Residents, businesses and environmentalgroups feel the City is not doing enough to counter the effects of the drought, believing the mayoral committee has been too quick to turn to water restrictions without considering other options.
However, while other choices, such as harnessing the natural water which flows from the mountainside, have been suggested, some experts believe the City’s move to implement restrictions is the correct one, at least in the short term.
Estimates suggest Cape Town has 14 months of water left, and there are serious concerns another poor winter rainfall season could have devastating consequences for the city.
Last week, the mayoral committee approved a recommendation to council for Level 3 water restrictions from Tuesday November 1, with corresponding tariff increases to follow from December 1.
According to the City, this is in line with the directive from the national Department of Water and Sanitation to reduce demand on the Western Cape water supply system by 20 percent.
Under Level 3 restrictions, watering or irrigation of gardens, lawns, flower beds, plants, vegetable gardens, sports fields, parks and other open spaces using municipal water is allowed only if using a bucket or watering container. No use of hosepipes or automatic sprinkler systems is allowed.
Cars and boats may only be washed with water from buckets. Manual topping up of swimming pools is allowed only if pools are fitted with a pool cover. Automatic top-up systems are banned.
In terms of the tariff increases, the price per kilolitre of water goes up once the resident’s use for the month exceeds certain levels. For example, the first 6kl are free, but once usage exceeds 6kl, each kilolitre will cost R16.54.
Mayco member for utility services, Ernest Sonnenberg, said Cape Town residents did not achieve the consistent 10 percent reduction in water use that was mandated from January 1.
“If we continue to use water as we did on Level 2 restrictions over the coming summer months, the dams are at risk of falling to 15 percent by the end of the summer period. Following on, if we experience poor rainfall next rainy season, we could find our dams at approximately 50 percent this time next year,” he said.
However, not everyone is happy about this decision.
Since 2009, Caron van Zeil, has been championing the Sweetwater or so-called Camissa river system as a source of millions of litres of drinking water.
Her Reclaim Camissa project has uncovered a large amount of fresh water that flows to waste under Cape Town. She has shown that historically there were 32 springs in the City Bowl, 25 of which she has uncovered, together with four rivers.
For almost a decade she has tried to show the potential this system would have in providing the city with fresh water. However, her suggestions have never been endorsed by the City.
This week, Ms Van Zeil said she had been saying the same thing for years to little avail.
“Demand has outstripped supply, and the authorities continue to pump and pipe water from the outlying areas, with a national average loss of 36.8 percent due to leaking infrastructure,” she said.
“To reduce loss, consumption should be satisfied closer to the source by managing catchment areas in close geographic proximity. With approximately 100 times more groundwater than fresh surface water on earth, it is criminal that free flowing water from Cape Town’s many springs is scrapped from the asset resource register, and that no measures for protection of these waters have been implemented.”
Dr Kevin Winter, from the department of environmental and geographical science at UCT, said not enough was known about exactly how much water could be drawn from these underground sources, nor could the City say how much tapping into these resources would cost.
“Cost and efficiency will always be a major factor before a decision can be made to invest in new infrastructure to capture the water.
“Having said that, measuring flow is complicated but not impossible in this context since new technologies and techniques are improving our ability to get good continuous data at lower costs. We need to do this,” he said.
“My personal feeling is that there is nowhere near enough water from these sources, but we don’t have a handle on exactly how much water there is.”
Dr Winter believed the Level 3 restrictions were the right move under the current circumstances.
“I’m hoping the City’s machinery will ensure the smooth roll-out of the restrictions.
“It will have a major impact on people. Last year, with the Level 2 restrictions, it took people about two months to adjust. We will see the same thing here,” said Dr Winter.
While Richard Morris, retail garden manager at Starke Ayres in Rosebank, said the gardening specialist was making use of grey and borehole water to sustain operations, the restrictions were “very concerning” for them.
“We have been very involved in committees, looking at ways in which people can save water. For me, there have not been nearly enough awareness campaigns by the City this year,” he said.
“Where are the toll-free numbers that people can call to find out how to save water? You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, which is so important there is constant awareness.
“We need more information more regularly. The City should be telling people where they can find the grey water and borehole installers.”
Mr Morris felt more attention should be paid to leaks occurring around Cape Town, ensuring they are seen to as soon as they are sprung.
“One of our suppliers went three months and 10 days without the leak at his business being addressed. His water consumption exceeded what we would use in two and a half years, and we are a commercial business. This is unacceptable under the circumstances.”
He said he found it odd the City had not followed through on the “tremendous strategy” it had implemented last year.
“Starke Ayres and other garden centres funded the awareness campaign in terms of drawing up documents which were then distributed by the City. But if you look at the demographic most of the people who come to garden centres are in the higher income brackets.
“So, while those people were exposed to our campaign there were many who were not. You need to get the message out to everyone in Cape Town.”
Mr Sonnenberg, said certain high-yielding springs had significant excess flow that could be used for irrigation of sports fields, parks and other larger-scale gardens, and the City had just concluded a study on how that water could be used more extensively in a sustainable manner.
“These springs have not been considered to supplement drinking water supply because the expense of enabling the City to treat this water would not justify the small amount of drinking water that this would yield,” he said.
In terms of water leakages, Mr Sonnenberg said the City’s pipe replacement programme had been internationally recognised at the 2015 C40 Cities Awards in Paris as being the best in the world in terms of how it helped the City adapt to climate change.
“This programme has reduced the burst rate from 63.9 bursts per 100 km of piping in the 2010/2011 financial year, to 31 bursts per 100 km according to the latest statistics,” he said.