Minister of human settlements, water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu, says SA’s water sector requires urgent attention and more resources if it is to avoid an imminent collapse.

Sisulu highlighted the problems faced by struggling municipalities in her budget vote speech on Tuesday, noting that the nine water boards and the department are owed R14bn by municipalities for raw water and other services.

The sector has been hit hard by ageing infrastructure; an over-reliance on costly consultants; poor water management by municipalities; a shortage of technical staff; and big water delivery backlogs.

It has also been badly affected by non-compliance by the mines with their water license conditions; vandalism and theft of water infrastructure; non-payment for services; and poor management of projects.

The biggest of these has been the huge financial mismanagement that has seen many top officials at national and municipal level being investigated.

This situation has further been exacerbated by debts arising from non-payment, mostly by municipalities.

Sisulu said the department’s financial crisis was mainly due to irregular expenditure. She told MPs that the department’s finances needed to be addressed urgently.

She said measures have to be put in place to top slice the municipal grants to service the debt owed to the department and its entities before the grants are paid to municipalities.

“This will ensure the sustainable provision of water supply for both bulk and reticulation.”

Municipal staff also needs to be trained.

The minister said tendering processes would be reviewed and rigorous standards applied to create a system that is “leak resistant”.

The department’s construction unit will be re-established to undertake maintenance, and new regulations on the conservation of water will be issued. In addition, river, dam and sewerage inspectors will be appointed from August 1.

Special focus will be given to two dam projects that will be executed without further delay: the Umzimvubu dam for which a strategic partner will be sought, and the Vioolsdrift dam which will be undertaken with Namibia.

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