Dams tell his­tory of Cape wa­ter scarcity

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

THIS is not the first time Cape Town has faced a se­vere wa­ter short­age and has put ex­treme mea­sures in place to stretch its wa­ter sup­ply.

The Week­end Ar­gus vis­ited five dams built in the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury, as well as the the Waterworks Mu­seum on Ta­ble Moun­tain, this week.

Th­ese dams were built to pro­vide wa­ter to the var­i­ous ar­eas to the city.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion at the Waterworks Mu­seum on Ta­ble Moun­tain, due to pop­u­la­tion and ship­ping de­mands a new source of sup­ply had to be found for what was then known as The Cor­po­ra­tion of the City of Cape Town.

Arne Sin­gel, a for­mer man­ager of the bulk wa­ter branch of the City of Cape Town bulk, ac­com­pa­nied the Week­end Ar­gus and pro­vided in­for­ma­tion about the rea­sons for con­struc­tion of the var­i­ous dams.

The five dams – Wood­head, Hely Hutchin­son, Vic­to­ria, Alexan­dra and De Vil­liers – were all built in the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies.

Be­fore 1913, there were eight other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, be­sides the city.

The Wood­head and the Hely Hutchin­son dams were built by the then Cor­po­ra­tion of the City of Cape Town and the Vic­to­ria, Alexan­dra and De Vil­liers dams were built by the then Wyn­berg mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

The Alexan­dra dam was built first and com­pleted in 1893 and lifted fur­ther in 1902.

The Vic­to­ria dam was com­pleted in 1896, and the Wood­head in 1897, fol­lowed by the Hely Hutchin­son in 1904 and the De Vil­liers in 1910.

All five dams still form part of the city’s drink­ing wa­ter sup­ply, said Ian Neil­son, Cape Town deputy mayor.

How­ever, he said wa­ter from th­ese dams were not utilised through­out the year.

“We try to main­tain them at a high level dur­ing the sum­mer months for pos­si­ble emer­gency use should we ex­pe­ri­ence in­fras­truc­ture fail­ures in our dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem.”

In to­tal, the five dams have a stor­age ca­pac­ity of 2 376 me­gal­itres of wa­ter, which he said equates to about four days wa­ter for the city at cur­rent con­sump­tion lev­els.

The Wood­head and Hely Hutchin­son dams can pro­vide wa­ter to Camps Bay and the high-ly­ing ar­eas of the City Bowl, while the Vic­to­ria, Alexan­dra and De Vil­liers dams are closer to the Con­stan­tia Nek side of the moun­tain and can sup­ply wa­ter to parts of the south­ern sub­urbs, and Hout Bay, said Neil­son.

Sin­gel said in 1881 there was a se­vere drought in the re­gion, which re­sulted in res­i­dents of the Cor­po­ra­tion of the City of Cape Town be­ing re­stricted to a mere four hours of wa­ter sup­ply a day.

He said in 1880 a hy­draulic en­gi­neer of the Colony of Good Hope was in­structed to im­prove the wa­ter sup­ply and to form a so­lu­tion for its wa­ter scarcity prob­lems.

“At the time time Cape Town was de­pen­dent on the springs and some streams em­a­nat­ing from the slopes of Ta­ble Moun­tain.”

He said the en­gi­neer for­mu­lated pro­pos­als for the de­vel­op­ment of wa­ter re­sources on Ta­ble Moun­tain’s back ta­ble.

The Wood­head Tun­nel was built be­tween 1887 and 1891 and ran through the Twelve Apos­tles Moun­tain range.

The Wood­head Dam was built by the Cor­po­ra­tion of the City of Cape Town and the first con­crete stone was laid on Jan­uary 6, 1894.

The wall was com­pleted in Fe­bru­ary in 1897 and the dam was named after the mayor of the cor­po­ra­tion Sir John Wood­head. Sin­gel said Wood­head had said in a speech, at the time, that the dam was the sixth largest dam of its kind in the world.

“The mayor also men­tioned the con­struc­tion would solve Cape Town’s wa­ter prob­lem for years to come.”

An aerial ca­ble was erected to as­sist its con­struc­tion.

PIC­TURES: HENK KRUGER/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA) AND CITY OF CAPE TOWN

The Wood­head Dam on top of Ta­ble Moun­tain. It was built in 1897 and sup­plies wa­ter to the city.

The lo­co­mo­tive re­placed the mule drawn trucks to trans­port ma­te­ri­als from the ca­ble­way at the top of the moun­tain to dam sites.

Bulk wa­ter spe­cial­ist Arne Sin­gels, speak­ing to Week­end Ar­gus at the Wood­head Dam.

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