Water restrictions

Melissa de Nobrega, Table View

I have a very urgent matter I feel needs to be addressed concerning the water restrictions and our small business.

I’m sure what I have to say below will upset a few water warriors, but there are many who also may agree with my views.

We own a small, formal, registered car wash which uses high pressure cleaners, which are much more water efficient than hosepipes. We employ six permanent staff members besides ourselves trying to draw an income from this business.

We applied for exemption on May 31. We asked our landlord for copies of our water consumption figures and submitted these as motivation for our application. On July 7, a Law Enforcement officer came to our business with a list of the latest regulations regarding the Level 4b restrictions and informed us that our application was declined and that we had to cease operations using municipal water with immediate effect.

We received no written notice or grace period in which to make possible adjustments or put alternate measures in place. We had originally introduced a waterless cleaning product which was offered to our clients. One hundred percent of them refused to use it on their vehicles.

Our water consumption averages between 19kl during winter and 35kl in peak season. By comparison, the small (and not very busy) hair salon in the same building uses 14kl and the laundry a whopping 97kl to 114kl a month.

I am more than happy to submit documents to prove this.

Can someone please explain to me why no other businesses which use water as part of their operations have been targeted?

We have investigated the option of installing a water recycling system but it will cost almost R200 000. Money we don’t have.

We paid a considerable sum of money to buy this business (which will take approximately four years to pay off), plus make improvements.

We now stand to lose everything because we cannot operate without being heavily fined or even arrested.

We have to dismiss all our staff; people who have families to feed. We will have to pay them out a severance package, again with money we don’t have. We have two rented containers which we operate from and a three-year lease with our landlord.

It seems like our local government has taken the decision to target car washes because they are perceived to be one of the biggest users of water, without having done any research on the matter, and because it’s a quick and easy solution. I could run five car washes with the consumption of just one laundry.

Surely, there must be a better way to handle this issue instead of making a “blanket ban” on car washes alone. Why can we not be judged by our consumption or given a water quota to keep our businesses running.

At the current number of cars we service, we don’t feel it’s viable or necessary to install a recycling system. We are only washing an average of 20 cars a day.

Hopefully another solution to the car wash issue can be found. We are not the only ones suffering from these measures. Many car washes around us have been forced to close down because they just cannot comply.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, responds:

The City would like to thank Ms De Nobrega for taking the time to bring these points to our attention. We will most definitely consider all the points mentioned.

While we empathise with these small- to medium-sized car wash businesses, we do however have to ensure that the compulsory Level 4b water restrictions are adhered to, which does not allow the washing of vehicles, trailers, caravans or boats with municipal drinking water. Car washes use an excessive amount of drinking water which we cannot afford, considering the extreme drought that we are currently facing.

When considering exemptions, health- and hygiene-related exemptions are prioritised, save to say we will clamp down on all excessive users. Therefore we encourage all businesses to find creative ways to reduce consumption and we ask that residents report those using excessive amounts of drinking water, along with proof, to 0860 103 090, via SMS to 31373, or via email towater@capetown.go.za.

It would not be possible for the City to ask the likes of hairdressers or laundromats to use non-municipal drinking water, however, any excessively high users will be subject to the stepped tariff system. The City has been very accommodating towards car washes up until now, but situations like these leave a municipality with tough decisions – this being one of them.