‘City wa­ter plans are 10 years too late’

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - TANYA PE­TERSEN

EX­PERTS claim that over the past few win­ters in Cape Town there were clear signs that a drought was ap­proach­ing and ac­tion by the var­i­ous role­play­ers to pro­long its di­rect ef­fect on res­i­dents of the city and the prov­ince could have been ef­fected well in ad­vance.

In May 2015, the City of Cape Town is­sued a me­dia re­lease stat­ing that city dams were below sea­sonal av­er­ages, but that wa­ter supply re­mained “se­cure”. It fur­ther stated that through “care­ful plan­ning and thor­ough in­fras­truc­ture re­place­ment and main­te­nance pro­gramme means that pro­jected de­mand is un­likely to ex­ceed pro­jected supply for the fore­see­able fu­ture”.

It added that be­cause Cape Town re­ceived most of its rain­fall dur­ing the win­ter months, con­cern at that point was still pre­ma­ture and that the months of June, July and Au­gust would “de­ter­mine the level stor­age of the dams go­ing into 2016”.

Even though the City re­minded res­i­dents of re­spon­si­ble wa­ter use to “en­sure supply for fu­ture use”, they also stated plans were in place in cases of drought.

“Res­i­dents are as­sured that the City’s mod­el­ling and op­er­a­tion of the sys­tem of dams within the Western Cape Wa­ter Supply Sys­tem (WCWSS) makes al­lowance for pe­ri­ods of low rain­fall, and plan­ning takes into ac­count pos­si­ble con­di­tions for a num­ber of years into the fu­ture. Re­serve stor­age and, if nec­es­sary, the im­pos­ing of (rel­a­tively) short­term wa­ter re­stric­tions, will al­low for continued wa­ter supply dur­ing se­vere droughts.”

Two months later, in July 2015, the City said that al­though there had been rain­fall it had not re­stored the dam lev­els to that of pre­vi­ous years, and en­cour­aged res­i­dents to put in an ef­fort to save wa­ter.

In Septem­ber 2015, the City re­alised that win­ter rain brought lit­tle re­lief to de­clin­ing dam lev­els and said they were set to meet with na­tional gov­ern­ment to dis­cuss pos­si­ble wa­ter re­stric­tions.

As of Jan­uary 2016, Level 2 wa­ter re­stric­tions were im­ple­mented in Cape Town, which have since in­creased to where it now stands at Level 5.

Cur­rently dam lev­els are below their av­er­age com­pared to pre­vi­ous years and wa­ter ra­tioning has al­ready taken ef­fect, with fur­ther mea­sures set to be im­ple­mented should the sit­u­a­tion not im­prove.

How­ever, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups say this could have been de­layed if ear­lier in­ter­ven­tions were put in place.

Pa­trick Dowl­ing of the Wildlife and En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety of South Africa (Wessa) Western Cape mem­ber­ship com­mit­tee said: “The City, its lead­ers, res­i­dents and busi­nesses could have re­sponded more proac­tively to the loom­ing threat of ma­jor wa­ter short­ages.

“The wa­ter de­mand man­age­ment strat­egy was suc­cess­ful to the point that it saw lit­tle con­sump­tion in­crease de­spite pop­u­la­tion growth, how­ever, this ap­proach could not have continued in­def­i­nitely with the strong growth, devel­op­ment and den­si­fi­ca­tion pol­icy that the city has adopted, one that has tested in­fras­truc­ture to the ex­treme and of­ten ig­nored pro­fes­sional pre­cau­tion­ary ad­vice.”

How­ever, he said the City has re­cently adopted a “strongly-worded cli­mate strat­egy where wa­ter is high­lighted”.

“De­spite it be­ing ahead of many other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in this re­gard, it is a bit late for deal­ing with the cur­rent cri­sis where day zero is pre­dicted for March 2017, bar­ring a ma­jor weather event. Only re­cently has the op­tion of rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing been get­ting the gen­eral at­ten­tion and pro­mo­tion that it de­serves, but we hope this sus­tain­able prac­tice will now be em­bed­ded.”

More dams be­ing built would not help the sit­u­a­tion, he said, as they dam­age the ecosys­tem ser­vices.

“Other op­tions of cau­tious recharge­able aquifer supply, de­sali­na­tion and waste­water pu­rifi­ca­tion should have been pur­posely in­ves­ti­gated 10 years or more ago. This is a hard les­son to learn, but one that should pro­vide nu­mer­ous salu­tary mes­sages about the mean­ing of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, not ig­nor­ing cli­mate sci­ence, in­volv­ing every­body in good en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance and the prac­ti­cal im­ple­men­ta­tion of the UN’s Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals that South Africa has signed up to.”

Dr Jim Tay­lor, the di­rec­tor of en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion at Wessa, said the cur­rent wa­ter cri­sis fac­ing Cape Town is “ex­tremely con­cern­ing to all who value a sus­tain­able fu­ture. This is a cri­sis that can­not be solved by gov­ern­ment alone and one that re­quires mean­ing­ful co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and in­dus­try, and the pub­lic.”

He said the wa­ter supply is be­ing chal­lenged by “enor­mous ur­ban­i­sa­tion growth and cli­mate vari­abil­ity”.

Jes­sica Wil­son from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Mon­i­tor­ing Group said that tighter re­stric­tions and en­force­ment put in place sooner could have de­layed the cur­rent drought.

She also said the city needs to stop ap­prov­ing new build­ing de­vel­op­ments “im­me­di­ately” and “pos­si­bly even pause cur­rent con­struc­tion” un­til the worst of this cri­sis has passed.

She said new de­vel­op­ments take a lot of wa­ter to build, and that a num­ber of new de­vel­op­ments don’t have “wa­ter ef­fi­ciency mea­sures in place for af­ter they’ve been built”.

The Week­end Ar­gus posed ques­tions to the City in terms of reg­u­la­tions and mon­i­tor­ing of the con­struc­tion of new de­vel­op­ments dur­ing the drought, as well as whether there were plans to halt any ex­ist­ing or new de­vel­op­ments dur­ing the cur­rent wa­ter cri­sis.

Brett Her­ron, may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber for Trans­port and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment for the City, said: “At a re­cent Green Build­ing Coun­cil con­fer­ence, many prop­erty devel­op­ers shared how they were adapt­ing and build­ing wa­ter ef­fi­cien­cies into their work. Many are lead­ing the way with build­ing en­ergy and wa­ter ef­fi­cien­cies into their op­er­a­tions.

“We are also en­gag­ing with var­i­ous sec­tors be­cause all of us who are work­ing and liv­ing in Cape Town must adapt to the new nor­mal – that Cape Town and the Western Cape is a drought re­gion. Com­pa­nies are al­ready in­vest­ing in and us­ing waste wa­ter treat­ment and pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tems to re­duce their de­mand on the city’s grid,” said Her­ron.


Con­struc­tion is un­der­way on East Pier road in the V&A Wa­ter­front. Ac­cord­ing to the site of­fice, it’s a Waste Man­age­ment Facility.

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