Cape Town relying on water saving to prevent another day Zero

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Following the announcement of Deputy Mayor, Ian Neilson, to move water restrictions from Level 6B to Level 5 from the 1st of October 2018, citizens are encouraged to continue saving water until the City of Cape Town finalises a long-term plan to ensure the security of future water supply. But will this be enough to prevent Cape Town from another Day Zero scare?

2015 and 2016 saw 2 consecutive years of drought in Cape Town.  Experts agreed that 2017 would be a wet winter given that it would be a statistical anomaly to suffer 3 successive years of drought, but it turned out to be the driest winter on record. In response, the City of Cape Town established a Section80 Water Resilience Advisory Committee which included senior representatives from the City along with their counterparts in academia and business, according to Ryan Ravens, CEO of Accelerate Cape Town and member of the Cape Town Water Resilience Advisory Committee.

The City of Cape Town developed a dual strategy to stave off disaster. Firstly, given that Cape Town did not a have a significantly diversified water supply and mostly relied on rainfall, augmenting water supply and looking at other forms of water supply such as desalination, water reclamation from sewerage, and drilling into aquifers. The second stream of activity involved demand management which saw the implementation of water restrictions and sophisticated pressure management in order to manage supply and curb water usage.

Cape Town achieved an incredible result and reduced consumption by more than fifty percent in eighteen months, something which took Melbourne 12 years to achieve when faced with a similar crisis. We are however still left with unanswered questions as to what will be done in terms of infrastructure and water management going forward.

“The lack of infrastructure in place remains the biggest concern, both pre- and post-water crisis. Only 3 out of the 10 planned desalination plants have been developed with no plans to construct the remaining 7 plants. The city needs to use this time develop long term solutions,” says Energy Research Analyst at Frost & Sullivan, Laura Caetano. 

Ravens says that the City of Cape Town’s Water Resilience Advisory Committee acknowledges aquifers in Cape Town as a potential long-term solution for the city’s water crisis but tapping into aquifers like Table Mountain could be risky if not enough research and data is collected to understand possible negative impacts, and develop deeper understanding on how they are recharged. Cape Town urgently needs a long-term solution to prevent the water crisis from relapsing. All levels of government need to unite in investing in new warning mechanisms and forecasting models. With major water infrastructure projects on hold and inadequate budgeting, the implementation of long-term solutions needs to happen sooner rather than later to avoid another Day Zero scare.

Although the city has been saved by a generous rainy season in 2018, we need to look ahead. How are we going to ensure that we have enough water in 2 to 5 years? We can’t continue to rely on rainwater. We need to invest in infrastructure that will provide a sustainable and secure water supply in the years to come, whether this is desalination or wastewater treatment plants, they need to be built before we return to similar drought conditions, Caetano concludes.

Source: Frost & Sullivan