Cape Town water consumption spikes

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Cape Town water consumption spikes

Despite a temporary spike in Cape Town's water consumption, residents, business and government remain committed to overcoming the harsh drought afflicting the city, writes Legalbrief. Cape Town’s water consumption has shot up by 54m litres a day since the announcement that Day Zero has been beaten. A Cape Times report notes that dam levels have fallen by only 0.3% to 22.7% partly due to the cooler weather, the city said. Water consumption is at 565m litres a day. The city’s water usage target is 450m litres. DA leader Mmusi Maimane earlier this month announced that Day Zero would not occur this year, provided that citizens continue consuming water at current levels, and that there was decent winter rainfall. Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson said that despite the spike, the city is confident water users will again shatter water use records in the weeks ahead. ‘We will continue to monitor the water usage trend to see whether the increase in consumption is a once-off occurrence or whether there is another underlying reason that would need to be addressed,’ Neilson said. ‘If all Capetonians join us by keeping their consumption down to 50l of water a day, or less, we will avoid having to take more drastic actions,’ Neilson said. However, Shaheed Mahomed of the Water Crisis Coalition said the city had been negligent in its handling of the water crisis. ‘They are blaming the people for escalating water use, but they must take responsibility for their own failure. Their handling of this matter raises serious questions.’

A total of R433.52m would be made available as disaster relief funding for the three provinces most affected by drought, namely the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize said. A Cape Argus report notes that, of this amount, R348.85m is to be transferred in the 2017/18 financial year, with R84.68m transferred in the 2018/19 financial year. Last month, Mkhize on behalf of the inter-ministerial task team on water, declared the water crisis a national state of disaster.

An encouraging number of businesses and individuals are pursuing initiatives to boost water supply in the Western Cape, according to SRK Consulting senior environmental consultant Scott Masson. What often obstructs them though is the necessary red tape around water provision. A Bizcommunity report quotes Masson as saying: ‘There are people who have a spring on their property – or would look to build desalination plants – who believe they could augment the affordable water supply in their area or beyond.’ Many of these are in a position to provide water to the municipality very quickly, but are unsure of the legal implications, said SRK associate partner and principal consultant Sharon Jones. These stakeholders are recognising the urgent need for new supply to be brought on stream, and are offering cost-effective ways of doing so. The good news is that many government agencies are proactively helping to clarify the legal requirements and facilitate the necessary steps that compliance demands. ‘The Department of Water and Sanitation, for example, are talking to us directly about various details of the application processes for abstracting water, and are working to speed up the bureaucratic process where possible,’ said Jones. ‘It has become more complex as there are now certain exemptions in place for requirements such as Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) – and it is important to understand which legislation allows such exemptions and which does not.’

Big companies are finding new ways to save water and make products that need less water to use, according to Myriam Sidibe who is on the board of Water Aid and a hygiene director with Unilever. According to a Fin24 report, speaking at a World Water Day launch in Cape Town last week, Sidibe said it can no longer be business as usual, citing laundry and personal hygiene as the biggest water guzzlers in households. Unilever is responding to the challenge by working on products that require less water to use, or need no water at all – such as  waterless shampoo, and washing powder that needs less water. Coca-Cola has slashed water use by 30% and is donating 500 000l of water to reduce the impact on communities in the Western Cape, according to the company's public affairs and communications director Tshidi Ramogase. In another initiative, Enactus CEO Letitia de Wet said groups of smart young minds at universities are working on innovations that could lead to an even bigger drop in the amount of water being wasted. Among these are treating grey water to be used in showers and water catchment innovations. Company representatives at the event also announced that rainwater harvesting tanks with a 5 000l capacity would be donated to 35 schools to help them conserve water.

The 318-year-old Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West has become self-sufficient in all its potable and non-potable water needs‚ in one of the largest private conservation projects in SA. A TimesLIVE report notes that this is despite producing tons of wine grapes‚ maintaining 18 celebrated gardens‚ operating two restaurants and welcoming 100 000 visitors every year. To commemorate World Water Day, which took place on 22 March, the estate shared how it achieved this. ‘When we initiated a long-term project in 2004 to clear dense alien vegetation‚ more than 80% of the farm’s natural veld was invaded by dense pine on the higher slopes‚ with acacia and eucalyptus species in the low-lying areas‚’ said Vergelegen MD Don Tooth. ‘Alien vegetation uses up to 60% more water than indigenous vegetation‚ so clearing it away has massively boosted water flow. The additional mountain run-off from the Hottentots Holland mountain range catchment area into the estate dams . . . has ensured that the estate now meets all its water needs independently,’ he said. Tooth added that stringent measures are in place throughout the 3 000 ha property‚ owned by Anglo American‚ to ensure the water is used optimally. The vineyards have deficit irrigation practices involving moisture probes and computer monitoring while the gardens are watered at night only‚ using automated irrigation systems. The signature restaurant‚ Camphors at Vergelegen‚ has rigorous sustainability measures in place. They include harvesting rainwater and using water from the ice-buckets to mop floors and water kitchen herbs. Water for both residents and visitors is treated on site through the estate’s own filtration systems. Testing shows it is of a higher standard than most municipal systems‚ said the estate.

Even though the government has allocated R6bn in drought relief for farmers, farmworkers fear very little will come their way as many of them have already lost their jobs. A Cape Argus report notes that while the sector has already lost about R5.9bn, an estimated 30 000 workers are set to lose their jobs, with little provision made for those facing unemployment. Rights groups and farmworker unions have slammed the government, saying more should be done to ensure that farmworkers retain their jobs or at least receive some sort of alternative income. Karel Swart, national organising secretary of the Commercial Stevedore Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, said: ‘It is a bad situation for farmers and workers, but it seems that the government is only worried about saving farmers. We have seen none of the government programmes in the areas where we work.’ Colette Solomon, Women on Farms spokesperson, said the government’s programmes had not reached all farming communities. ‘The drought relief has focused on farmers specifically, but not enough is being done for the average farmworker who risks losing much more,’ she said. Agriculture MEC Alan Winde said they had also engaged the Department of Labour to assist. ‘There are plans with training funds, as well as unemployment funds. These will help with unemployed workers who can be sent to training and still get some salary per month. We are also looking at getting support from the Department of Social Development.’

To mark World Water Day, The Netherlands, which has a long-standing collaboration with SA in addressing water related issues, said it has pledged its support to assist initiatives to solve the country’s water crisis. According to a Cape Argus report, the Dutch will collaborate with the Water Institute of Southern Africa (Wisa) at the 2018 Biennial Conference and Exhibition, so that Dutch water experts can engage with the current challenges in SA to co-create sustainable solutions together. ‘We need to do more with less water, and we need to do this together. By building long-term partnerships with Dutch experts and local key stakeholders and putting the local context at the core of all conversations, we aim to create real long-term change that is locally sustainable,’ The Netherlands Consul General, Bonnie Horbach, said.
 

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