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Cape Town risks running dry

Picture: Ian Landsberg

Picture: Ian Landsberg

Published Mar 17, 2017


Cape Town - Cape Town, the crown jewel of South Africa’s

tourism industry, has 100 days before it runs out of water.

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After two years of the least rainfall on record, the

average level of the six main dams that supply the city of 3.7

million people has dropped below 30 percent, one of the lowest levels on

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record. The last 10 percent of the reservoir water is unusable, and the risk is

mounting that taps and pipes will stop flowing before the onset of the winter

rainy season that normally starts in May or June.

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Even if the supply stretches until then, heavy downpours

may be needed to avert outages over the next two years in South

Africa’s second-biggest city. Each year more than 850 000 people from the

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region and abroad fly through the international airport in Cape Town, which the

UK’s Telegraph newspaper has rated as the top city destination for the past

four years.

“We are in a real crisis,” Cape Town Mayor Patricia de

Lille said in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the Women4Climate

conference in New York on March 8. “People will have to change the way they are

doing things. You can only save water while you have water.”

The city council has imposed water restrictions,

including bans on using hosepipes to irrigate gardens and fill swimming

pools, and fined those who violate them. It’s also lowered the water pressure

and stepped up efforts to combat leaks. While those measures have helped reduce

average daily summer consumption to 751 million litres a day, from 1.1 billion litres

a year ago, that’s still shy of the city’s 700-million-liter target.

Diversify supply

The Cape Town authorities should have done more to

diversify its water supply and implemented projects to use treated sewage and

effluent, said Kevin Winter, a lecturer and water expert at the University

of Cape Town’s Environmental and Geographical Science Department.

“Ninety-eight percent of water comes from dams and that

is crazy,” he said. “We use untreated, high quality water for everything we can

think of.”

Read also:  Water restrictions put golf clubs in the rough

The lack of water and efforts to conserve it are evident

from the city’s withered gardens and parks and closure of most municipal

swimming pools. Many of the city’s more than 3.7 million people have taken

to using water from their baths and showers to flush toilets and try and

keep their plants alive. Providers of wells and equipment that captures runoff

from washing machines and bathrooms, known as gray water, are doing a roaring


Tapping rivers

The city and national governments are implementing and

considering several projects to augment the water supply, according to De

Lille. These include:

* Pumping surplus water from the Berg River to the

Voelvlei Dam, east of Cape Town, which will cost R274 million and yield an

extra 60 million litres of water a day.

* Implementing a 4.5 billion-rand plan to reuse water,

which will supply an additional 220 million litres a day.

 Building a R15

billion desalination plant that will yield an average of 450 million litres of

water a day.

* Tapping aquifers from the city’s landmark Table

Mountain, which could yield 50 million litres to 100 million litres a day. That

project, which would be implemented in several phases, is still being costed.

“The city will probably squeak through this season, but

it may not in coming years,” Winter said. “It has been on the cards that water

would run out by 2019. This drought has been a wake-up call for the city.”


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