Borehole restrictions to be taken seriously

Colin Attwell fitted a meter to his borehole himself.

Level 6b water restrictions have brought with it tighter regulations on the use of water from boreholes and wellpoints.

Water from these sources must now be metered, recorded and available for inspection.

Driving around the Constantia valley, with sprinklers watering verges and tarmac, it’s clear that some are unaware of the restriction, which came into effect on Thursday February 1.

Outdoor water use is strongly discouraged and if used for irrigation then limited to a maximum of one hour only on Tuesdays and Saturdays before 9am or after 6pm.

Diep River software developer, Colin Attwell, said he registered his wellpoint long ago and recently fitted a water meter which, he says, cost about R300 and took about 15 minutes to install.

Mr Attwell says he is now required to read the meter once a month and email the usage to the City. His wellpoint is one of the original ones in the suburb and was installed about 40 years ago when the area was a farm.

On Thursday February 8, at the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (WRRA) annual general meeting, Councillor Liz Brunette said the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) have “changed its laissez faire approach to boreholes and now realises the seriousness of the drought. They’re asking homeowners to register their boreholes, use water sparingly and fit a meter to record their usage and only to
water twice a day if they must,” she said.

The National DWS gazetted new guidelines for all borehole and wellpoint use, effective from January 12.

DWS spokesperson, Marianne Claassen, says groundwater responds slower to drought than surface water, but it also takes longer to recharge.

“If one over-abstracts the groundwater from the aquifer, it’s possible to damage the aquifer, causing compaction of the aquifer. This means that it will not hold the same amount of water that it did before. It may also be possible to (dry up) permanently – but these cases are rare. There have been cases where it may cause land subsidence. Groundwater is a shared resource, and your activities may impact your neighbour,” says Ms Claassen.

The City of Cape Town say boreholes and wellpoints must be regulated and monitored, not for billing but for environmental research and monitoring purposes.

Anyone with a borehole or wellpoint on their property must register it with the City and display a sign with their registration number.

The meters should not be confused with water management devices (WMD).

The City’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, Xanthea Limberg says it is the City’s policy to systematically replace all existing residential water meters with WMDs. However, the City is targeting the 55 000 households and people who are defaulting on the stipulated daily allocation, through the installation of these devices. The WMDs are set to 350 litres per day, per prop-
erty.

Ms Claassen said about 21 000 boreholes have been registered with the City and because groundwater management is the responsibility of DWS, the City has not issued fines for over-use and DWS does not have the possibility of giving fines, however, it can open a criminal case.

The Constantia Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (CRRA) says the City has no jurisdiction or authority over the use of underground water, especially a system installed, maintained and operated by someone at their cost, and that if irrigation systems are required to operate within certain hours the user is likely to install a bigger pump and push the same amount of water over their garden in a shorter space of time.

Ms Claassen said metering was required by DWS, and groundwater management is the responsibility of DWS. “We are, however, working together with the City as far as possible,” she said.

CRRAspokesperson,John Hesom, says a distinction must be made between boreholes, wells and wellpoints, and between alternative water supplies. Deep aquifers accessed by boreholes have an extremely slow recharge rate and if overexploited will become a sustainability problem.

Asked what the DWS long-term plan is regarding policy shifts and supply of water, Ms Claassen said the recommendation that came from the Western Cape Water Supply System Reconciliation Strategy was that Cape Town needed to invest in conjunctive use, which includes groundwater, desalination and reuse. These studies have been done as part of the strategy. It just became necessary to implement them faster than anticipated.

Francois Viljoen, co-owner of Precipitec, says to drill a wellpoint they go down 10m whereas boreholes are drilled 30 to 50m. “We drill two holes each week in the southern suburbs and in the 24 years we’ve been doing this we have not seen any difference in water levels. That’s the beauty of Cape Town’s (nine) aquifers. The only other one like it is in South America,” he said.

Mr Viljoen said it takes 3 000 to
5 000 litres of water to drill a borehole or wellpoint and all this water goes back into the aquifer. He draws the water from three properties he owns and said that while he has registered them he has tried for the past nine months to get a permit to draw the water for commercial use from the City and DWS.

Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town has moved Day Zero, the day we may have to queue for water, to Monday June 4.

This has mainly been due to the continued decline in agricultural use and because Capetonians have reduced their water usage.

On Monday, MEC of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, said the average level for dams across the Western Cape for the week starting February 12 is 22.6% (2017: 34.7%). The Western Cape government has allocated R108.7 million towards water augmentation projects since April 1 2017.