When taps run dry

2017-05-28 06:00
An empty Theewaterskloof Dam, which supplies Cape Town with more than half of its water, pictured earlier this month Picture: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp

An empty Theewaterskloof Dam, which supplies Cape Town with more than half of its water, pictured earlier this month Picture: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp

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CT to spend R315m over three years to deal with water crisis

2017-05-24 14:26

The City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille said the city plans to spend R315 million in the next three years to deal with the ongoing drought in the Western Cape. WATCH

Cosatu warns of war and deaths as the Western Cape suffers its worst drought in more than 100 years.

The drought in the Western Cape has seen fitness enthusiasts almost coming to blows over being called out for showering for too long at the gym.

Gym-goer Janine Nagel said she’d heard of fights almost breaking out in the changing rooms when water-aware members reprimanded others for using too much.

Motorists driving clean cars also run the risk of being targeted in the suburbs.

“People look at me as if I’m crazy,” said Nagel – she reprimands people at public toilets for letting the tap run while they wash their hands.

“Tensions are running a little bit high,” said Virgin Active spokesperson Les Aupiais. “Not only in Virgin Active, but all over the city.”

Virgin Active announced on Friday that saunas and steam rooms would no longer operate at their Western Cape gyms; and their swimming pools would no longer be filled. Once water levels become unsafe for swimming, the pools would be closed.

The City of Cape Town is considering implementing Level 4 water restrictions from Thursday and is urging residents to use only 100 litres of water each a day.

Experts, including Dr Kevin Winter from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) environmental and geographical science department, say restrictions will see Cape Town through the winter, however, with predictions that rainfall will be as low as it was over the past two seasons, next summer could be extraordinarily dire.

The tourism industry has not suffered yet, said provincial tourism promotional agency Wesgro spokesperson Russel Brueton, and figures show that, during December, visitor numbers increased by 8%.

Brueton said travellers “tend to book many months and even years in advance” and were unlikely to change their plans, but the “major challenge is to educate [them] once they get here so they don’t exacerbate the situation”.

Should taps run dry, the consequences for the spread of infectious diseases could be catastrophic, said University of the Western Cape School of Public Health Professor Helen Schneider.

Premier Helen Zille declared the province a disaster zone this week as dam levels dropped to an effective 10.5%. The declaration enables authorities to establish alternative supplies, including drilling boreholes at hospitals and schools.

The move will also expedite environmental impact assessments to test a mobile desalination plant at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station and drilling into the Table Mountain aquifer to supplement supply.

In an open letter to President Jacob Zuma last week Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the “water crisis will lead to war and deaths in the Western Cape unless urgent steps are taken soon to ensure that water does not run out”.

“The rich have money and resources to buy bottled water, while the poor will be the first to die of thirst because there is no supply or disaster plan for when the taps run dry by the end of July.”

High temperatures and low rainfall over the past three years are “unprecedented”, said Dr Piotr Wolski at UCT’s Climate System Analysis Group. He added that it was impossible to say whether the drought could be blamed on climate change.

“In general, we’re shifting into a drier climate.”

Initiatives to increase water supply, such as desalination plants and drilling into aquifers “will not put us in the safety zone we’d like to be in”, he said.

Winter said the crisis was forcing city and provincial authorities to “think very fast and hard about our reliance on surface water. It’s a wake up call.”

Winter agreed with Schneider that water quality and its effect on health is a concern. A lack of rain means streams and groundwater resources are not flushed out, which means concentrations of agricultural, industrial and domestic pollutants increase.

Schneider said that, if people were forced to get water from polluted streams and rivers, there was “no doubt” that there would be a catastrophic health problem.

As water becomes scarcer, the danger of diarrhoea, hepatitis and worms increases, said Schneider. “All of these get worse the further away the water source is.”

Meanwhile, many Capetonians across the city have changed their behaviour.

Nagel, who lives in Plumstead, said she collected all her washing water and repurposed it as much as possible. She has reduced her consumption to 66 litres a day.

“I also run around like a crazy lady whenever it does rain, putting buckets under all the gutters,” she said, adding that she regularly took a 20-litre container to the Newlands spring collection point for drinking water.

She also got her parents to reduce their consumption from 23 kilolitres a month to 10.

Using drinking water for toilets is criminal, she said, reciting the mantra: “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down.”

Nolitha Cwayi, who lives in an RDP house in Dunoon with seven other family members, ordered everyone to only flush the toilet when they did a “number two”.

Cwayi said they used their bathwater to fill up the toilet cistern and mop the floors. They no longer used their geyser and rather heated water in a 12-litre pot.

Charlotte Sash (44), a mother of five who lives in an RDP house, said she had a water meter installed and if her daily allocation ran out, she used water that was saved in buckets.

But residents of the nearby informal settlement who fetch water from a standpipe appear to ignore the calls to save. Mancane Ncentsani from Dunoon’s West Beach 4 settlement said residents leave the tap running while they wash blankets and clothes, and when asked to use it sparingly, they reply: “Water is free for everyone.”


What does the Western Cape need to do to avoid a similar crisis in the future?

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Read more on:    cape town  |  water crisis

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