Water crisis in spotlight at Baxter

Jenny Day.

Many are praying for rain before our dams run dry, but aquatic ecologist Professor Jenny Day warns the drought may be permanent, as our need for water will eventually outstrip supply.

Professor Day spoke about the water crisis at the Baxter theatre, in Rondebosch, on Thursday February 23.

She said that the drought, which continues to ravage the Western Cape, despite easing elsewhere, is aggravated by our long unchecked use of the resource. More than 65.7 percent of our water use is domestic.

“The drought may be permanent as there is more water allocated than exists. The water supply will be unpredictable for the next 20 years.

“By 2035, the water demand for Cape Town would’ve increased by at least 8 percent. Demand will exceed supply by 2019.”

“People in SA use 280 litres of water per day while the world average is 175 litres per day, 40 to 50 percent of domestic water use is used on gardens. We’re hugely wasting water,” said Professor Day.

Professor Day cited many other causes of the crisis: the El Niño phenomenon, which brings less rain and hotter conditions; global warming; poor water infrastructure and low annual rainfall in 2015.

Combine these factors with 2016 being labelled as the hottest year on record and we have our current situation.

While meteorologists agreed there would be normal winter rainfall this year, Professor Day said they couldn’t say whether it would come in time or sufficient quantity to prevent our taps running dry.

Professor Day said the drought’s impact could be seen on the farms: the maize harvest is down from 14 million to seven million tons and the lower yield has pushed labourers to cities and ruined some farmers.

Professor Day also said that projects that would secure our water future, such as Limpopo’s De Hoop Dam and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project were behind schedule and the country’s infrastructure was leaking trillions of litres of water.

Professor Day said there weren’t enough civil engineers to run and maintain local government infrastructure.

“Half of the technical managers are under-qualified and unable to adequately manage their infrastructure. Apartheid South Africa had 20 engineers per 100 000 people; there are now three per 100 000,” said Professor Day.

Professor Day said that there weren’t very many solutions to the water crisis other than persuading people to use less water, reducing population growth and improving technical capacity by enticing technocrats back to the water sector.

“We need to enforce existing legislation. We have a wonderful legislation with the worst enforcement. We could build more dams, but the environmental consequences are horrible. Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime,” said Professor Day.