Coalition takes water protest to Civic Centre

Hundreds of Capetonians gathered at the civic centre to voice their concerns about the draft Water Amendment By-law on Sunday January 28.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Cape Town Civic Centre, over the weekend, to call on government to take responsibility for the water scarcity crisis.

The protest came just days ahead of today’s deadline for public comment on the City of Cape Town’s Water Amendment By-law draft.

On Sunday January 28, representatives of about 70 civil organisations, having united under the banner of the Water Crisis Coalition, refused to hand over their memorandum to Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy because they had asked to see Mayor Patricia de Lille. Ms Limberg was also barred from addressing the crowd.

National Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane was present to hear the coalition’s concerns but not given a memorandum.

In a presentation entitled “Western Cape Water Status and Drought” and dated Sunday January 28, which was sent to the Plainsman, Ms Mokonyane said the province is experiencing the worst drought in 400 years and the country was still recovering from the 2014 drought.

“During times of drought, it is good and common practice to stretch available water resources through prudent application of restrictions to ensure that water supply systems do not fail,” the report said.

Under level 6 water restrictions, which came into effect on Monday January 1, residents were restricted to no more than 87 litres of water a person a day for essential indoor usage only.

Similarly it encouraged a more sustainable use of borehole water, discouraging the use of it for outdoor purposes, in order to preserve groundwater resources.

The implementation of these restrictions followed the directive by the National Department of Water and Sanitation requiring urban users to reduce their water usage by 45% and agricultural users to reduce consumption by 60%.

Ms Mokoyane said: “This is unfortunately not happening as both urban and agricultural users have continued to use more water than planned for, under constrained conditions.”

She said the country needed to unite around more efficient use of water in the province and the country, given the effects of climate change.

“We need to ensure that all water users in Cape Town have more information on how to save water, especially at household level, given that 70% of water is being used by domestic consumers,” she said.

Ms Mokonyane said there must be water for all, and called for an end to “fear- mongering”.

“We canprevent Day Zero,” she said.

The department has, through its urgent augmentation activities, decided on a four-pronged strategy, to source additional water. These include desalination, groundwater optimisation, water conservation and demand management, and re-use optimisation.

Following meetings between Ms De Lille and the minister, Ms Mokoyane issued a directive to procure a 10 megalitre-a-day (MLD) plant as an emergency intervention for the municipality. A megalitre is 1 million litres.

According to the presentation, the council asked that the minister delay the implementation of the desalination option, so the availability of groundwater could be assessed.

In other measures:

Aquifer drilling on the Cape Flats has started, with water delivery expected to happen from May.

The Atlantis aquifer (5MLD), which has been refurbished, will be pumping a further 20MLD from May.

Drilling of the Table Mountain Group acquifer has started and 40MLD will be pumped into the system from February until June.

Newlands Albion Spring (3MLD) is in operation, with Oranjezicht spring (1MLD) having been routed into the reticulation system.

Water re-use at Zandvlei (10MLD) on the Cape Flats, is on track to start from June. Macassar, Potsdam and Athlone will start next year.

The department is reviewing licences for waste water treatment works to expand re-use opportunities.

In conclusion, Ms Mokoyane called on agriculture and industry to make use of innovations and that household consumers should be provided with practical tips on how to reduce and re-use water.

“In the same way that the Department rolled out support to provinces during the 2014 drought, the department will continue to work in the Western Cape to avert Day Zero,” Ms Mokoyane said.

Ms Limberg said in light of the recent water crisis, the proposed draft Water Amendment By-law had been opened for public comment early last month and was due to close today.

The existing water by-law, amended in 2015, was a progressive piece of legislation, which, among other things, looked at the change in Cape Town’s demographics and associated water demand scenarios and water wise strategy.

In 2015 the by-law was amended to ensure that the City could adequately monitor and control water-related services and also to oversee the plumbing industry. However, due to the impact of the worst drought in recorded history, the by-law requires further amendments.

Key proposals now include:

Reducing the demand on the municipal water supply by expanding the regulations on alternative water use and efficient plumbing fittings;

Enhancing enforcement of the by-law in relation to plumbers within the metro;

And strengthening the requirements for sub-metering on properties that have multiple accommodation units.

Ms Limberg said council would be reaching out to the coalition to discuss their concerns and possible contributions to raising awareness about water efficiency.

“The amendments seek to move Cape Town towards becoming a more resilient, water-sensitive city.This is another action to ensure that we are able not only to survive droughts of the magnitude that we are currently experiencing, but that we can thrive despite intense droughts,” she said.

“It also sets out the roles and responsibilities of water users to ensure that we all take responsibility for conservation-based water management practices,” said Ms Limberg.

She said it specifically dealt with new developments and the replacement of plumbing devices to save water.

Ms Limberg also emphasised that residents were asked to register their alternate water sources, after which they would be given a signboard to display on their property.

However, she said, “The City does not have the capacity to vet every single application.”

Coalition co-ordinator Ebrahiem Fourie said there were cheaper ways for the City to access water but residents had not been consulted.

He acknowledged the work of various rights groups like the Development Action Group, Environmental Monitoring Group and Reclaim Camissa, who have over several years raised the need for planning for water scarcity and the need for alternative water sources.

“These include the re-use of stormwater; the use of treated sewage for recharging the aquifers; sanitation; and for recycling into the potable water systems; as well as the use of natural springs for potable water systems; the research and development of ecologically sound and cost effective farming methods that could drastically reduce farming water usage by 50%,” read the memorandum.

Mr Fourie said many working class families had long been bathing in buckets; thereby saving water. “The have long been making use of the bare minimum.

“There is widespread unemployment and low wages. Millions cannot afford bottled water nor any increase in water tariffs.

“Commodification, the selling for profit, of water and services means death and disease, for many,” he said.

Mr Fourie said as representatives of civil society, they would actively seek mandates on how the government should be held responsible and called on government to take ownership of water resources and services to ensure they are not privatised.

The coalition is also still refusing the installation of the water management device, arguing that it is not SABS approved.

They called on the City for drastic and consistent reduction of water pressure at strategic times; and for an urgent campaign to fix the leaks.

“Fixing all of the leaks could immediately save 100 million litres of water per day,” said Mr Fourie.

The coalition has rejected the proposed amendments to the water by-law and also called for the protection of natural springs against privatisation.