“At the time, there were problems with the water supply and there was a lot of air in my pipes. I checked the meter and it ran, irrespective of what passed through - whether it was water or air.”
The Sol Plaatje Municipality has confirmed in an internal email that it is possible for air pressure in the pipes to escalate the consumption level of water users.
According to documents in the DFA’s possession, a query was sent to the municipality’s technical division in which is was stated that the municipality had received a high volume of queries from customers regarding air pressure in their water pipes which was escalating their consumption level. The email requests the technical division to confirm whether it is possible for air pressure to interfere with the municipality’s water metering instrument.
In its reply, the technical division states: “Yes, it is possible. Our meter digits are driving with a fan that is situated in the line of flow within the meter casing. The fan is very sensitive and any movement with a little bit of force will actually move the fan and that will result in a change in the meter reading. Unfortunately the meter reading will be positively influenced if water is opened up to fill up the empty pipelines,” the reply states.
The email was given to a member of the public after he went to the municipality in 2012 already to query his municipal account. According to the city resident, he is still battling with the municipality regarding his water usage, which, according to the municipality is 121 000 litres a month, although only he and his wife live at home.
In October 2012, his water usage, which averaged 55 kilolitres a month for the previous 12 months, suddenly shot up to 129 Kl, more than double his normal usage.
“At the time, there were problems with the water supply and there was a lot of air in my pipes. I checked the meter and it ran, irrespective of what passed through – whether it was water or air.”
The reply from the municipality was that the local authority was experiencing fluctuations with their accounts at the time and this was being investigated and official advice was being awaited from the technical department. “You will be informed out of the outcome in due course. However, I wish to advise you to settle your account to the extent that you are able or used to on a monthly basis and also make arrangements with our credit control department for the remaining balance so that your services are not cut while we are busy investigating your account,” the reply continued.
“Since then I have had a running battle with the municipality regarding my account,” the resident stated. “Currently I am being charged for using in excess of 120 000 litres a month. “The municipality advises members of the public who query their high water accounts, that it will take an average over three months but their billing period keeps changing – some months it is 31 days, and other months it is over a shorter period. I am not a technical expert, but I have checked my meter and it is not faulty. When there is air in the pipe, it spins so fast that you cannot even see the meter turning and lately there has been air coming through the pipes right up until lunchtime.”
A subsequent directive, dated March 2017, however, signed by the City Engineer for Water and Sanitation, denies that air pressure in the pipes can cause the dials to move.
“The dials are designed in a way that senses fluid or water molecules. In cases where customers report unfamiliar consumption or alleged high or abnormal consumption readings, an ideal solution is to test and testify that the meter is in good working condition,” the directive states.
“Unfortunately we do not have a water meter testing at our municipality and the best solution to this problem is the following: conduct an inspection to assess the operating condition of the meter (investigate possible signs of tampering); and replace the meter if the meter is found to be faulty (reading of dials/back and forth moving of dials.”
Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, confirmed yesterday that there were instances were the municipality was provided with proof that the meter was affected by air in the pipe. “In some instances it has been shown that this is the case but it is not across the board and not all meters are affected. There might be some instances where this happens but it is mainly with older meters.”
He added that in these instances, the municipality would take an average reading to determine an estimated consumption of water. “We will look at how much the customer has used in the three months prior to the water being cut off at night, so for example June to October last year, to determine the average consumption of that household.
“What we really wish for is a fair value where customers pay for the water they have used. All disputes will be looked at on a case by case basis. We do know that there are others who, even if their meters are correct, will try to take advantage of the situation.”
Matsie added that the matter had been referred to the Executive Director responsible who would look investigate together with the finance section.
“There are clearly conflicting opinions regarding this issue within the municipality but we will be guided by the policy, where we will look into cases reported to us. There will also be further discussions by the relevant officials in an attempt to resolve this issue.”
He stated further that there were also instances were meters were faulty or they were stuck. “In these situations we will replace the meters, which like all mechanical devices, can fail on occasion. There are even instances were meters are stolen.
“Where this happens, we will also look at the average consumption over a period of three months, to determine an estimated amount owed by the consumer.”