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Water crisis looms as Bloemwater threatens to suspend operations

Staff Reporter

Residents of Bloemfontein and surrounding towns should brace for water shortages after Bloemwater warned it intended to suspend operations due to financial troubles.

The bulk water supplier said its financial situation had become unsustainable due to the non-payment of accounts by the municipalities it services.

Bloemwater is owed over R1 billion by the Mangaung Metro Municipality, which governs the Free State capital of Bloemfontein and the nearby towns of Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu.

The water company also services the Kopanong and Mantsopa local municipalities.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Bloemwater said huge debts owed mainly by the municipalities had left its operations in a precarious position.

“It should be noted that the current outstanding debt by the three municipalities stands at R1 492 495 as at July 2020, with Mangaung’s alone standing at R1 093 540 713,” read part of the statement.

“The endless inter-governmental relations processes . . . did not yield any positive outcomes and have resulted in the entity being unable to carry out its normal operations or even meet its obligations as required.”

Bloemwater said in order to limit further non-affordable expenditure, its board had considered the impact of different scenarios, including COVID-19 pandemic requirements, and implementing gradual suspension of operations from September 1, 2020 in order to delay an impending total collapse of the water supply system if not attended to.

It said the gradual suspension will allow for the partial payment of salaries, electricity, chemicals, raw water charges, project commitments and a small portion for operations and maintenance as well as administration expenditure.

Among the measures that Bloemwater is implementing immediately:

  • plants, reservoirs and pipelines retained at operational levels
  • all municipal supply to be reduced
  • operations will be maintained to customers directly supplied by Bloemwater such as De Brug Military Base, Grootvlei Prison, Country Bird and farmers not defaulting on their accounts
  • reservoir volumes will be maintained at optimal levels not to negatively impact the infrastructure

Meanwhile, Mangaung Metro Municipality is currently in talks with Bloemwater following a dispute on a payment plan to settle its account.

This is not the first time the two parties have clashed over alleged late payments in line with an agreed payment plan.

Municipal spokesperson Qondile Khedama said in a statement also released on Wednesday the city remained committed to servicing the bill and took exception to claims by Bloemwater that the municipality had failed to stick to the agreement.

“. . . we take a dim view to a blanket communique that seems to purport the city as unresponsive in honouring its creditors,” Khedama said.

“Our recent payments made between July and August amount to R130 million.

“These amounts demonstrate commitment on the side of the city.”

Khedama said the municipality was in continuous engagements with Bloemwater to ensure residents have an uninterrupted supply of water.

He said Mangaung Metro is committed to the payment plan as submitted to Bloemwater and as resolved during the National Treasury mediation meeting which took place on July 4 last year.

“We are equally mindful of the distress that this dispute is causing amongst members of the community and would want to assure people of Mangaung that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that they are exempted from this dispute, but provided with uninterrupted water supply as rate payers,” Khedama said.

The city acknowledged in the statement that water disputes have far-reaching consequences on household consumption, business and ultimately the local economy.

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