Cape Town's water plan is too narrow, says expert - advises long term plan

2018-04-17 05:00
Cape Town's first test borehole into the Cape Flats aquifer. (Jenni Evans, News24, file)

Cape Town's first test borehole into the Cape Flats aquifer. (Jenni Evans, News24, file)

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UCT academic Dr Kevin Winter says the City council's proposed 26.9% water price hike, which has drawn howls of protest from Capetonians, is not big enough to shift the city out of the water crisis in the long term.

"I think the increase is not nearly enough. I am sure the City is going to have to continue to subsidise actual water costs and services very carefully," he said.

Winter, chair of UCT's Water Task Team and senior lecturer in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, said one needed to look beyond the shock of the new price for water in the City's draft 2018/19 budget and think about water security for Cape Town in the long term.

SPECIAL REPORT: Water Crisis

But Capetonians could not pay for all that was needed, so the City council would have to find creative ways of getting the necessary billions to become a water secure city.

Winter criticised the draft budget for its lack of detail about how the budget money would be spent on new water projects.

"There is a lot going on in this budget, but it is the detail that is going to tell the story, rather than gross increases. I want to see how the budget is going to shift the City toward a more resilient, water-sensitive strategy, rather than merely balancing the books that tend to focus on infrastructure, maintenance and operations alone," Winter said.

Missing elements

However, a lack of detail on how the capital budget would be spent was missing from the City's draft budget.

He said there were several other elements missing if Cape Town was going to make the shift to becoming a "climate proof, water resilient city", rather than a city that went from one water crisis to the next.

It appeared that the budget did not look at this long-term shift. Rather, it had been drawn up on the assumption that three years of good rain would fill the dams and the City would be able to carry on supply as normal.

READ: Cape Town water consumption only 66 million litres above target

What was needed was a 30- to 50-year water plan for Cape Town, with future budgets agreeing on a principled plan.

"I can't see how the new budget is creating a new vision for a water scarce city. I am not sure we are taking this current drought as a warning seriously and keeping our eyes on the long-term consequences of climate change and the urgent need to adjust," Winter said.

He supported the City's efforts to continue managing Capetonians' water demand, which had been significantly reduced, as well as the City finding more water sources and reusing water.

However, one of several crucial elements that was missing in the budget if the City were really embarking on a road to become more water secure, was that there was no allocation for managing stormwater and using it to recharge aquifers.

"Where are the targets around stormwater management? They don't mention it at all. This is the time when we need to be thinking about things like this."

Winter said stormwater could be included as a new water source to recharge the Cape Flats aquifer.

"I think it is a critical component of understanding the City's water resources, not only because it is part of the recharge of the aquifers, but because it is a source of surface and groundwater pollution, as well as a transporter of solid waste and contaminated water to rivers, to waterways and to the sea.

"Stormwater management needs a much greater budget, and needs to be linked to the bulk water supply chain rather that to roads and transport. Thus far, it has been treated as having nuisance value rather than as a key element of water resource management to the City," Winter said.

'Rivers in a shocking condition'

There was also no allocation in the draft budget for a programme to monitor the abstraction of water from private boreholes, nor for the monitoring of the Cape Flats aquifer, or for the rehabilitation of urban river systems.

"Our rivers and waterways in the city are in a shocking condition."

The budget neglected the importance of nature-based solutions for water quality. The Unesco report released last month on this topic "seemed to be lost" on the City council.

Another problem Winter highlighted was that, although the City had called for public comment, it was very difficult to interrogate and make comments because there was very little detail on how the money was to be spent on the new water projects.

"They list projects, but with no details about what the projects are. They have got to be specific. We have got to be able to see what they are spending the money on in detail, not just on 'desalination'. I am sure that there are calculations in the background, but we are not privy to that," Winter said.

He believes Capetonians cannot pay for the entire range of new projects needed to shift the city out of water crises in the long term.

The City council would have to find creative ways to engage with the private sector and form "citizen partnerships" to get the money needed to build Cape Town into a city that had enough water.

"The City needs to lead rather than wait for national government resources and competencies. It is time for a new model," Winter said.

Asked for comment, the City media department said it was still waiting for a reply on what Winter considered was missing from the budget.

Regarding the lack of details in how the capital budget would be spent, the City referred News24 to the budget documents online, which are the same documents that Winter was referring to when he said they lacked the detail necessary to be able to interrogate the budget.

Winter said he had raised this with City officials, who said detailed breakdowns of the cost of new water projects did exist, but more work needed to be done on them, which made it difficult to reveal all the details at this stage.

Regarding the monitoring of borehole water, the City said this fell under the national Department of Water and Sanitation, not the City.

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