A Constantia homeowner is at the heart of a storm over water rights.
Local businessman Saleh Abrahams believes the man is selling water from his property above Rhodes Drive, having seen a number of trucks filled with water exiting the property. When the Bulletin visited the man, Paul Baise, earlier this year, he said he was emptying his swimming pool.
Nine months later, however, truckloads of water continue to leave his property – as many as 10 to 12 trucks a day, says neighbour, Kevin McGivern.
He and Mr Abrahams say the water is drawn from a spring on the mountainside and are concerned about the potential impact on the Constantia valley’s parks, greenbelts and wetlands.
Mr McGivern says homeowners along Rhodes Drive – himself included – were granted title deed water rights pre-1950 by the then administrator, SA Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL), to draw “half an inch” of water each day for personal consumption. This because there is no municipal reticulation pipeline. The Bulletin queried this with Safcol, but by the time this edition went to print, they had not responded.
Mr McGivern says he recently confronted his neighbour about selling the water. “He said he is drawing water from his borehole.
“There is no borehole,” says Mr McGivern.
Mr Abrahams says he first noticed the trucks about two years ago. He has spoken to ward councillor Liz Brunette and Wynberg police. He says Ms Brunette told him there is nothing she can do and Wynberg police say the matter falls under the jurisdiction of national police.
Ms Brunette told the Bulletin that in February the national Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) established a specialised task team, which, assisted by the City, investigates transgressors over water usage. She says notices have been served on property owners, including Mr Baise, as well as a house in Moss Street, Newlands, among others. Whenever she receives complaints about homeowners selling water, she says, she reports it to the City’s call centre at 107 or 021 480 7700.
Captain Ntombi Lindipasi, spokesperson for Wynberg police, says they can only intervene when a case has been opened and advised the Bulletin to contact the City’s Law Enforcement unit.
In response to the Bulletin’s enquiry, sent to the City’s media office, along with the homeowner’s name, address and erf number, as well as pictures showing registration plates of trucks filled with water, Xanthea Limberg, the City’s mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, said groundwater is a national government resource and the City does not have legal authority to manage its use or enforce contraventions of the laws that apply to it.
All users of surface water must comply with the National Water Act and its regulations around springs, boreholes, well points, rivers, streams and vlei water.
And residents must obtain permission from DWS to take water from a resource, such as ground or surface water.
But DWS spokesman Mtobeli Mxotwa, says water from the Constantia area falls under authority of the municipality.
At the weekend Mr Abrahams sent the Bulletin a documentary by German production company, Wassernotstand Trockenubungeun, about Cape Town’s water crisis. It includes footage of Law Enforcement officials telling a man on the Rhodes Drive property that storing so much water is not allowed and they can take it from him.
The man claimed to be storing it because his neighbour had cut off his water supply.
The officers tell him that under no circumstances is he allowed to sell water.
However, the man tells them that it is his water and non-potable therefore he can do what he wants with it. And this is exactly what Mr Baise told the Bulletin this week.
He, however, refused to confirm if he is selling the water or what the source of the water is and warned that he has enough money to take the Bulletin to court.
Documentary video footage shows a spring coming from underground on the opposite side of the man’s fence. Black PVC pipes lead from the spring and are redirected onto the three properties below it.
When the link to the video and the names of law enforcement officials were sent to the City’s media office with further questions, Ms Limberg said the international broadcasting crew had requested ride-along during a water blitz by law enforcement as part of the City’s drought intervention.
Questioned about the outcome of the visit, she says the City has informed DWS of what was witnessed during the water blitz.
However, she adds, the City cannot deal with the abstraction of water from a mountain spring as its municipal water by-law does not cover this. Groundwater abstraction is a national government competency.
SANParks spokesperson Janine Raftopoulos says the owner of the property under scrutiny had installed all manner of pipes from a stream up on the mountain, leading to his property. While she says SANParks has removed the pipes, Mr McGivern says trucks continue to take water away.
When the Bulletin visited the area on Tuesday, we saw pipes from a mountain stream below Constantia Corner running under the old Rhodes Avenue to a stream where the water is redirected to properties via PVC piping.
The water should continue downstream and enter De Hel greenbelt. Below, on Rhodes Drive, a truck laden with water left Mr Baise’s property.
Ms Raftopoulos says they are trying to establish from the City if they are aware of this matter and if permits have been granted for such an activity.
Asked if this water use could impact the waterways of the Constantia valley, Ms Raftopoulos says their team is unable to ascertain this and they are also unable to confirm how many truckloads of water are being extracted daily.
Ecologist Dr Tony Rebelo said excessive drawing of water upstream would affect the river downstream by drying it out and reducing the flow period. This will affect the river ecology, with all the animals going dormant early or dying.
One of the trucks identified in pictures sent by neighbours is that of Waterstar, a company based in Hout Bay. Owner, Ito Joseph Chietto, says Mr Baise is providing a service to the community for people who need non-potable water for topping up their swimming pools and grey water tanks. Mr Chietto says they do not charge for water, only for delivery of it.
* The Bulletin has forwarded email correspondence regarding this issue to the presidency and to the mayor’s office.
View video footage at www.constantiabergbulletin.co.za.