Emergency contingency plans to roll out temporary desalination plants, drastically tighten water restrictions and draw water from groundwater sources are likely to take hold in Cape Town soon in a bid to prevent the city from running out of water.
“The strategic intent is to drive down water consumption through aggressive water demand management and water restriction measures,” noted City of Cape Town bulk water resource and infrastructure planning head Paul Rhode.
Rhode told a Water Desalination Symposium in Cape Town that the city would do all it could to avoid ‘Day Zero’. This included providing residents with intermittent supply and a lifeline supply of water.
“We could have a Day Zero before winter next year, but this does not take into account our interventions that will prevent it from happening, including increased restrictions and intermittent supply to drive down demand. There will be interventions to prevent a Day Zero from happening.”
He sketched a scenario, as part of the City’s emergency plan, in which consumers may have to go without water in times of peak demand. This scenario involves a tranche of temporary and permanent solutions.
Rhode noted that officials have been "acutely serious" about contingency plans in light of concerns about whether there is sufficient water to last until the end of the 2018 summer. Cape Town’s winter rainfall is still falling far short, with dam levels worryingly low.
He added that desalination and membrane treatment would be critical in Cape Town’s water future, both in an emergency phase and in large-scale schemes in future.
“We would like to run desalination schemes as baseload, but at the moment are forced to implement temporary solutions.”
Rhode said he expected containerised-type and marine-based desalination.
Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille recently proposed three temporary desalination plants in Hout Bay and Dido Bay, between Glen Cairn and Simonstown in Cape Town, as well as in Granger Bay, near the city’s Green Point stadium. The first bids for the supply of temporary desalination solutions were advertised by the city earlier this month.
“The city has never used any of this technology before so it will be a new step for us. It will firstly be temporary procurement. We expect suppliers will bring their expertise with them. The city will learn from the procurement of the new technology. In time, we would like to upskill our own staff, so that when we build permanent plants we will have learnt lessons from it.”
Rhode warned that the price of water was likely to increase over the next few years, as alternative water sources were more expensive than surface water schemes or dams.
“We should see the current water crisis as a game-changer. We need to reposition Cape Town as a water-sensitive city that optimises and integrates the management of all available urban water resources. We’d also like to look inside our urban areas – and manage our urban water – in a more integrated way, so that groundwater, wastewaster and rivers inside our urban areas are used.”
During the question and answer session at the summit, a delegate urged the city not to take short cuts and rush through the temporary desalination process without very careful planning, as it would give the desalination industry a bad name.
“When it comes to infrastructure, you can’t build half-bridges,” said the delegate.
The Water Desalination Symposium Africa 2017 was held to look at innovative ways of dealing with the water shortage in Cape Town and attracted role-players from government, industry, academia and commerce.