‘We are pay­ing for air’

Ques­tions over wa­ter bills

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - NEWS - STAFF RE­PORTER

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.”

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