages, water conservation and demand management, refurbishment of infrastructure and emergencies. This was insufficient for the demand, and there was a clear need for funding for refurbishing existing infrastructure across the country. She also commented on the issue of communication between local municipalities and the Department, particularly with regard to acknowledging communication. The Department had implemented bimonthly meetings with the Karoo cluster in order to understand operational issues from the perspective of local government. She accepted that the licensing of boreholes had not been managed effectively. She also explained that there were insufficient resources to support the interventions made by RRU (Rapid Response Unit). However, this was being replaced by the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA). The other issue was that intervention must be in the form of support, and not a form of dependency. Thus, the intervention must complement by filling vacant positions so that the municipality could support itself.

Discussion
The Chairperson commented on the appalling state of water in the area of Port St Johns.

Ms Makhanya replied that 23 areas in the Eastern Cape had been prioritised for intervention, and that this would include Port St Johns.

Mr Mokgoro asked what medium was being used to communicate with municipalities.

Ms Makhanya responded that the Department visited municipalities.

Mr Mokgoro also asked what the status of the scheme for increasing water capacity in the Karoo cluster was. He said there were so many variations currently, and the Department should reduce them in order to focus on the most practical and sustainable one.

Mr Lucas responded that these schemes were currently only investigations, and that no decisions had been taken to proceed on any of them.

Mr Makhubela commented that there appeared to be a barrier between the Department and the local municipality. Technical staff should not focus on the high costs of a proposal, but present all possibilities.

Mr Lucas explained that the Department was criticised for the number of studies which were made.  However, the studies often produced difficult answers. Financial resources were also scarce, and the Department needed to manage these as effectively as possible.

Mr Worth summarized that there appeared to be two schemes, one local and one regional. He commented that perhaps it would be cheaper in the long-run for the more expensive regional option to be implemented if it would be inevitable that growth of the area would rapidly outstrip the water supply. Did the Department have an idea of how many boreholes were in the area? Had all the water resources in the area been taken into account – for example, aquifers? Aging infrastructure was a large problem in wasting water, so would the repair of infrastructure not be more cost effective? Perhaps people could be convinced to drink recycled water?

Mr Lucas explained that the national strategy was to first focus on local resources, as they were often quicker and cheaper to implement. They also did not involve international decisions, which the Orange River Project did.  If local resources became a challenge, then the regional schemes would be used. There were good aquifers in the Karoo.  Surface water must be treated for being brackish, while ground water must be treated for salt. He explained that aging infrastructure was a challenge and that local municipalities expected these to be replaced, while the Department lacked the funds to do. Replacing infrastructure should be implemented prior to creating a new scheme.

Mr Worth asked what the situation of the finances of the Amatola Water Board was. There were often issues with large sums of money owed to water boards, which they were unable to collect.

Mr Maxwell Sirenya, Director General of the Department of Water Affairs, responded that the Amatola Water Board was able to give the most up-to-date information. He admitted that there were currently too many options for the area and that a decision would need to be made.

Department of Water Affairs on RBIG in Mopani District
Mr Mkalipi, Advisor to the Minister of Water Affairs, presented on the water resources in the Mopani District and the programmes in the area. He explained that the area fell below the average rainfall, and was prone to occasional floods and droughts. The Groot Letaba Water Augmentation Project had been authorised and was estimated to cost R125m. This project would raise the Tzaneen Dam and augment the water supply. The project also includes the construction of Nwamitwa Dam at an estimated cost of R135m, and would unlock the development in the area. The dam would assure supply for irrigation, ecological reserve and domestic demand. The dam would be integrated with the current emergency work to rehabilitate the existing works. This should benefit 145 000 people and generate 100 direct construction jobs. The repairs were estimated to cost R128m. The construction had started in June this year, and was anticipated to be completed in December, 2012. The effects of the drought in this region had left the Middle Letaba dam sitting at 0,7% of capacity.

There was currently a seven-part plan of intervention in this area.
Restrictions on domestic and irrigation use;
Last resort of using the ‘dead water’ in the Middle Letaba dam;
Maximising ground water use;
Extending pipelines from Mapuve to Giyani;
Linking the Middle Letaba dam to the Majosi system;
Klein Letaba River water transfer, which was currently not feasible;
Studies were being made on the viable future of the Middle Letaba dam.

There were two RBIG projects in this area: drought relief in the Giyani area, and provision of Bulk Water to the Sekororo community. The first project was estimated to cost R247m, while the second was estimated to cost R214m.

There were many challenges in this area, including lack of skills, operation and maintenance funding shortages for municipalities, and the restriction that projects of over R100m could not be transferred to municipalities. There was also the issue of water budgets being used for other services, and suggestions that a water affairs budget should be ring-fenced to prevent this. The issue of diminishing transfer budgets was also an issue which was confusing to municipalities.

Discussion
The Chairperson said that due to insufficient time, the members of the Committee would send questions to the Department, who should send prompt replies.

The Chairperson explained that the committee lacked a quorum to adopt the minutes.

Mr Makhubela thanked all the participants.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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