Cape Town scraps desalination barge plan as water crisis eases

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Cape Town’s city council scrapped plans to hire a desalination barge to supplement water supply after good winter rains helped ease the worst drought on record.

The city will continue to implement other projects to ensure taps don’t run dry, including curtailing usage by reducing the water pressure and tapping underground aquifers, said Xanthea Limberg, the mayoral committee member for water and waste services.

“Although dam levels have improved, we need to be sure that we can safely navigate the summer of 2019 and this will only be possible once we know where we stand at the end of this winter rainfall season,” she said in an emailed response to questions.

The six main dams supplying Cape Town are at 39.1% of capacity, compared with 23% a year ago, the city said on its website on Tuesday.

At this stage in 2014, the dams were more than 90% full. While the authorities warned earlier this year that they may be forced to switch off the taps and residents would have to collect a daily ration from distribution points, that risk has abated.

The city has commissioned three temporary small-scale desalination plants, which are nearing completion, to augment the water supply and is weighing whether to build permanent desalination and recycling facilities that will have much bigger output.

“Much experience has been gained over the past year through the development of the various projects,” Limberg said.

“Temporary desalination and re-use should not be pursued further as emergency solutions, as this is not affordable and rarely provides the promised volumes of water. For future resilience, permanent desalination and water re-use are recommended as alternative sources of water to add to ground and surface water supply sources.”

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