City bid to re­claim wa­ter lost to sea

A mole-like tour in stormwa­ter tun­nels un­der the streets re­veals fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties, writes ELLA SMOOK

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

LATELY there have been in­creased warn­ings about the city’s wa­ter re­sources dwin­dling – but vast quan­ti­ties of fresh wa­ter are wasted ev­ery win­ter. The first war in the Cape of Good Hope – be­tween the in­dige­nous Koina clans and the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany in 1659 – was fought over wa­ter.

Com­men­ta­tors are now warn­ing that the fu­ture could see wa­ter again be­com­ing a source of con­flict.

But the Cape Town Part­ner­ship has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­ter­na­tive ways to en­sure Cape Town’s sus­tain­abil­ity, and has been re­search­ing how to di­vert the thou­sands of litres of stormwa­ter rush­ing down Ta­ble Moun­tain, through the city’s bow­els and out into the sea.

This week , a Week­end Ar­gus team went un­der­ground with mem­bers of the part­ner­ship to wit­ness the po­ten­tial flow­ing unchecked be­low the city’s streets.

Project Re­claim Camissa, which aims to make bet­ter use of the city’s fresh wa­ter in a myr­iad of creative ways, is one of the part­ner­ship’s “big ideas”.

The project is still in its re­search phase, and nei­ther a con­crete de­vel­op­ment plan nor a timeline for im­ple­men­ta­tion ex­ists, but pos­si­bil­i­ties in­clude that wa­ter be used for hy­dro-elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tion and ir­ri­ga­tion of parks and the Green Point Com­mon, as well as ponds for parks, pedes­trian walk­ways and new ur­ban pub­lic spa­ces.

Such projects will cel­e­brate the wa­ters that link the moun­tain to the sea, the past to the fu­ture and peo­ple to the en­vi­ron­ment, Camissa project leader Caron von Zeil says.

She be­lieves the city has the po­ten­tial to be­come self-sus­tain­able again, and her vi­sion is to en­sure that by 2020 a new civic in­fra­struc­ture in­spired by a de­lib­er­ate recog­ni­tion of, and re­spect for, the so­cial, cul­tural and eco­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the city’s wa­ter, will be in place.

For now, how­ever, the wa­ter cour­ses along brick-lined tun­nels out of sight, where only colonies of cock­roaches bear wit­ness to its pas­sage.

This week, the roaches had some rare com­pany, as Von Zeil and the part­ner­ship showed a group of about 50 peo­ple how much wa­ter the city would have at its dis­posal if Camissa – the place of sweet wa­ters, as Khoi herders once called the City Bowl – is re­claimed.

We en­tered the stormwa­ter sys­tem through a man­hole in up­per Oran­jezicht and climbed fugi­tive-like from a man­hole within the grounds of the Cas­tle of Good Hope two wet kilo­me­tres later.

De­spite the waivers that were signed and the am­bu­lance parked me­tres from the open man­hole, ner­vous­ness set in when it was ex­plained that guides had a num­bered list of man­holes we could use as emer­gency ex­its in the event of panic at­tacks.

Crouched in the con­crete stormwa­ter pipes while wait­ing for the rest of the team to de­scend, boots al­ready filled with wa­ter, the pre­car­i­ous­ness of our po­si­tion hit home and anx­i­ety threat­ened to end the ex­cur­sion be­fore it be­gan.

But fear of later taunts trumped im­me­di­ate anx­i­ety and we set off – hap­pily un­pre­pared flash­light-wise – down the sys­tem. Arm­chair phi­los­o­phy abounded as we made our way, crouch­ing low and slip­ping, through the racing wa­ter.

His­tor­i­cal facts – some more ac­cu­rate than oth­ers – were bandied about and haz­ard warn­ings were passed from the team leader down the line.

About a third of the way down the moun­tain, the sub­ter­ranean scenery changed. We could now walk upright, and were sur­rounded no longer by a con­crete struc­ture but by a face­brick, built canal.

Sta­lac­tites started to make their ap­pear­ance, as did the first cock­roach, whose plen­ti­ful friends would only be en­coun­tered fur­ther down the line.

There would be no rats, we were thank­fully, and truth­fully, as­sured.

Through­out the walk, we silently thanked the de­sign­ers of stormwa­ter sys­tems as the oc­ca­sional pool of light and air found its way down into the dark.

The sounds of the dense city traf­fic sev­eral me­tres over­head was barely au­di­ble, but oc­ca­sion­ally team leader Dwain Ester­huizen of FO8 – an events com­pany that has taken ex­treme ad­ven­ture seek­ers down this par­tic­u­lar drain be­fore – would re­lay our real-world ori­en­ta­tion,

That’s how we knew when we were un­der the Gar­dens shop­ping cen­tre, or Har­ring­ton Street, or Roe­land Street.

Ru­mour had it that the man­hole cov­ers in Roe­land Street out­side Par­lia­ment had been welded shut.

Some said it was done for for­mer US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s visit, some­one else reck­oned it had been the do­ing of apartheid head of state PW Botha.

Not much fur­ther down the line, things started get­ting a bit smelly – and old.

We en­tered the third and last leg of the jour­ney, where the face­brick was re­placed by the same stone which had been used to build the cas­tle.

And the tun­nel changed shape from its ear­lier per­fect round­ness to a more squished oval shape, built by hand dur­ing the ear­li­est days of the Cape colony.

His­tory en­veloped the awed walk­ers, whose heads had been gen­tly brushed by cob­webs through­out.

At man­hole num­ber 14, the glo­ri­ous sun­light stream­ing through the end of the tun­nel beck­oned, and gave us new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the old say­ing.

Clam­ber­ing clum­sily from the man­hole on to the grass at the side of the Cas­tle, we took a while through the dis­ori­en­ta­tion to reg­is­ter the cars racing down Dar­ling Street.

There in the dis­tance was Ta­ble Moun­tain, from where we had ear­lier sur­veyed the route we would travel.

Re­al­ity slowly re­turned, and we were back in the present.

Part­ner­ship CEO An­drew Bo­raine said the aim of the stormwa­ter walk had been to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the wa­ter sys­tem and flow, par­tic­u­larly how it went from the moun­tain to the sea un­der the city.

“The walk con­vinced me more than ever that Re­claim Camissa is a nec­es­sary and vi­able project for us,” he said.

GO­ING TO WASTE: The amount of fresh wa­ter con­stantly rush­ing to the ocean has not yet been de­ter­mined, but could un­doubt­edly make a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on fu­ture sus­tain­abil­ity. PIC­TURE: SAM CLARK

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