Time and money - two major obstacles in tackling Cape Town's water crisis

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Theewaterskloof dam is shown in January. It is one of the mayor dams supplying water to Cape Town. (Supplied)
Theewaterskloof dam is shown in January. It is one of the mayor dams supplying water to Cape Town. (Supplied)

Cape Town - Desalination plants and other plans - which are in the pipeline for Cape Town to help alleviate the water crisis - will probably cost the city billions of rand, and it is not yet clear where this money will come from.

Another possibly hampering factor could be the time it will take to construct these facilities.

The City of Cape Town anticipates that its supply of municipal water will run out around March 2018.

Extreme water restrictions are in place in the City of Cape Town and last week it was announced that water rationing, via pressure reduction, would be carried out during peak hours in preselected suburbs.

Cape Town is experiencing the worst drought in its recorded history.

READ: News24 water investigation: Warnings and a turning point

In May, the Western Cape was declared a disaster area.

A source with intimate knowledge of the matter previously told News24 that the City of Cape Town did not have the money to implement expensive water generation and saving plans.

Last week, Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said the city was trying to make funding available for a variety of plans to generate water.

Water crisis: 5 things you need to know

Keeping mum

This week, the city did not respond to questions about what would happen if the plans were simply too expensive.

The national department of water and sanitation has not responded to News24 queries on the drought crisis for two weeks.

This week, Limberg said the city's water augmentation programme "is progressing with urgency.

"The first tender batch which was issued comprised small-scale temporary containerised desalination plants (with a combined yield of approximately 15 million litres per day) in Hout Bay, Granger Bay and Dido Valley," she said.

Readvertised tenders

"Tenders received were, however, non-responsive. The tenders are being re-advertised and these initiatives have not been cancelled."

Limberg said the augmentation process consisted of more than the first batch of tenders.

"The city is pursuing a mix of alternative water resources (desalination, groundwater and water reclamation) together with aggressively reducing consumption to ensure that existing surface water can sustain us through to winter 2018," she said.

The city, Limberg said, had to run a fair process.

ALSO READ: Cape Town issues first tender to produce extra 500Ml of water

"All tender processes are being conducted in accordance with the city's Supply Chain Management Policy which complies with national legislation," she said.

"Neither the mayor, nor any politicians, are part of the tender processes."

Seventeen sites had first been explored as potential locations for where water could be generated.

"But this was reduced to 10 sites after environmental considerations were factored in," Limberg said.

"Furthermore, the sites must be situated close to the reticulation system for the water supply to enter the supply system."

She cautioned that during a time of "heightened concern" about the water situation, it was important that information shared was factual.

Billions potentially needed

According to information on the website of GrahamTrek, a global company based in Strand which is in the final design stages of desalination plants in India and Saudi Arabia, the estimated cost of a specific desalination solution is R8.5bn.

A white paper the company said it had submitted to the city in June said a cubic metre of desalinated water would cost R11.50.

The paper, which is on the company's website, said if the city went ahead with the most aggressive technical approach, a capital guarantee of R1bn would be needed from the city at the commencement date of a project.

This week, Kevin Winter, of the environmental and geographical science (EGS) department at the University of Cape Town (UCT), also said it was not clear how much water creation projects would cost the city.

ALSO READ: Cape Town's groundwater plan targets 'impossible'

"The procurement process is still in place and we don’t have a clue at this stage about the costs or whether any of these projects whether necessary or otherwise are going to arrive on time," he said.

"It's a wait and see game."

'Complex and takes long'

Chris Braybrooke, the general manager of marketing at Veolia, a water technologies company, said the City of Cape Town was one of the more progressive cities in the country in terms of embracing new technologies.

"The City of Cape Town is a major client of ours… They are busy with numerous plans to eradicate the threat of water shortages. This is not a simple, but very complex, issue," he said.

"Desalination plants are viable options but it does take long to implement."

Last week, Limberg said it was hoped that, between December 2017 and the March/April period in 2018, between 150 and 250 million litres would be at some production stage each day.

It was hoped this would increase to 300 million litres by May 2018.

"This will include land- and sea-based desalination, water reclamation and groundwater abstraction projects, if all goes according to plan," Limberg said.

Extra money needed

She acknowledged extra funding would be needed for this.

"Our finance team is working on making funding sources available, including cash, reprioritisation of existing water projects, a concessionary loan from an external funder, and curtailing expenditure elsewhere in the administration," Limberg had said.

"While the city will do everything in its power to curb expenditure across the administration to reduce the impact on future tariffs, we can expect tariff increases significantly above inflation in the 2018/2019 financial year."

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