City of Cape Town warns of possible drought, ‘water usage climbing, dam levels dropping’

The City has established the “Our Shared Water Future” water strategy, which draws from the 2017 drought learnings. File picture

The City has established the “Our Shared Water Future” water strategy, which draws from the 2017 drought learnings. File picture

Published Feb 20, 2023


Cape Town - Despite increased calls to reduce water usage in Cape Town, residents’ usage has surged to 1 billion litres a day – far higher than the City’s proactive summer target of 850 million litres a day (MLD) set to keep dams and reservoirs full for longer, while dam levels continue to drop.

In its water dashboard this week, the City issued an early drought caution which meant that there was a strong indication of a possible, but not confirmed, drought cycle developing or continuing from the record low rainfall levels between 2015-2017.

The City said there was no immediate cause for concern about water security in Cape Town, but it was the responsible step to take now for Cape Town to collectively aim not to exceed a target of 850 MLD to lower the risk of restrictions at a later stage.

Water and sanitation Mayco member Siseko Mbandezi said: ”During winter 2022, the average daily usage was about 800 MLD. This compared to summer where usage has reached more than 1 billion litres on some days over this past week.”

Mbandezi said that non-essential outdoor usage tended to be responsible for the extra high (peak) summer usage in the heat every year, and the City was thus calling on residents to reduce their personal non-essential outdoor water usage by 50%.

“For its part, the City will continue to reduce water wastage through programmes such as pipeline leak detection, annual pipe replacement, and pressure management.

“The City is also investing in bringing online the new water programme, which will see an investment of about R5 billion over the next eight years. The City will introduce 300 MLD of new water by 2030 from diverse sources that will help protect us from the worst effects of future droughts,” Mbandezi said.

The City has established the “Our Shared Water Future” water strategy, which draws from the 2017 drought learnings. Mbandezi said that below-average rainfall was cause for concern and the City suspected that the region was going through a prolonged drought cycle.

“Drought cycles will become more frequent as the effects of climate change become more intense and we suspect that there will be approximately 25% less water available in the Western Cape Water Supply System over the next 30 years,” Mbandezi said.

Despite some welcome rain in parts of the province on Monday, MEC of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Anton Bredell called on all Western Cape municipalities to evaluate their water security and consider implementation of water restrictions.

Bredell made this call after the Department of Water and Sanitation released its latest weekly report today, indicating an average level of 49.7% for Western Cape dams and 56.4% for the dams providing water to Cape Town.

These levels are significantly lower than the same time last year, when the province saw a combined level of 65%, and Cape Town a combined level of 80.8%

“My Department of Local Government will be interacting with each municipality in the province to assess and evaluate their water security situation. Where necessary, we will recommend that water restrictions are implemented sooner, while there are still options available.”

According to MEC municipalities should ensure their water infrastructure is well maintained to minimize leaks and water management systems should be optimised so all water can be accounted for.

He added catchments should be kept free of alien plants “as this can also save considerable volumes of water” and that residents should play a huge role in saving water.

“Small individual actions, such as reusing water, can make a huge collective difference. We should always treat water as a scarce and valuable resource, irrespective of our dam levels,” Bredell concluded.

Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) spokesperson Wisane Mavasa said out of the nine provinces, the only provinces that experienced downwards movements in water levels was the Western Cape, which went from 52.7% to 50.9% last week, and the Northern Cape, which dropped from 95.5% to 94.9%.

The average level for the Western Cape is now at 49.7%.

This follows widespread torrential rainfall that occurred in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Free State, Gauteng and the North West, which led to overall improvements in water levels in these provinces.

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