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LOOK: Dams tell history of Cape water scarcity

Published Feb 4, 2018


Cape Town - This is not the first time Cape Town has faced a severe water shortage and has put extreme measures in place to stretch its water supply.

The Weekend Argus visited five dams built in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as the the Waterworks Museum on Table Mountain, this week.

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These dams were built to provide water to the various areas to the city.

According to the information at the Waterworks Museum on Table Mountain, due to population and shipping demands a new source of supply had to be found for what was then known as The Corporation of the City of Cape Town.

Arne Singel, a former manager of the bulk water branch of the City of Cape Town bulk, accompanied the Weekend Argus and provided information about the reasons for

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construction of the various dams.

The five dams - Woodhead, Hely Hutchinson, Victoria, Alexandra and De Villiers - were all built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Before 1913, there were eight other municipalities, besides the city.

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The Woodhead and the Hely Hutchinson dams were built by the then Corporation of the City of Cape Town and the Victoria, Alexandra and De Villiers dams were built by the then Wynberg municipality.

The Alexandra dam was built first and completed in 1893 and lifted further in 1902.

The Victoria dam was completed in 1896, and the Woodhead in 1897, followed by the Hely Hutchinson in 1904 and the De Villiers in 1910.

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All five dams still form part of the city’s drinking water supply, said Ian Neilson, Cape Town deputy mayor.

However, he said water from these dams were not utilised throughout the year.

“We try to maintain them at a high level during the summer months for possible emergency use should we experience infrastructure failures in our distribution system.”

In total, the five dams have a storage capacity of 2376 megalitres of water, which he said equates to about four days water for the city at current consumption levels.

The Woodhead and Hely Hutchinson dams can provide water to Camps Bay and the high-lying areas of the City Bowl, while the Victoria, Alexandra and De Villiers dams are closer to the Constantia Nek side of the mountain and can supply water to parts of the southern suburbs, and Hout Bay, said Neilson.

Singel said in 1881 there was a severe drought in the region, which resulted in residents of the Corporation of the City of Cape Town being restricted to a mere four hours of water supply a day.

He said in 1880 a hydraulic engineer of the Colony of Good Hope was instructed to improve the water supply and to form a solution for its water scarcity problems.

“At the time time Cape Town was dependent on the springs and some streams emanating from the slopes of Table Mountain.”

He said the engineer formulated proposals for the development of water resources on Table Mountain’s back table.

The Woodhead Tunnel was built between 1887 and 1891 and ran through the Twelve Apostles Mountain range.

The Woodhead Dam was built by the Corporation of the City of Cape Town and the first concrete stone was laid on January 6, 1894.

The wall was completed in February in 1897 and the dam was named after the mayor of the corporation Sir John Woodhead. Singel said Woodhead had said in a speech, at the time, that the dam was the sixth largest dam of its kind in the world.

“The mayor also mentioned the construction would solve Cape Town’s water problem for years to come.”

An aerial cable was erected to assist its construction.

Weekend Argus

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