Cape Town gears up for Day Zero

2018-01-28 06:00

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As Day Zero looms and Capetonians are urged to use less than 50 litres of water per person per day, residents are emptying shops’ shelves of 5-litre water containers to store in their garage and queuing at fresh water springs.

Day Zero – the day Cape Town is expected to turn off fresh water supply to suburbs – is pegged at April 12.

Borehole drilling companies and rainwater tank suppliers have waiting lists running into months, while entrepreneurs are making money sourcing and supplying drinking water for households and non-potable water for water-thirsty businesses.

Meanwhile, the Mouille Point Ratepayers’ Association (MPRA) is raising money from its members to oppose the city’s plan to build a desalination plant in their upmarket Atlantic seaboard suburb.

Hotels, meanwhile, are making their own plans to protect tourism, which contributes 7.5% of Cape Town’s income.

The four-and-a-half star Westin Cape Town, on the foreshore, is building a reverse osmosis plant at the hotel to convert sea water into drinking water for guests.

Westin marketing director Ross Baines said they would release the details in the next few days, but that the plant would be running by the beginning of March.

It would provide water to other Cape Town hotels in the Marriott group, of which there are six in the City Bowl area.

Baines said they had saved millions of litres of water a month with measures such as reducing the building’s water pressure, removing bath plugs to force guests to shower, installing special filters to aerate water and reduce the amount used, and re-evaluating how often linen needs to be changed and washed.

"I knew something like this was coming"

In an article published by the Daily Maverick this week, Western Cape premier Helen Zille said:

“To relieve the pressure on the municipal water system, local residents who can afford it might well book into hotel rooms that have water security and spare bed capacity, for the duration of the crisis, where their water needs would be met independently of municipal water.

"At the same time, this would help offset the industry’s anticipated losses due to international cancellations, as Day Zero looms large.”

Baines, however, said it was unlikely that long-stay rates would be reduced for locals, as business as yet had not been significantly affected by the water crisis.

The five-star Cape Grace Hotel on the V&A Waterfront did not have a desalination plant, but had installed a machine that extracts drinking water from air.

Brand manager Samantha Williams said they implemented various measures to cut down water use, including giving guests bottles of hand sanitiser.

She said the hotel had developed four packages for wealthy Capetonians wanting to avoid Day Zero, including deals for families and longer stays.

But these don’t come cheap. According to the hotel’s website, a two bedroom suite for two adults and a child under 12 will set you back R33 518 per day.

The Stay Awhile package – a two-bedroom suite for two adults and one child – costs R22 021 per day if you book now to stay a month from Day Zero.

Cape Town is scrambling to drill boreholes into the Cape Flats aquifer and get four desalination plants up and running to augment supply by 120 megalitres per day by May.

But MPRA coordinator Jane Meyer says they are opposing a move to build one of the plants 20m from a blocks of flats.

She said the site had no electricity and residents would be subject to the noise and smell of the diesel generators.

A studio apartment in Mouille Point is now on sale for R4.5m.

Meyer said they proposed two “more suitable” sites in the area.

The city’s response was “not good” and the matter is being handled by lawyers and a newly established organisation, the Protection of the Promenade and Seafront.

The MPRA’s opposition has become moot, however.

The city’s mayoral committee member for water and waste services Xanthea Limberg said they’ve shifted their focus from desalination to extracting water from aquifers.

The desalination project is “not currently funded”, she said.

While many suburban businesses worry about being cut off, others are benefiting.

Henk Meyer, who runs a painting and restoration company, advertises the supply of up to 16 000 litres of bulk water for those wanting to fill up their pools, or for water-heavy businesses.

He charges R6 800 for 16 000 litres.

Meyer spotted a gap in the market when he started looking for water to keep his own business running.

He says his water comes from a place where it has been used and cannot be reused.

Alje van Hoorn, owner of Aquarista grey water and water harvesting systems, said he is “completely swamped with demand” and booked for the next five months with orders for rain water tanks.

An average roof can supply 1 000 litres from 11mm of rainfall.

Van Hoorn set up shop eight years ago.

“I knew something like this was coming. We’ve got a growing population and a dry climate. We’ve often had water restrictions, it was just a case of when we would exceed dam capacity,” he said.

Receptionists at two separate borehole and well drilling companies said they had long client waiting lists.

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Read more on:    day zero  |  water crisis

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