Cape of no hope
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront offers tank and roof water for resident fleet
Now the ships go dry
For the first time in history, ships calling in Cape Town are no longer allowed to fill up with fresh water, because of the city’s severe drought.
Transnet last week confirmed a ban on the sale and supply of drinkable fresh water to all vessels calling at Cape Town. They have been urged to fill up further along the coast.
“While it is conceded that these measures may have a negative impact on some business components, so dire is the situation in the city that the port is resolute in its decision in the interest of basic survival of all who have to live in this region,” Transnet said.
The decision also affects ship repairers and lay-by vessels, which have been instructed to get fresh water from other sources, such as desalination systems.
The V&A Waterfront confirmed this week that it was offering “grey water” to boats within its harbour and marine precinct, which is hosting this weekend’s Cape Town International Boat Show.
Harbour master Steven Bentley said: “The Waterfront has converted a lot of water we get from our tanks and roofs.”
The City of Cape Town has warned that at current consumption rates its available dam water will run out in March. Dams are 37% full compared with 60% this time last year. As a result, the council has fast-tracked several initiatives aimed at augmenting supply.
The Sunday Times established this week that:
The Cape’s famed proteas and fynbos are starting to die in high mountain areas because of the drought;
The city council is considering artificially filling a giant natural aquifer under the city, possibly using treated waste water, to serve as a water store;
CapeNature has begun an airborne assault on water-guzzling pines, using helicopters to fire herbicide at trees in inaccessible areas.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille confirmed that the city had begun water rationing by “aggressively” reducing tap-water pressure. She also appealed to private businesses to make contingency plans “for worst-case scenarios”.
Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and waste services, said artificial recharge of the Cape Flats aquifer formed part of the city’s longer-term planning.
“This will enable us to increase the water volume that can be sustainably extracted over and above that provided by rainwater infiltration,” she told the Sunday Times.
“Our immediate focus is the emergency installation of boreholes to provide muchneeded additional water.”
The city has already fast-tracked tenders for desalination and groundwater extraction. Last week it outlined emergency procedures should the city run dry.
“It is very serious,” said the University of Cape Town’s Kevin Winter. “There are some huge unknowns at this point because the technical detail and potential to generate the planned volume of water, either from the ground, from treated effluent and from groundwater, are unknown — at least to the general public.”
Meanwhile, the airborne pine eradication project appears to be bearing fruit.
“We have already done an initial trial and the impact on the fynbos is negligible — it’s a good-news story,” said Deon Rossouw, manager of CapeNature’s Limietberg Reserve.
Elsewhere farmers have begun removing fruit trees in the absence of irrigation water, after their water quotas were reduced.
The crisis has sparked innovative community projects, such as a “greening” initiative along the Liesbeek River, once a source of drinking water for Khoi herders and used to irrigate crops in the early days of the Cape colony. It now runs most of the way to the sea through a canal.
The city council and local residents have joined forces to turn the canal back into a natural state and start a vegetable garden along one of its banks with the help of homeless people living nearby. The idea is that a more natural Liesbeek acts as a water filter, potentially increasing the supply of drinkable water.
Our immediate focus is the emergency installation of boreholes to provide additional water Xanthea Limberg Cape Town city councillor
Gill Lanham is helping to green the Liesbeek River. Until now the river and its canal have been used to channel waste water into the sea.