Western Cape Premier Helen Zille

The Western Cape Government will ask the national Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to ‘pay back the money’ after it was forced to divert R3.5 million to conduct emergency maintenance to the Voëlvlei canals.

The office of the Premier, Helen Zille, issued a statement stating that the DWS has failed to maintain the canals flowing into Voëlvlei. This despite the fact that maintenance of South Africa’s major storage dams and related infrastructure, including canals, forms part of national government’s mandate.

“Despite the fact that maintenance of state water infrastructure is not a provincial competence, the provincial government is having to divert millions from other projects for this essential work,” Zille wrote in a Daily Maverick column.

Voëlvlei is an “off-channel dam”, which means it is not situated in the path of a river. During winter, water has to be diverted from several nearby rivers through a network of canals in order to fill the dam. This requires a high level of infrastructural maintenance of weirs in rivers to divert water, as well as the canal network linking rivers to the dam.

Zille said the national department’s failure to remove silt from the Leeu River weir during the last season led to a loss of 7’5-million m3 of water during 2016. This amount of water would have been enough to service the whole of Cape Town (under current water-saving measures) for at least two weeks.

The premier confirmed that once the province has completed the work, an invoice would be sent to the DWS to ‘pay back the money’. Zille said the province would ask the Auditor-General to condone the expenditure on items outside of its mandate.

DWS denies allegations

The DWS has however dismissed reports that it has been stalling to make funds available for the maintenance of water canals in the Western Cape.

According to the DWS, the cleaning of canals falls is the responsibility of provincial departments of agriculture, and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture should therefore take the lead in removing the sediment deposits in the canal at Leeu River.

The department added that despite the fact that the DWS is not directly responsible for the work required at the Leeu River, in March this year it took the initiative of removing sand from the Leeu River canal in collaboration with the local Water Users Association. The cleaning involved the removal of sand deposits that were found behind the diversion works and in front of the canal inlet.

The DWS also noted that the three canals supplying Voëlvlei Dam are currently working and without operational issues.