Water worries

Due to the extreme drought and heavily receding waterline, vines have emerged from underneath the Theewaterskloof Dam. Vineyards were flooded in1975 when the government expropriated properties in the area to expand the dam. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

A Mowbray shelter for street children has found itself caught up in the humanitarian crisis Cape Town is bracing for, with fewer than 80 days to go before it becomes the first major city in the world to run out of water.

Pam Jackson, the director of Ons Plek, said the home’s problems started when council had mistakenly installed a water-management device squeezing supply to just 315 litres a day (even less than the device’s 350-litre default setting) for the 20 children at the home.

“Three months ago, we wrote asking for permission to exceed the usage allowed per household, on the grounds that we have so many children in our care. We received the permission recently. However, on Sunday January 7, the City arrived with no warning, changed our meter and reset it to allow 315 litres a day,” Ms Jackson said, adding that staff had been “completely surprised” when the water ran out.

“With each child allocated about 15 litres a day, things are very tough for us,” she said.

While they waited for the City to reset the water ration, the shelter had had to draw on its tight budget to transport staff to the Newlands spring and have them spend hours on the phone each day to the City to sort out the problem.

“All of this is because the right hand of the City does not know what the left hand is doing. The mayor constantly assures us that if we have a number of people, more than the average household, we need only to apply full special permission. We have that permission, but our water was still severely reduced.The city has wasted time and money paying a contractor to do an unnecessary water limitation,” Ms Jackson said.

The Mowbray shelter is one of two run by Ons Plek Projects. Each has about 20 children and six staff.

Ms Jackson said they had taken the precaution six months ago to reduce their water usage.

“The average use of each child is about 67 litres per day. Well below the 87 litres which was allowed,” she said.

Now living with only cooking and drinking water, the children were not able to do more than a daily wipe down instead of showering.

“Ons Plek is in a troubling situation. Our funds are running dry in the current economic climate,” Ms Jackson said.

Xanthea Limberg, the City’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said the supply had been cut to the shelter because the property was not zoned for an NGO or busines.

“Should correct zoning have been in place, they would not have been added to the list to have a water management device installed. We would encourage them to apply for rezoning so that similar incidents can be avoided in future.”

She said the City had flagged the request for the meter to be reset “as a matter of urgency”.

Meanwhile, as the water crisis deepened this week, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille met with the army, the police, National Disaster Management the State Security Agency, among others, on Monday, to discuss contingency plans.

She has also written to President Jacob Zuma, warning the drought had gone “from a threat to an imminent crisis” and urging him to declare a national disaster.

Work has also started on the 200 collection points across the city where Capetonians will go for their daily 25-litre water ration, under armed guard, after the taps run dry. An announcement is expected soon from the City on where all the collections points will be.

Last week, council voted to ratchet up water restrictions to Level 6B from February 1, only a month after Level 6 restrictions started on January 1. Level 6B rations residents to 50 litres a day, or 6 000 litres a household a month to make up for the many months of missing the 500 million litre per day collective consumption target.

A planned drought levy was scrapped in favour of punitive tariffs with exponentially higher rates for those using more than 6 000 litres.

A household bill will jump from R28.44 to R145.98 at the 6 000-litre mark. A household using 50 000 litres will pay thousands of rand more:
R2 888.81 to R20 619.57.

Ms De Lille said she would personally guarantee that residents using less than 6 000 litres a month would be exempt from the higher tariffs.

In a sternly worded statement last week, she warned the city had “reached a point of no return” and that Day Zero was now “very likely” to happen on April 21 because 60% of Capetonians were still “callously” using more than 87 litres a day.

Then this week, Day Zero jumped to Thursday April 12.

Level 6B will also limit irrigation using boreholes and wellpoints and the new daily collective consumption target is now 450 million litres a day.