Cape of no hope

Vic­to­ria & Al­fred Wa­ter­front of­fers tank and roof wa­ter for res­i­dent fleet

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By BOBBY JOR­DAN

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

Pic­ture: Esa Alexan­der

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.

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