Cape Town dams are full – but 'drought' water tariffs are here to stay

Business Insider SA
  • Good rainfall means the dams feeding Cape Town are nearly full again.
  • That doesn't mean water tariffs will fall. The City of Cape Town says it has already lowered tariff levels from their emergency high, when Day Zero loomed.
  • And that fixed charge it adds to water bills? That is also here to stay.
  • Water in Cape Town is just up to 20% more expensive than in Johannesburg.
  • For more articles, go to

Good winter rainfall means Cape Town’s dams are back to reassuring levels – very far from the point when Day Zero loomed. The latest readings for the Theewaterskloof dam, which is a main supplier of water to the city, show the dam to be at 72.9% capacity. That’s compared to the same period last year when the dam was 53.4% full.

So, with water levels firmly in “don’t panic” territory, Cape Town residents may be wondering when their water tariffs will be lowered, and whether those drought tariffs will be reversed.

The answer is: it's complicated, but don’t hold your breath for a cheaper water bill.

In the City’s most recent budget, water and sanitation tariffs were increased by 4.5% – less than the comparable 6.6% increase in Johannesburg, and far from the painful 15% increase in Ekurhuleni.

READ | Steep new tariff hikes for Joburg, Tshwane and other cities, while Cape Town faces less pain

However, water is still more expensive in Cape Town than Joburg. For consumption between 6 and 10 kilolitres per month, Cape Town will charge you R20.75 per kilolitre, while Joburg will charge you R18.99, a difference of 8.5%.

That charge goes up the more you use thanks to consumption brackets. Cape Town’s highest bracket, assuming no water restrictions, will charge you R52.05 per kilolitre (on consumption higher than 35 kilolitres per month). In Joburg, if you’re using more than 30 kilolitres per month, the city will charge you R42 per kilolitre, nearly 20% less.

However, Cape Town also adds an additional fixed cost on top of consumption charges. You’ll always pay a minimum of R58.20 per month, along with the water you actually use. Both cities also increase their water tariffs significantly as water restrictions are declared. Under emergency tariffs, the heaviest users (more than 35kl) in Cape Town have their tariffs increased from R52.04 per kilolitre to a massive R341.72 per kilolitre.

But Cape Town is not in an emergency, and the drought has significantly eased. So why the high tariffs? Turns out that’s not because of any drought surcharge. That’s just the cost of water now.

According to alderman Ian Neilson, the City’s mayoral committee member for finance and executive deputy mayor, the sky-high tariffs paid during the height of the drought were because the city moved to emergency tariff levels. The city has since moved to reduced tariff levels as the availability of water improved. It is currently at Level 1, he says.

“The City does not budget for a profit from the sale of water and seeks to keep costs of service delivery as low as possible,” he says.

To make things even more complicated, the City restructured its water tariffs last year, reducing the water restriction tariffs from seven levels to five levels, and adding a fixed surcharge.

And it’s that fixed charge many people object to, and many people would like to see vanish as water levels improve.

Unfortunately for Capetonians, that’s not going to happen.

“The fixed basic charge was introduced to ensure financial sustainability irrespective of the level of consumption and to ensure a fairer payment of the costs by all customers,” says Neilson.

According to him, water rates have already been modified to take the fixed cost into account. They’d be even higher if it was removed.

"The fixed basic charge is part of the income required and if it were not charged, the consumptive tariff would have to be increased to compensate the loss of income," he says.

Finally, whatever happened to the actual drought levy that was proposed in 2018 under then-mayor Patricia de Lille? It was never implemented after a public outcry. City council members eventually voted against it.

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