Future Water statement on current water crisis and what to do about it
Placing the emergency measures in context
The ‘emergency’ supply measures currently being brought forward by the City; i.e. groundwater from the Table Mountain Group (TMG) and Cape Flats Aquifers, pilot-scale desalination, and pilot-scale wastewater reuse from Zandvliet wastewater treatment works (see City press statement dated 20 March 2017) are likely to contribute less than 5% of the current water demand, although this figure can be increased through intensified pressure management. Whilst this seems like a relatively small contribution, it is encouraging to see some progress by the City towards building programmes for drawing from multiple water sources; plans that are likely to help build a climate proof city. In our opinion these processes could have been activated earlier, but we acknowledge that it takes a crisis to shape a city’s budget.
What would be a better approach to the drought?
The City has been implementing various levels of responses for some time, with some success in terms of reducing levels of water use and raising awareness – and appears to be fully engaged in long-term strategies for dealing with water scarcity. There is certainly more that the City could be doing in terms of promoting sustainable resource use in the short-term, and encouraging / incentivising reduced domestic potable water use as a response to the current crisis. Some of our thoughts are as follows:
- Restrictions have certainly been successful in reducing water use levels (e.g. down from 1.2 billion litres/day in early 2016 to around 700 million litres/day currently). However, there are still people who are not taking the drought seriously, by continuing to use water for non-essential purposes such as watering gardens (even verges). They justify this by saying that they are using groundwater, but groundwater may be needed as reserve in the event of a potable system failure.
- 100 litres per person per day is an easily achievable target provided potable water is only used for indoor purposes. Targets such as this one provide a useful aim for limiting water use; however, it is our contention that 100 litres per day is still too much .
- It is easier (cheaper, less energy etc.) to desalinate groundwater and treated sewage effluent than seawater – we have to start seriously including treated wastewater in the resource ‘mix’. What is important to note here is that the standard of treatment depends on the fit-for-purpose use for which the water is intended.
- The City must take groundwater more seriously. For example, the Atlantis Managed Aquifer Recharge Scheme is currently in major need of refurbishment (re-drilling of boreholes); this is indefensible. More should be done about accessing the groundwater that is available in the Cape Flats Aquifer in a responsible, sustainable manner .
- The City needs to put more effort into reducing levels of leakage / water losses / pipe bursts; at 15% it is only around the world average. There is only so much that can be done with pressure management; many pipes in the older suburbs need replacing as they are well over the design life of around 40 years.
- Investigate the use of digital water metering systems to improve water management in real time. Consumers need a ‘dashboard’ such as a digital interface, to monitor daily water use, detect leakages, inform behaviour and improve the billing system. Digital metering will be a challenge to install, but it unlocks potential to establish need businesses and services providers, and ultimately should enable the City to get a better handle on water billing.
Some thoughts for the future:
- Reconsider pricing mechanisms, and education programmes to change mindsets about the value of water. Impose restrictions earlier and maintain longer.
- Urban drainage presents substantial opportunities rather than only problems. Manage and use urban areas as catchments, and promote urban stormwater harvesting
- Include ecological / green infrastructure in the design of urban spaces; i.e. use natural / engineered ecosystems to assist in recreating catchment (water capture and storage) conditions and improving water quality. Plan for water-sensitive and climate-resilient cities.
Is this just another drought? When it’s over, will we be OK?
Urbanisation and increasing demand for water (especially in cities) will continue having an impact – droughts and climate variability notwithstanding. Our current reliance on surface water storage schemes to meet water demand in the country is not sustainable; we have to start looking at other resources and options for fit-for-purpose use (i.e. where potable quality is not required). Government (local / national) should also be responding much faster with the implementation of restrictions, and have the capacity to keep these in place. It is also important to note that even with good rains this winter, we may not reach the required levels in the dams (currently targeted at 85% by the City), and may need to keep the water restrictions in place.
What can individuals do to adapt to water scarcity?
We believe it is possible to thrive in a semi-arid country by being water sensitive. We feel that individuals should aim to use less than 50L of potable water per day, and supplement the rest of their water use through fit for purpose water – water that is not of potable quality, but clean enough for the purpose it is being used for. Some examples of water sensitive approaches include:
- Rainwater storage tanks for shower water and watering essential vegetation .
- Convert your garden to be water sensitive, by for example creating areas that can absorb rainwater to help your garden survive and act like a sponge.
- No lawns! Plant indigenous, drought tolerant plants that can survive tough periods
- Sustainable urban drainage systems to manage storm events so that we don’t have such intense flood events, which also helps to absorb water to see us through dry periods.