The government appears to be resorting to tougher measures to deal with people who waste water, amid the drought gripping many parts of the country.

A new system for setting water tariffs is on the way which allows punitive billing during droughts and includes infrastructure costs.

The new system was gazetted on Friday and is due to go through the cabinet before the end of this year and implemented from April.

The proposals follow in the wake of the ongoing drought in much of the country, and which was blamed for the recent water shortages in Gauteng.

The City of Joburg recently implemented water restrictions, and on Sunday, the Ekurhuleni metro also announced restrictions, including a ban on filling swimming pools and using hosepipes or sprinklers to water gardens.

The water tariff proposals were signed by Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and provide for 90 days for public comment. There is no indication in the documents of how much the price of water might increase, and the Department of Water and Sanitation said this wasn’t yet clear.

“That is part of the consultation process,” department spokesman Sputnik Ratau said on Sunday. The minister was expected to hold a briefing on the proposals soon.

The water tariff system proposals are in two official notices. The first notice is a revised pricing strategy for water use charges, for raw (untreated) water sold by the government to water services providers and through government schemes to farmers.

The second notice is a revision of the norms and standards for setting water services tariffs; this is for water sold by the water services authorities (which includes municipalities) to consumers such as businesses and households.

The pricing strategy timeline plans tabling the final draft in the cabinet before the December recess, gazetting the final strategy in January, and implementing the new strategy from April 1, with updated charges in the 2016/17 financial year.

New prices are expected to include the cost of water infrastructure. According to the strategy, “there is a need to adjust to higher real charges over time to accommodate the cost of investing in supply capacity to meet rising demand, and to maintain and refurbish existing infrastructure”.

The strategy includes the principles of “user pays and recovery of costs” and “polluter pays”; the possibility of different charges to encourage key goals like food security and job creation; efficiency; transparency and accountability of funds generated; and multi-year tariffs.

It envisages setting up an independent regulator “for improved economic regulation across the entire water value chain”. The regulator would set the water use charges by mid-September of the appropriate year, so the water services providers can set the bulk water charges by the end of September.

During droughts, when water restrictions are implemented, farmers on government water schemes may be charged less than usual.

The second notice – the norms and standards for consumer tariffs – allows for the recovery of costs including bulk water purchases, employee costs, debt impairment, depreciation, finance charges, water services-related loans and an annual surplus of a minimum of 6 percent of revenue.

Tariffs for households must allow for the free basic water supply for indigent households.

Drought tariffs are allowed, but these may not be applied to the free basic water supply or to the lowest tariff block for households.

Drought or seasonal tariffs must “encourage consumers to reduce consumption to the sustainable drought level with little time lag”, such as by charging penalty tariffs.

Water services authorities must be transparent with the billing, metering use, putting explanations for tariffs on their websites and providing proper detailed bills to customers. Sanitation tariffs are also outlined. The documents include forms for authorities to calculate the cost of providing the services and thus the prices they should charge customers.