DURBAN - MORE than 190 000 water meters were not read in the eThekwini Municipality last September, with thousands having not been read for a full year.
The details are contained in a report on the reading of meters that was tabled last month. It found that 192 000 water meters were not read in September.
The non-reading of meters for extended periods is getting progressively worse based on the figures that have been reported in the past two years.
Opposition party councillors slammed the latest statistics, saying they spoke to the crisis faced by the water unit.
The report showed that between July and September, the number of meters not being read averaged at about 190 000.
It said: “In September 2021 there were a total of 192 448 unread water meters of which 46 593 were not read for more than 365 days. This indicates that 46 593 customers have been getting estimated bills for more than a year. This complicates (the bill) if the customer has a water leak while the municipality continues to estimate the readings.
“Customers also encounter higher amounts levied into their accounts if the estimates are lower than the actual consumption,” said the report.
The breakdown of the reading of the meters between July and September show that July was the worst month of the three on record for meter reading, with 262 000 water meters not having been read, but this may have been impacted by the unrest. While there was an improvement in August, with the figure dropping to 190 000 meters, it went up again in September with 192 000 meters not read, the report showed.
The Mercury has reported on the issue of unread meters in the past two years. In 2019 it reported that 7 000 meters had not been read for more than a year.
Last year, The Mercury reported that more than 11 000 eThekwini Municipality ratepayers were receiving estimated bills for water every month because the city’s water meter readers were battling to find the devices. It also emerged that some of the unread meters were in difficult-to-reach areas.
At the time, the officials said the city was trying to figure out how the problem could be solved.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said the failure to read meters meant that some residents were getting robbed.
“We cannot have a situation where meter readings are being estimated, that is daylight robbery. That is why we have encountered cases where consumers are complaining of getting R200 000 water bills because there is no basis for that bill,” he said.
Nkosi said the explanation that the city could not reach some of its meters was not acceptable.
“These are their assets, you cannot tell me they do not know how to track their assets. When they install meters, there should be a way to locate them.”
Patrick Pillay of the Democratic Liberal Congress, said estimation was not a fair assessment of use and some consumers were suffering as a result.
He said he was recently contacted by a ratepayer whose meter had not been read for a year and now had to pay R30 000.
“The municipal officials keep promising that they will make an effort to make sure that the meters are read consistently, but that has not happened; they have to work to make this a reality.”
DA councillor Thabani Mthethwa said the water unit was in trouble.
“Because these meter readings are being estimated, either we are losing money we cannot afford to lose or we are overcharging consumers which is not fair because it’s not their fault we can’t read meters,” he said.
He said as the DA they had proposed that the executive committee set aside a day to unpack the challenges faced by the water unit and look for ways to address those challenges.