Water Crisis Coalition activists turned up the pressure on South African Breweries last week, urging the company’s managers to do more to help with the water crisis.
“Here’s an opportunity for you as SAB to raise your profile at a time of crisis and we feel that there can be a concrete contribution from SAB,” coalition member Shaheed Mohammed said at a meeting with SAB on Thursday February 1.
SAB Newlands branch general manager John Stenslunde said the brewery realised how contentious it was to be using spring water to make beer in a time of drought, but it had with “limited resources” done all it could to help.
More plans were in the pipeline to “free up a lot of water” but he could not talk about them yet, he said.
The coalition has asked the brewery to help get water from dozens of city springs to potable standard so it can be used by residents. It says 9 million litres of spring water is going into the sea.
But Mr Stenslunde said SAB did not have the “capacity” to move water from the springs and underground tunnels.
“We don’t have water engineers. We have people who are working with the City to try to make a plan within our environment to free up water for the City. But, in terms of us getting involved and helping out with springs, we are going to have to decline.
“We have our hands full around what we are doing here around water – in going off the grid in our brewery to free up 1.7 million litres of water a month.”
In a statement last week, the City said it was testing water quality at more springs.
“Springs and water streams do not form part of the City’s water reticulation system and are not monitored and controlled for drinking water standards,” the City said.
“Until now, only 10 springs, located among residential areas, have been sampled once a month, but more sites are being added to the list.
“However, the testing only includes microbiological tests for disease-forming agents such as E coli and coliforms. City Health is erecting warning signs at all of the sites to highlight that the water quality cannot be guaranteed as safe to drink.”
Mr Mohamed said the coalition believed Day Zero could be avoided without desalination, which the coalition fears could have long-term health and environmental consequences.
Caron von Zeil, a member of the coalition, questioned how SAB could use millions of litres of spring water a day to make beer in a time of extreme drought. “What is your response to the corporate social responsibility on this issue, because we are talking capitalism versus lives?”
Mr Stenslunde said only a million litres were used to make beer, half of which was then put back into the reticulation system.
“If you shut this plant down, it is going to have no impact on the water that is available to the City,” he said. “The only way you can do it is if you convert from bottling beer to bottling water, which at this stage we don’t do.”
But bottling water, he added, was an option in the event of Day Zero. One option would see people being able to buy a bottle of water for 90c at a collection point.
“So what more can we do other than bottle water, bulk supply and accelerate getting off the grid? That is what we will be looking at.”
The brewery had also donated R6 million to the City for pressure-regulation equipment, he said. The City did not respond to questions about this donation by the time this edition went to print.