The Western Cape Government is moving in to clear silted-up water canals in an emergency effort to maximise water flowing into the Voëlvlei Dam. The dam is an important source of water both for the City of Cape Town and towns on the drought-stricken West Coast.
The national Department of Water and Sanitation has failed to maintain the canals flowing into Voëlvlei. Maintenance of South Africa’s major storage dams and related infrastructure, including canals, forms part of national government’s mandate.
Premier Helen Zille said the Province is now diverting R3.5 million to conduct emergency maintenance to the Voëlvlei canals, stepping in where the national government has neglected its responsibility.
“Despite the fact that maintenance of state water infrastructure is not a provincial competence, the provincial government is having to divert millions from other projects for this essential work,” Zille wrote in a Daily Maverick column today.
Voëlvlei is an “off-channel dam”, which means it is not situated in the path of a river. During winter, water has to be diverted from several nearby rivers through a network of canals in order to fill the dam. This requires a high level of infrastructural maintenance of weirs in rivers to divert water, as well as the canal network linking rivers to the dam.
Zille said the national department’s failure to remove silt from the Leeurivier weir during the last season led to a loss of 7’5-million cubic metres of water during 2016. This amount of water would have been enough to service the whole of Cape Town (under current water-saving measures) for at least two weeks.
The Premier confirmed that once the Province had completed the work, an invoice would be sent to the national Department to ‘pay back the money’. Zille said the Province would ask the Auditor-General to condone the expenditure on items outside of the Province’s mandate.
“We cannot escape the domino effect of a corrupt and badly managed national department. By diverting money to deal with the national government’s responsibilities, we not only short-change our own, we also risk forfeiting our clean audits for spending money on functions that do not fall within our mandate,” said Zille.
The chaotic state of finances at the national Water Affairs and Sanitation department is leading to water sales revenue being used to pay salaries, when the money had previously been used for water infrastructure maintenance.
Furthermore, national Treasury has turned off the tap, noting that the Water Affairs and Sanitation department is R4.3-billion in the red, leaving contractors unpaid for more than six months because “internal controls, project management and contract management have collapsed”.
Meanwhile, the provincial government and City of Cape Town are fast-tracking plans to access ground water, thereby reducing the reliance on dams and rivers in the Province.
The Provincial Disaster Declaration is helping to shorten tender and regulatory processes that need to be followed to tap into alternative water supply sources. The Disaster was declared by Premier Zille in May following repeated requests by the Province since December 2015 for national to approve a disaster declaration.
“The City recently called for information on all new water technologies in three main categories: the sustainable extraction of water from aquifers, desalination, and water re-use. The submissions were very encouraging, and will inform a major tender process, due to commence soon, to harness the latest technologies. The disaster declaration will enable the City to expedite the interminably long tender process,” said Zille.