City builds on water strategy

Threewaterskloof dam in better days.

Recent rains are nowhere near enough to put a dent in the drought, instead they threaten to lull the public into thinking the crisis is subsiding.

But the crisis is nowhere near the end, according to the latest City of Cape Town data on dam levels and water usage.

The statistics paint a grim picture: despite recent rains and the wild storm that pounded the City on Wednesday June 7, dams have only increased by 4%. At the same time, water consumption has gone up and is 40 million litres above the target of 600 million litres a day.

Dam storage levels are at 23.1%, effectively 13.1% because the last 10% of dam water is unusable.

The City warns that the levels are still critically low while rainfall uncertainty is high.

“We cannot bank on there being sufficient rain in the remainder of winter to break the drought.

It will take at least three consecutive winters of above-average rainfall to make a real difference to the availability of surface water,” said mayor Patricia de Lille in a statement.

The City remains under a Level-4 water restrictions lock down banning all outdoor use of drinking water and requiring residents to use less than 100 litres a day.

This week the City issued a formal call for proposals on how it could establish several temporary plants using any number of methods, including desalination of sea water or treatment of run-off or other surface water, to produce between 100 million litres and 500 million litres of potable water a day. The deadline for submissions is Monday July 10.

The City wants the plants ready by the end of August, and they would need to be operational for at least six months, possibly longer.

“The City will conduct regular water quality tests at each of these sites,” said the statement.
However, Jessica Wilson, programme manager with the Observatory-based Environmental Monitoring Group, said Capetonians, especially the poor already struggling to access enough water, would pay the price for the City’s poor handling of the crisis.

“The City needs to reduce water consumption and yet maintain revenue. Water is already expensive for many people and implementing new supply options will increase the cost further.

“Our focus is on equity – there are many people who are not accessing sufficient water and whose water has been restricted for many years. The City was slow in making restrictions more serious more quickly, as there was strong evidence that we would run out of water.

“In pushing the crisis to its limit, putting emergency water supply plants in place becomes more expensive. There is also a risk that important processes to ensure public participation and limit environmental damage will be fast-tracked,” said Ms Wilson.

She said the City’s focus appeared to be on increasing short-term water supply and not on reducing usage in the long-term.

“This is where environmental sustainability and equity come in. Who and what is the water for,” asked Ms Wilson.

She said waste water and borehole water should be used more effectively.

“We should look at rationing all water and allocating it to where it is most needed,” said Ms Wilson.

Dr Kevin Winter, of UCT’s Future Water Institute, said there was a long-term plan, the Western Cape Water Development Plan, some of which was being implemented now.

“However, the Mayor is making an effort to bring in short-term technologies that might help us to get through April and May next year. Every effort will help to create a cumulative saving,” said Dr Winter.

“Meanwhile, I am concerned that whatever is being drawn into the mix to supplement water resources will do so without compromising ecological systems and water quality. I am more worried about these factors in the water cycle than I am about below-average rainfall. Hence I would prefer to see more about water sensitivity and adaptation than building resilience,” said Dr Winter.

Kristina Davidson, a Wynberg resident, said the City should provide free or heavily subsidised rainwater-collection tanks to residents, as it had done with composters.

“It’s a far more cost-effective way than spending billions on a desalination plant that may not even be necessary if the current water resources are properly managed,” she said.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, said the City had appealed to the courts for tougher action against those flouting water restrictions, including raising fines from R5000 to R10 000 and prison sentences for serious or repeat offences.

Visit for more information on how to use less than 100 litres of water a day.