Cape Town’s Water Crisis Requires Innovative Solutions to Increase Water Supply

June 29, 2017
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Cape Town and the Western Cape’s insufficient rainfall over the past three years has resulted in a water crisis. Population increases, urbanisation and global climate change has increased our need to use water more conservatively and find long-term, innovative solutions to increase water supply. While water shortages impact on everyone, key industries are dependent on a reliable water supply for production to contribute to economic growth and the continuing sustainability of the region. At our recent Thought Leaders engagement focussing on water security, we heard from Sarah Rushmere, City of Cape Town Energy and Water Efficiency Strategist and Dr Valerie Naidoo, Executive Manager for Innovation and Business Development at the Water Research Commission.

First, we heard from Sarah who provided an overview of the Western Cape’s current water situation. The City forms part of the Western Cape Water Supply System (WCWSS) and has within its ecosystem six major dams. Cape Town is serviced by a huge infrastructure – there are six million risk points in Cape Town’s water reticulation system, 650 000 service connections, 821 staff fixing leaks daily and roughly 800 service requests per day. As Cape Town’s industry is primarily serviced-based, 65% of the city’s water usage is residential.

On demand and supply, Sarah said that it is important to realise that it is much cheaper for people to reduce demand than it is to keep building costlier, supply infrastructure. She highlighted that over the last few years, the City has been extremely focussed on the issue of demand management, saying that there is no use pouring water into a bucket that has holes in it. Up until 2014, the combined allocation of water from the six major supply dams had been sufficient however, Cape Town’s annual population growth rate of 4% coupled with the past three years of poor rainfall, has resulted in the water challenge the region is facing. Sarah shared that the next scheme to be fast-tracked is the augmentation of the Voëlvlei Dam, which will involve taking winter rainfall from the Berg River and placing it into Voelvlei. She added that with the current infrastructure in place and what the City had planned for, water supply would have been sufficient, had it not been for the severe drought.

With climate change as harsh as it is, Sarah said that the City has realised that it cannot rely on rainfall and will need to diversify its water harvesting mix. She said that the plans and tariffs that are going to be implemented have been designed to decrease water usage. The City’s recommendations to business on reducing its water footprint include: conducting regular water audits, setting water efficiency targets, building long-term resilience factoring in climate change and finally, ensuring sufficient onsite water storage. Sarah concluded by saying that an emergency plan will be released in two – three weeks’ time, and urged us to build a new relationship with water.

Next, we heard from Dr Valerie Naidoo who said that many people fail to realise that there is a direct correlation between water and economic stability. Together with the Department of Science and Technology, the Water Research Commission developed SA’s Water, Research, Development, and Innovation (RDI) roadmap, which looks at 2030 and the potential supply and demand deficits along with how SA could work towards trying to fill the shortfall.

Dr Naidoo shared that with regards to supply, the Commission addresses issues such as how to unlock alternative sources of water, built infrastructure and its implications (i.e. city design and flooding), water governance, planning and management, as well as tariffing. On tariffing, Dr Naidoo said that these are the tough conversations we need to start having if we are serious about addressing our water shortage. Speaking to demand, she said that monitoring and metering plays a crucial role in reducing loss and wastage.

Additionally, Dr Naidoo urged business to look at its current water system and consider not only how water is being received and used, but how it is being sent back out. She also encouraged the City to take a deeper look at ICT solutions to manage, monitor and evaluate water and said that new technology should be used for forecasting and planning.  The session ended with Dr Naidoo encouraging greater levels of collaboration between the City and business to inspire adaption to change and build water resilience.

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