A way to beat drought

The gauge that will cut off the municipal water supply to Andrew Pollock's house.

A Constantia businessman will go off the grid with his municipal water supply tomorrow.

Andrew Pollock runs a guest house off Southern Cross Drive.

In peak season he has up to 25 people living there. And that’s a lot of water. Mr Pollock says he appreciates and enjoys the simple things in life that come from the earth. For many years he has collected water from the Newlands spring but when he brought the 25-litre plastic container into the guest house his wife René told him to take it away.

Armed with an inventive mind and having read up on Caron von Zeil’s work Reclaim Camissa, Mr Pollock persevered and looked at the water on his doorstep, the Bromers Vlei spring which he believes is fed by the Table Mountain Aquifer.

For eight years Ms Von Zeil of Newlands has worked on a project that uncovered and documented the vast amount of fresh water that flows to waste underneath Cape Town. “She says most of the springs and rivers that flow from Table Mountain have been paved over and forgotten, and every day millions of litres of fresh mountain water rushes away unused into drains or sewers,” says Mr Pollock.

He wanted to tap into this and looked to the borehole he had installed 32 years ago. He was advised to drill deep, to 33m, to obtain a secure water source and go below the level where E coli, Escherichia coli, can survive. Mr Pollock has seen the wisdom of this advice and now realises that his water is filtered by nature and is as pure as Newlands spring water.

Mr Pollock’s next step was to perform a microbiological analyses of his borehole water. This came through on March 31 and the result astounded him. His water is pure enough to drink. The only fly in the ointment is that his pH (power of hydrogen) level is 5.8, reflecting acidic levels. The levels of pH are measured on a scale that runs from 0 to 14. Seven is neutral, meaning there is a balance between acid and alkalinity.

Mr Pollock says acid is corrosive and would eat through his copper pipes and geysers. High pH is also unhealthy. The City use sodium hydroxide to lower the pH level of its water source.

He needed to find a way to feed borehole water from his separate
5 000 litres water tank, which will be dedicated to “guest house” water, and to raise the pH to 8.

This is where Chris Le Mesurier, H2O franshisee and Tokai resident ,stepped in. He says healthy purified drinking water is his passion and provides purified water all over the city. Mr Le Mesurier also provides filters, and this is what he delivered to Mr Pollock last week, an automated metering system to bring the pH from 5.5 to a pH of 8. “The pH is increased with the addition of a liquid alkali, harmless to humans,” says Mr Le Mesurier.

All Mr Pollock has to do now is install a gauge, what he describes as “the brain” as it allows the City to see the sewerage share. It also prevents municipal water from entering pipes on his property.

For Mr Pollock it is not just about money but with a water bill of R28 000 per month at the height of the season, the alterations he has made to his water system will easily pay for themselves over time. “But it’s more about reducing the number of carbon footprints I leave on the planet for future generations,” says Mr Pollock.

“My water will be tested monthly for changes, we’ll probably never revert to City water once we switch over,” he says.

Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy Xanthea Limberg, says the City does not allow connection of other water supply systems to private plumbing systems or pipework connected to the municipal water system as it may endanger the health and well-being of other consumers.

“In order to ascertain whether [Mr Pollock’s] proposal is in compliance with the City’s water by-law, a water inspector would need to inspect the property and consult with the owner,” says Ms Limberg.

University of Cape Town (UCT) professor Dr Kevin Winter says Mr Pollock’s water supply is fed by the Cape Flats Aquifer and not from Table Mountain Group Aquifer which stretches across the escarpment as far as Mossel Bay and of which they do not feel is being recharged with water taking hundreds of years to accumulate. Simply put, the two could be described as a cake with the older, deeper Table Mountain Aquifer as the base and the Cape Flats Aquifer above it which is recharged annually from winter rainfall.

Dr Winter from UCT’s environmental and geographical sciences department, warned against the “over-abstraction” of groundwater. He says there are plans to drill close to existing dams and to feed into them.

On March 24 the City said the first phase was due to commence at the end of March. Ms Limberg says it was hoped it would yield in excess of 2 million litres of water per day.

On Tuesday May 2, the City released a media statement saying that dam levels are now at 22.8 percent (storage levels), which is 0.6 percent down from a week ago. With the last 10 percent of a dam’s water mostly not being useable, dam levels are effectively at 12.3 percent. The latest consumption is 680 million litres, which is 80 million litres over the new consumption target of 600 million litres. The City is busy finalising proposals for further intensified water restrictions, subject to due process.

On Monday May 1 social media was abuzz after a sewage spill in the area around the Newlands Spring. Andrea Shea of Newlands Brewery confirmed this, saying it was reopened the following day after the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA) had run tests on the spring water.

Asked where it goes, she says after water has been drawn off to brew beer the excess flows into the Liesbeek River and then into the sea where it ends up falling back onto earth as rain. “It’s a natural resource that has been flowing for over 200 years. If we adapt this flow we could impact on the viability of the spring,” says Ms Shea.

She says the public using the spring were abusing this free resource and so the brewery approached DWEA to ask where they stand legally. DWEA recommended 25 litre being taken per person per day. Ms Shea is asking people to be responsible and to remember they are on private property. She said proof is required of anyone transgressing the request.