Despite dramatically reducing water consumption, the City of Cape Town is still in a severe situation, with dam levels dropping by the day.
“We are well beyond the point that Gauteng was at when it declared a disaster,” City of Cape Town executive director of informal settlements, water and waste Gisela Kaiser told delegates at the African Utility Week.
She said the city was doing all it could to bring down water consumption among its four-million residents. Water restrictions have been in place since 2015, and have been tightened further this week.
“We are experiencing the worst drought in Cape Town’s recorded history of more than 100 years. Meteorologists have warned that the coming winter will be just as dry as the last two years. Gone are the days of persistent drizzle lasting just over a week,” said Kaiser.
She indicated that timing had not been on the side of the city authorities, as additional water supply schemes for the region were deferred before the drought took hold.
“The decision to defer plans for supply schemes was followed by exceptionally low rainfall. To predict the future is not foolproof. When long-term water planning is undertaken, it’s based on historical water patterns.”
At the time, she said, it was not practical to “set aside billions of rands for an alternative scheme when there are more pressing needs in the country.”
“Even if money were no object, there is no way that an alternative supply scheme, such as desalination, would be built in time to compensate for a drought.”
So far, water restrictions had led to Capetonians saving the equivalent of the Wemmershoek dam or the equivalent of 23 600 Olympic-size swimming pools. Kaiser said by the end of the month, the city aimed to save the equivalent of the Berg River dam.
“We have managed to save a third of our usual water consumption year-on-year. Despite population growth, we’ve had flat-line water consumption growth since 2000.”
Water losses, partly through burst and leaking pipes, have also been reduced, although not enough. Pipe bursts have been halved, while there have been extensive pipe replacement programmes.
“Water losses are down from 25% in 2009 to below 15% today.”
Kaiser said the city had communicated with residents through social and mainstream media, on posters, brochures and every way possible to let them know how to use less water. She said the most effective messaging had been to flash the position of dam levels on signs on major roads. “This got people’s attention.”
“The water crisis is challenging the city and its residents to think differently about water, now and into the future. It is above all an opportunity to completely shift our ideas and behaviour about a resource we have taken for granted. Aside from that, we are waiting for a miracle.”
Kaiser called on Cape Town residents and visitors to the city to opt for a quick shower over a bath.
“An average bath uses 200 l of water – double the amount of water residents have now been asked to use on an average day.”