City grilled on water

People queue to collect water using buckets, bottles.

The City of Cape Town is not managing our water resources efficiently. If current rainfall predictions are correct and unless something drastic is done, we will run out of water by this time next year.

It is clear that high costs and fines are not deterring some and those exceeding a maximum water quota per household should get cut off. Let them see what it is to live without water. Then there’s also the contradiction of the City encouraging growth and densification which will obviously lead to greater water consumption.

These were a few of the concerns raised at the Alphen Centre last week as Xanthea Limberg, the City’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water, waste services and energy, revealed contingency plans if the water supply dries up.

The event was hosted by councillor Liz Brunette with people in attendance from six sub-councils and 20 wards from Newlands to Constantia Hills.

Ms Limberg said we have gone through this before, a drought in 2004/5. “But this present one is far worse with the lowest rainfall on record in 100 years over the past two winters. “It’s scary”, she said. “If it does not rain by the end of July, lifeline water tankers will provide communities with water for essential use,” said Ms Limberg. “As with electricity load shedding, this taught us that what we do is not lead by what the public choose to do,” she said.

With electricity making up 30% of the City’s revenue, it is the largest component of its income. The trend is that people are investing in low energy technology which means that the City’s economic growth rate went up while its income decreased.

“Local government needs to be innovative and look at other ways to generate income. It’s scary but we need to look at our role in society,” said Ms Limberg.

Eugene Moll of Kirstenhof said the first 100mm of rainfall would have to fill the soil before augmenting the water supply.

“The City is being negligent and should have started water-saving much earlier,” he said. “If the long-term weather forecast is right, it’s going to get much worse. The City is making money from the increased tariff in order to allow people to live the lifestyle they are used to. Meanwhile the money is going down the drain,” said Professor Moll.

Thys Luckart, originally from Holland, said the City’s plans for densification will increase the City’s coffers. He suggested dredging dams to make them deeper so their capacity would increase. In Holland sewage water is purified and used as drinking water.

Another resident said it is up to people living in wealthy suburbs to change their lifestyle – those with swimming pools, European-style gardens and multiple bathrooms.

In her presentation Ms Limberg said residential makes up the lion’s share of usage at 55%, followed by 40% agriculture and smaller municipalities, 11% commercial, 9.2% flats and complexes, 5.1% the City of Cape Town and 4.7% informal residential.

Under Level 4 water restrictions Ms Limberg asked residents with boreholes to adhere to the same restrictions as those using potable water. “This water will become a valuable source in the future,” said Ms Limberg.

She said the Western Cape Water and Sanitation Berg River to Voëlvlei Augmentation Scheme (BRVAS) Phase 1 was due to come online in 2021 but has been fast-tracked to 2018. “The City therefore aligned its water planning appropriately and pushed back the implementation of other projects such as the Table Mountain Group Aquifer Scheme to beyond 2022,” said Ms Limberg.

Roger Silberberg of Kenilworth said that at a similar meeting at Alphen about four years ago the City speaker listed R4 billion as a write-off due to non-collection. He subsequently asked for a copy of the presentation to get confirmation of this amount but never received it. “R4 billion is 16 Nkandlas,” said Mr Silberberg. He now wants to know how much water is drawn from the dams; how much water is distributed and metered by the City (this will reveal distribution losses); and how much water is billed and paid for by recipients (this will reveal collection failure and loss). “This would provide a starting point for assessing how efficiently the City is managing water resources,” said Mr Silberberg.

He was also frustrated that Ms Limberg did not respond to his question about the contradiction between the City encouraging growth and densification and the dire present problem of water shortagse being addressed.

The Bulletin asked the City’s media office and its spokesperson, Priya Reddy, for comment and she responded, saying supply schemes are usually planned to accommodate projected population growth and demand. “Despite our population almost doubling since 1996, consumption has remained relatively flat. The City must therefore rely on restrictions to stretch reserves during these times. Restrictions were first implemented from December 2015, and since then more water has been saved than any augmentation scheme would have been able to provide. Proactive restrictions are an indication of good governance. In fact, the City’s water management over the years prompted the national government to defer some supply schemes in favour of a focus on water conservation. The City’s efforts in water conservation and efficiency management has been internationally recognised,” said Ms Reddy.

Gerhard Viljoen from the northern suburbs said the static levels of boreholes have dropped from 4m to 60m a year. He recommends reclaiming and reusing water, saying this needs more attention in the design phase of developments, including treating water onsite. This has the advantage of cost saving, from R200 per kilolitre to R1.88 for water treated onsite.

Ms Limberg said the City has not done enough to harness water however, City officials are working with the taxi and car wash industry to encourage them to use new methodology and products instead of using potable water.

Ms Limberg’s announcement that the City intends phasing out the free 6 kilolitres of water allocation for non-indigent residents in July 2017/18 raised the ire of many residents in the hall. She said the reason is that it is not sustainable, especially in this time of drought.

Ms Reddy confirmed this saying the current approach where high-income, low consumption users are not paying for water is not sustainable. “Specifically when considering the permanent changes that many consumers are making as a result of the drought. While the water is proposed to no longer be free, the price for the first 6kl will be R4,56/kl of high quality potable water. This proposed charge is far below the actual cost of delivering water and increases the incentive to save,” said Ms Reddy.

Dave Wright of Newlands said he is sceptical about the City fulfilling its projects and asked if progress could be shown on its dashboard. Ms Limberg said she would look into this.

Harold Mills of Constantia asked what the billing would be for those who go off the grid. Constantia businessman Andrew Pollock has recently done this (“A way to beat drought”, Bulletin, May 4) and attended the presentation and invited others to use his water, at no cost.

After the meeting a reader showed Ms Limberg the article and told her that she believes it is criminal that Mr Pollock’s water bill is R28 000. He said he got it wrong and it includes water, rates, electricity, sewerage and refuse. “Regardless, we cannot run a guesthouse without water so we will go ahead with our plans to convert to borehole water,” said Mr Pollock.

Report illegal water usage to, or, preferably accompanied with a picture as this speeds up the process.

Where the water goes:

A single flush takes 15 litres, 29%.

A half-filled bath uses 113 litres, 15%

A three minute shower uses about 30 litres, 5%

A dripping tap can waste 30 litres per day

A dishwasher 20 to 50 litres per load

Washing dishes in a sink takes 40 litres

A washing machine takes 40 litres per load, 13%

Drinking and cooking 15 litres, 3%.

Garden 35%.