Zinwa wants to bill underground water users

HARARE - Cash strapped Zimbabweans will have to folk out more after government announced plans to bill boreholes, a move that has rattled citizens.

Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) which governs the country’s water bodies has embarked on a drive to install meters on boreholes country wide.

Environment, Water and Climate deputy minister Simon Musanhu told the Daily News in a telephone interview yesterday that he supported plans for borehole owners to be taxed.

“Consumption of underground water must be billed because it contributes to the depletion of the water table.

“Mind you underground water levels have significantly reduced. In the past, one could access the underground water at 15 metres and now some people are drilling boreholes that go as far as 60 metres,” Musanhu said.

“This shows that the water table has depreciated and it is therefore important that we monitor the underground water.”

The deputy minister further accused most borehole owners of selling water.

“We know people are making money from these boreholes, so they have to pay,” he said.

Asked whether such a move would not rattle citizens, Musanhu said: “You know the procedure that one needs to satisfy before drilling a borehole. You need to have a permit for you to access the underground water. So people cannot cry foul if they are billed for consuming underground water because the same water is the one that feeds the rivers.

“If people are billed for accessing surface water, why shouldn’t they also be billed for using underground water?”

The minister however, confessed that he was not aware whether Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) had started billing boreholes.

“I don’t know what path they have taken, but they have been talking about monitoring bulk consumers. Whether they have decided on prepaid meters as a way to monitor bulk consumers, I am not aware,” he said.

While Zinwa spokesperson, Tsungirirai Shoriwa, had not responded to written questions sent to him on Monday, he commented on social network Facebook that the country’s Water Act states that anyone who has a borehole should install a meter on it.

“For the benefit of all, this is what section 43 of the Water Act says regarding anyone abstracting either surface or ground water; Records of amount of water abstracted to be maintained (1), and “to provide and install a meter or other measuring device for measuring and recording the amount of water abstracted,” he said in a post.

Precious Shumba, director of pressure group, the Harare Residents Trust (HRT), described the intended Zinwa move as “exploitative and hypocritical.”

“If Zinwa has indicated that they want all boreholes to be fitted with water meters, this is the height of exploitation of the people who have come to the aid of a collapsing service delivery system,” Shumba said.

“The fact that the majority of residents in the northern suburbs have sunk boreholes in their yards does not mean they wanted to do so. But water shortages have driven residents to find an alternative.

That is acknowledging government and municipal failure to honour their legal and constitutional obligation of providing all citizens with water.”

The HRT director further lamented that Zinwa should not punish people for drilling boreholes.

“Zinwa should not abuse the benevolence of citizens by trying to punish them for doing what is right under difficult circumstances.

“The government water utility should be grateful that these citizens did not take the government to court for failure to honour its obligations. If they decide to pursue that line of argument to have water metres on every borehole, then the water utility should seriously consider putting in place a fund to compensate residents who drilled the boreholes at personal expenses, because we cannot have a government’s agency that generates revenue without investing a single cent,” he said.

“They need to be accountable to the citizenry and not employ bully tactics to fundraise.”

Many Zimbabweans have resorted to borehole drilling in response to erratic water supplies from various councils.

Some northern suburbs of Harare such as Greystone Park and Helensvale have gone for years  without tap water.

To compound the dire situation, the Harare City Council has announced that it will disconnect defaulting residents.