Cape Town businesses aim to be free of municipal water supply

Building contractors are  looking at sinking a borehole on site to meet water needs, but water needs to be properly tested to ensure its chemistry does not compromise the strength of the materials used. (Photo: iStock)
Building contractors are looking at sinking a borehole on site to meet water needs, but water needs to be properly tested to ensure its chemistry does not compromise the strength of the materials used. (Photo: iStock)

What businesses in Cape Town previously considered to be “difficult and hard” to achieve in terms of water savings has “gone out the window”, says film and stills industry consultant Rudi Riek as companies aim to wean themselves off the municipal supply.

Riek said the water crisis and looming Day Zero, when the City of Cape Town will shut off the water supply, had forced the film and stills industry, as well as their suppliers, to implement long overdue measures to minimise water use and waste.

More than 90 film and stills production companies met with the Cape Town metro late last month to determine how they could ameliorate the water crisis. One outcome is that they will submit a water management plan when applying for filming and event permits.

Riek said the industry was looking at relationships with suppliers, such as mobile toilets on location, and was ensuring suppliers used recycled, non-potable water. Added to this, all basins were disconnected to ensure people used hand sanitisers rather than water to wash their hands.

Similarly, catering companies have scrapped tablecloths in favour of plastic covers, which only need to be wiped. Recyclable cutlery and crockery is used, and one catering company has invested in a R2 million air-to-water machine, said Riek.

Plastic bottles of water are no longer handed out on set. Rather, a “water tower” is set up, where people can refill their own bottles.

Trailers used by stars are connected to borehole water.

Special effects storyboards are being adjusted to minimise the use of water, and storylines are being altered to prevent scenes of people washing cars or standing with a running hosepipe.

Riek said there did seem to be a downturn in the number of productions coming to South Africa to film this season, as international media report on our water shortage.

“There does seem to be a sentiment that people feel almost embarrassed to film here and use our water, but that perception needs to change as the aim is to be water neutral.”

Allen Bodill, the executive director of the Western Cape Master Builders’ Association, said their 400-strong membership – of which half were on-site builders – had been engaging with the city and property developers for more than a year to find ways to decrease their water usage, particularly of potable water, on site.

Builders were encouraged to use premixed concrete and other wet material, which suppliers were using recycled water to mix.

Bodill said that, for big projects, contractors looked at sinking a borehole on site to meet water needs, but water had to be properly tested to ensure its chemistry did not compromise the strength of the materials used, and that a filtration system was put in place if necessary.

He said the industry was working closely with paint companies and other materials suppliers to check if the borehole or recycled water was compatible with their products.

He said many builders obtained treated water from the city’s wastewater treatment works for cleaning and mixing wet materials ­on site.

This has resulted in business opportunities as companies take advantage of the gap in water transportation from the treatment works to building sites.

He said Day Zero – now reportedly June 4 – was a risk for contractors, and contracts were being given minute attention to determine who took on the risk if projects came to a halt due to a lack of water, with more sophisticated contractors pricing the risk in, or adding the cost of alternative water sources to the contract.

The landscaping industry has taken a knock, said Stodels Garden Centre marketing assistant Lauren Jullies, because people associated gardening with a need for water.

However, Jullies said Stodels and other landscaping companies and nurseries were promoting “waterless” gardens, which would see customers planting water wise indigenous and hardy fynbos or succulents.

She said it was important for people to understand that vegetation and trees were needed to offset long-term climate change, and fynbos and indigenous trees could be grown despite the water crisis.

“At the moment, however, we are in an in-between period where we all need to get used to the new normal, and that will take time,” she said.

Bianca Capazorio, the spokesperson for provincial minister of economic opportunities Alan Winde, said there was anecdotal evidence of creative and innovative ideas around water and the drought, although there were no numbers of such growth yet.

Capazorio said the provincial government had 229 local businesses listed on its website that provided services such as grey and rain water systems, borehole drilling, alternative toilet suppliers and different consultants.

While some industries have boomed, agriculture has been hit hard.

She said the stone fruit harvest was 20% down and it was predicted that the smallest harvest since 2005 would hit the wine industry.

Potato, onion and tomato farmers are reducing their planting, which will affect the agri-processing industry.

Support assistance amounting to R120 million has been supplied by the province to help emerging farmers feed livestock and protect jobs on their farms, with aid distributed to more than 1 969 farmers.

However, an estimated 50 000 seasonal worker jobs are expected to be lost in the province due to lower harvests.

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