The solution to Cape Town's water crisis is obvious - but it will cost us

It is no secret that water is running out in Cape Town and that Day Zero is all but inevitable.

You just need to look at spending habits of Capetonians to see that this realisation has firmly set in. Gone are the 5 litre water containers from all major retailers. The same goes for hand sanitisers and paper plates. Good luck finding a Sputnik washing machine, Air-to-Water machine or a borehole supplier with less than a two-month waiting period.

Unlike the electricity crisis a few years back, which gave city folk a routine camping experience, complete with gas cookers, candles and cooler boxes, a long-term water shortage is no laughing matter.

And make no mistake, unlike the electricity crisis that saw load shedding for a few hours at a time, the water crisis is going to be more drawn out and intense. Once the taps go off it is going to be months before they come on again.

The first few weeks will feel like a bad camping experience where we all look at each other and regard the dirt and body odour as par for the course, but as the months roll over the rise in disease and "gatvolness" of the residence to queue every day for water is going to reach a boiling point.

The recent push-back of Day Zero is nothing to celebrate. This is only possible because the agriculture sector is being deprived of water when they need it most, in the heat of summer. The knock-on effect to food prices in the next few months is only going to aggravate people more.

The only viable, long-term solution to the water crisis is large-scale desalination. This has been proposed many times and is continually shot down due to high capital outlay and that it may become a white-elephant if the rain patterns return to normal.

What the opponents to large-scale desalination have not factored in is the following:

The DA in the Western Cape are a victim of their own success. Over the last number of years, the good governance in the Western Cape has seen the province swelling due to mass migration of people from other parts of the country, Africa and even overseas. All these new people need to drink, clean and toilet, and all these things require water.

Secondly, no new dams have been built in ages as the Western Cape population increased. But even if they had built more dams, a dam is still only as reliable as the rainfall it receives.

Agriculture and tourism in the Western Cape are major sources of income and are both growing exponentially each year.

While national and local government stick to the line that we would have been fine if we reduced consumption, that is true to an extent, but if you follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, at the rate of growth of the city, we will all end up with a cup of water ration per day and will be told to be grateful. For a tangible picture of this scenario, watch the film, The Martian, where Matt Damon’s character must exist on an ever-shrinking potato supply to stay alive.

Thanks, but no thanks. I would prefer to live in a city where I can take a long luxurious shower or deep bath, swim in a clean bright pool and see lush green grass and plants all around me, where both the residence and the farmers have an abundance of good fresh water.

Already big corporates and the rich are sorting themselves out. Tsogo Sun are building their own desalination so that paying guests can bath like there is no tomorrow. Others will truck water in from private companies. Money can make nearly any problem go away which will further divide rich and poor.

Large-scale desalination is not cheap, but could easily be funded in public private partnerships as they achieved in Israel, as per the Carte Blanche segment a few weeks ago. 

Per that segment, Israel faced the same water crisis ten years ago. They quickly realised that aquifers and small-scale desalination was not going to fix the problem and decided to bite the bullet and build large-scale desalination plants. The result? Ten years later there is more than enough water for everyone and the price of water is still affordable. 

Why do we not learn from history?

Even if the price per litre of water was doubled or tripled, most Capetonians would happily cough up if it meant keeping the taps on and allowing for pre-water restriction lifestyles.

People are already spending far more on water devices and the economy will lose far more when the taps are turned off.

Even if the rains return and we have an over-abundance of water, so what. We can then really go to town with agriculture expansion and even assist other provinces that are in need and do not have a coastline to draw from. It can also supply the poor with more water and enable water-based businesses to thrive.

As the Chinese proverb goes, "The best time to plant an oak tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today."

Please let those with the wherewithal to make this happen sit down and make it happen.

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