Old water woes, new war
Water Guzzler . . . Residents blame LS Waters for excessive water abstraction, a charge the bulk water dealer denies
Stanely Mushava Features Writer
For close to a decade, Harare’s eastern and northern suburbs such as Mabvuku, Tafara, Ruwa, Greendale, Borrowdale, Hatcliffe, among others, have been facing water problems largely owing to the City of Harare’s failure to deliver the goods.
Economic challenges facing the country as well as rotting infrastructure – as well as administration – have not helped the cause, either. Residents in these areas have come up with different survival mechanisms, according to their means, to alleviate their troubles. However, in one area, Greendale, amid these water woes, a war is afoot.
Residents had resorted to sinking boreholes and digging wells as a make-do measure but claim the water table has since receded as a result of bulk water extraction and are up in arms against bulk water merchant LS Waters, run by one Josh Laubscher.
Residents, and bitterly so those along Metcalf Road, claim that their boreholes started running dry at the end of 2012 and that even after the heavy 2013-2014 rainy season, boreholes were showing signs of depletion as early as April.
Upper Manyame Sub-Catchment Council, the water regulatory authority for Harare north, said LS Waters is pumping out between180 000 and 300 000 litres per day, more than four times the allocated volume.
The sub-catchment council earlier this year suspended LS Waters’ water abstraction permit pending satisfactory demonstration that they are not overstepping their allocation.
Upper Manyame chief executive officer Engineer Munashe Mvura said LS Water was still operating in defiance of the order.
“We have written to LS Waters ordering compliance with the terms of the permit which stipulates 41 000 litres per day.
“In doing so we considered the drying up of neighbourhood boreholes and wells and the unsustainable rate at which LS is extracting water.
“Riparian property owners have complained to us about the negative effects of the over-extraction of water in their community.
“However, Laubscher has not paid attention to the order. I do not know why he is defiant. Some people are misled by their lawyers and this could be the case with him.
“We have the lawful capacity to stop him and we have issued letters suspending him but he is in defiance.
“The environmental impact of his activities is disturbing. Water for human consumption is bound to run out at this rate and trees in the vicinity will also dry up.
“We recently filed a report with Rhodesville police station and we are waiting for them to compel him to comply. He claims we are victimising him yet he is the one in violation,” Mvura said.
The statutory instrument governing use of water resources outlaws abstraction of water in residential areas for bulk supply unless the candidate proves to the authority that their activities “do not interfere in any way with boreholes or wells on neighbouring properties.”
LS Waters managing director Jim Laubscher denied interfering with the availability of water on neighbouring properties.
“Upper Manyame has no evidence to prove that. We are a legally registered provider of bulk and purified water and are not in violation of any instrument,” Laubscher said.
“We are being selectively targeted by a few individuals at Upper Manyame who hold a personal vendetta against us. The catchment council is not the only authority involved. We are compliant with Harare City Council, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Zimra and other relevant authorities,” he said.
A resident said the referenced certifications do not overturn Upper Manyame’s jurisdiction over the exploitation of water resources.
“The Harare City certification is just a go-ahead to operate a business, the Health ministry’s permit is an indication that their water is safe for drinking while Zimra has no direct oversight on water abstraction.
“LS is being evasive but the truth is that they are prejudicing residents and they stand in violation of both the instrument and an order by Upper Manyame for them to comply with the specified limit,” said the resident who requested anonymity. This is a case of jealous by only three individuals. If we withdraw our service, what will happen to the road works, industries in Masasa, thousands of residents and many others who are depending on us?” Laubscher protested.
“We will not stop what we are doing until such a time that the city council is in a position to supply water to residents,” he said.
Laubscher refused to reveal how much the company is extracting. Residents, however, concur with Upper Manyame, from unverified citizen observations, that LS is truckloading at least fourfold its share. According to Upper Manyame, LS Waters has over-abstracted water with impunity for over three years: double their allowance in 2011; triple in 2012 and more than four times in 2013.
“That is not the case. Zinwa and Upper Manyame failed to fund an independent survey and we paid someone they recommended to perform the survey,” said Laubscher. The survey demonstrated that we are in no way affecting the other residents whatever amount we pump. We are actually helping many people,” he said.
One of the “affected” residents Ms Jackie Wild said the cited beneficiaries of LS Waters’ services did not warrant forfeiture of riparian property owners’ civic rights.
“If LS Waters stop their operations or comply with the limit specified by Upper Manyame, the authorised distributors who operate from designated commercial areas will simply do the job on lawful grounds.
“Our rights must not be compromised because of their business interests. Our even bigger concern is that the water they are pumping out at this unsustainable rate cannot be replenished. Here we are talking about piecemeal solutions but an environmental disaster is looming. By the time you (the reporter) reach our age there will be no water left. It’s not just our problem but a looming disaster for Harare,” she said.
Another resident who requested anonymity said if Laubscher wants to “reconcile” with the residents, as he told The Herald, it must be according to what the law stipulates, not Laubscher’s or their own terms.
LS Waters started operating in 2009 amid protests from a group of residents who were opposed commercial water haulage from their neighbourhood. From September that year to date, documents copied to The Herald show that the group has engaged City of Harare, Upper Manyame and Zinwa for mitigation of the water merchant’s operations.
“The scale of operation has since increased with several more tankers being deployed, not to speak of customers who bring their own vehicles,” said a resident.
“In addition to that, the company operates beyond business hours, often late into the night, throughout the week. It’s highly disruptive,” she said.
She said LS has since sunk deeper boreholes against signs of ground water depletion. The managing director denied the claim. Josh Laubscher said a survey based on the depth of the boreholes, the formation of rock and the way water flows, established that they were not affecting other residents’ water sources.
“It’s apparent that Laubscher has some people in his pocket because he has not been stopped in spite of complaints furnished to the authorities against his operations since 2009,” the resident said.
“Everything is dry and boreholes we sank at our own expense are now useless. We keep complaining but our complaints are falling on deaf ears.
“He keeps drilling deeper boreholes and ferrying water out of the neighbourhood at an alarming rate. His trucks make noise in the neighbourhood after-hours, with authorities apparently not concerned.
“The most alarming thing is that he is doing this at a clearly unsustainable rate. I do not understand what’s driving him or who is giving him confidence but whatever the case, he is drying up our neighbourhood and there will be problems in the long-term.
“I understand his activities are officially suspended by Upper Manyame but I don’t know what’s stopping them from implementing the directive, seeing that he is insisting on operating in defiance of our concerns,” she said.
A Zinwa official said water merchants were expected to comply with the statutory instrument to prevent recession of underground water.