‘We are paying for air’
Questions over water bills
KIMBERLEY residents, whose water usage has doubled and even trebled in comparison with this time last year, have questioned whether they are paying for “air” in their water pipes as the municipality continues to switch the water off at night.
One resident, who lives in Belgravia, pointed out that her water usage had trebled from between 28 to 32 kilolitres a month in 2017, to 86 kilolitres in November 2018.
“We budget around R800 a month for water but the bill shot up to R4 000.”
The resident said she went to the municipality to enquire about her bill.
“My father was an engineer on the mines and he tried to explain about the need to bleed the pipes to get rid of the air in the system but the municipality is adamant that we must have used the water.”
The resident pointed out that since the nightly water restrictions, they have had no water pressure in their taps. “We cannot even put our sprayers on because the water just trickles out so there is no way we could have used more water than usual.”
She said she was advised by the municipality to switch the water off and to monitor the meter. “They said if it was still running after we had switched the water off, we must have a leak somewhere and we would have to call out an plumber and send the account to the municipality.”
She added, however, that there weren’t any leaks. “At the end of the day we just had to pay the account because otherwise the municipality will switch off our water and electricity.”
Another resident pointed out that while residents have now adapted to the fact that their water goes off every night, what they were not prepared for was a water usage account that has doubled.
“When the water comes back on in the morning, you can actually hear the air in the pipes. This air is making the meter run, so essentially I am paying for air.”
According to Penny Swift, a journalist and founder of Sans 10400 building regulations, residents could be paying for not just water but for the air in the water pipes as well.
Swift says the old technology used to measure water supply, measures everything that goes through the meter, air as well.
“The air is condensed and goes through the pipes and makes the impeller inside the meter spin out of control, depending on how much air is involved it runs up a completely false water reading.”
An article on Sans 10400 Building Regulations website by Janek Szymonowski, confirms that every time a water pipe bursts there is a chance “that the municipality will rake in thousands of rand from false water meter readings”.
“This is because air passing through consumers’ water meters and water pipes give false readings that are charged automatically on all water bills. So if you suddenly have a higher-than-usual water account, this could be the explanation,” he states.
“After a personal experience and numerous queries to Sans 10400 about what appeared to be inflated water accounts we decided to investigate. Scouring through social media and reading many posts and questions on various group websites, it soon became clear that the issue of inflated water bills is commonplace countrywide. At times costs seem to run into thousands of rand over the normal monthly average charge people are used to paying.
“The reality is that (some) water meters utilise old, out-dated technology. Rather than measuring water as such, these meters measure all flow through the meter – including air.” He added that the problem often arose when there was a break in the water supply and air got into the pipe.
“The majority of water meters use an impeller to measure the amount of water passing through the meter. When there is a leak in the pipes delivering water to suburban properties, municipal workers have to shut off the water supply whilst the broken section of water supply pipe is being repaired.
“When the mains are reopened again, there can be a large amount of air that has entered the pipework. Because water is denser than air, the air is compressed and passes through the pipe, and subsequently through the meter, very fast, making the impeller inside the meter literally spin out of control. Depending on the amount of air involved, this can cause your meter to run up an unreal, totally false water reading – which goes hand-in-hand with very high water bills.”
He advises anyone whose water bills suddenly increase for no apparent reason to note whether increased “usage” corresponds with burst water mains in the area.
Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, said that the municipality would look at each case according to its merits.
“The procedure usually is to monitor a customer’s water usage over a period of time to determine the average usage.”
He pointed out that some meters in the city, especially in certain suburbs, were very old and could be faulty.
“A review of each account referred to the municipality will be conducted to ensure that a fair billing is charged.”