Mother City’s drying out


The past year has seen Cape Town experience its worst drought in recorded history, which finds the city working around the clock with many interventions to avoid a situation where communities would be without water.

The situation sees a number of contributing factors as the causes of Cape Town’s water shortage. These include climate changes due to global warming, population growth and drought. The city of Cape Town has been working around the clock installing various interventions to make more water available. These include water restrictions that have been tightened a few times throughout the year.

A University of Cape Town lecturer, Kevin Winter, said rainfall on the city’s catchment areas would come later, dropping more erratically and often missing the catchments altogether.

“We have to acknowledge that carbon dioxide is finding its way into the atmosphere and has reached a new high.

“This is a global system, so the bigger systems are beginning to have an impact on us. There is no doubt that pressure and temperature are related.

“So disturb the temperature, you disturb the pressure and you start to see different systems operating.”

The environmental and geographical sciences specialist said the weather variability suggested two things.

“One is that the drought interval, the period between less than average rainfall years, is closing and that’s massively problematic if you can’t get a couple of good years to bring yourself back up.

“The other is that rainfall is coming later. We don’t get a sweep of cold fronts that are here for two or three days and drop the annual rainfall in nice, neat little batches. That’s no longer true. What this means is that we shouldn’t see the water crisis as a temporary phenomenon that will resolve in a year or two.

It’s a long-term problem.

“We will need substantial government intervention to make Cape Town’s water supply sustainable.”

Another contributing factor that adds to the drought condition is that the population is growing faster than water storage. Since 1995 the city’s population has grown 55%, from about 2.4 million to an expected 4.3 million in 2018. Over the same period, dam storage has increased by only 15%.

“The Berg River Dam, which began storing water in 2007, has been Cape Town’s only significant addition to water storage infrastructure since 1995.

“Its 130000 megalitre capacity is over 14% of the 898000 megalitres that can be held in Cape Town’s large dams. Had it not been for good water consumption management by the city, the crisis could have hit much earlier.”

Some recordings of dam levels at the end of November included Theewaterskloof, which was at 23% from 47% this time last year, Voëlvlei stands at 27% from last year’s 64%, Clanwilliam is at 33% capacity from a level of 89% and Brandvlei has 30% from 52%.

Interventions by the city see it on track with its first set of augmentation plans which consists of the first seven projects.

These projects include the Monwabisi, Strandfontein, the V&A Waterfront and Cape Town Harbour desalination plants, the Atlantis and Cape Flats aquifer projects and the Zandvliet water recycling project that will collectively produce an additional 196 million litres per day between February and July next year.

The city has 12 projects in the advanced stages of planning that are ready to proceed if required. It recently increased yields from the Atlantis aquifer by an additional 5 million litres of water per day and earlier this month it started pumping the first drinking water, an additional 2 million litres from the springs and the Molteno Reservoir in Oranjezicht.

Other interventions also saw the city hosting Think Water exhibitions at malls across Cape Town to showcase to residents and businesses the various water-saving technologies and plumbing fittings available to make homes and businesses water-wise and reduce consumption while asking businesses, taxi associations and car washes to be key players in this water-saving campaign by implementing water-efficient practices in their businesses and by using waterless products.

The mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, also recently joined the city of Cape Town contractors to conduct an aerial survey of the Cape Flats Aquifer.

The survey, which is part of the city’s ongoing work to ensure that sufficient new water sources are brought on board as quickly as possible to address the drought, will confirm the prime locations for where the highest volume of water can be abstracted from the aquifers.

Another action by the mayor saw her accompany water and sanitation department officials to see how the city was making treated wastewater available to businesses dependent on water.

The city is, however, still creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Water restrictions stand at 87 litres per person per day but New Year’s Day will see level 6 water restrictions kick in. This means residential units consuming more than 10 500 litres a month will be prioritised for enforcement.

Residents should keep their water usage to 87.5 litres a day, non-residential properties are to reduce consumption by 45% and agricultural users are to reduce consumption by 60% while the use of borehole water for outdoor purposes is discouraged in order to preserve groundwater resources.

The city of Cape Town has now proposed a drought levy for residents in properties ranging from around R800 000. This proposal has been rejected by community organisations and the provincial ANC.