Water crisis a local disaster

The City of Cape Town has officially declared the drought crisis a local disaster with there being approximately 113 days of useable water left.

In an attempt to name and shame the big water wasters, the City last week released the names of the top 100 users with two Mitchell’s Plain residents, in Lentegeur and Colorado Park, included on the list.

In Lentegeur, the Salie Street home apparently used an average of 330 000 litres a month and in Montana Road, Colorado Park,
441 000 litres were used. According to the City, the use of 330 000 litres would bring in a bill of R58 000 while the Montana Road property owner would have to pay R80 000 for one month.

“In order to ensure that the City is prepared for all eventualities, it has declared a local disaster in terms of Section 55 of the Disaster Management Act,” Mayor Patricia de Lille said on Monday March 6.

She added that this declaration is valid for a period of three months but can be extended on a month-to-month basis by notice in the Gazette. A council decision is not required.

“This declaration is not an excuse for our residents not to carry on reducing consumption. There are so many great water ambassadors. Without you, we would have been in more serious trouble. We thank the many residents and businesses who are working with us to save water

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, said before publishing a list of streets where high consumers live, the City cross-checked the list and removed the customers for whom they could find a record of steps taken to query their account, apply for an underground leaks rebate, or enter a payment arrangement.

She said the City is visiting these properties with water inspectors in order to assist these customers in bringing their usage under control.

The Plainsman visited the two Mitchell’s Plain streets on the top 100 list.

The Lentegeur resident, Shahieda Allie, said she was very upset when she saw details about her water bill being released.

She insists they are not water wasters and that the high consumption reading was due to an error with the water meter.

“We couldn’t understand why our water bill was so high because we do not use so much water. As a household we too are trying to save water. I have called and have been to the Promenade Mall branch to enquire and inform them about certain leakages and water problems,” she said.

When the Plainsman arrived at Ms Allie’s home, City staff were working on the water meter. Ms Allie said: “I feel much better that they are now working on the problem because it was very embarrassing for me and my family,” she said.

Rico Petrouski from Lentegeur said he too was concerned about the water crisis in Cape Town.

“We all are trying our best to save water because now it is a reality. Personally, I reuse water when I wash and to do the laundry because I am aware of the situation,” he said.

The Plainsman visited Montana Street, but could not find the resident with the high water consumption listed.

Ms Limberg said as of Monday March 6, the city had 21.5 percent of useable water remaining in the dams supplying Cape Town.

“This should be enough to see us through until June, even if there is no rain, provided residents keep saving,” she said.

According to the City, level 1, 2 and 3 water restrictions correspond with a requirement to reduce consumption by 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent. Level 3B was introduced after the original Level 3 restrictions failed to realise the necessary savings. This was effective since February 1 and applicable when dam levels are critically low. It includes severe water restrictions and charging households and businesses more for water usage.

When questioned about the action plan regarding the low dam levels, Ms Limberg said it is not practically possible to build a new supply scheme quickly enough to compensate for a drought.

Hence the City is given licence by the National Government to implement restrictions during times of abnormally low rainfall.

“Building new schemes is part of our plans, however, and we will look into accelerating our medium- to long-term programme to bring some of these plans forward,” she said.

She added that the City has implemented restrictions from January 1, pre-empting any instruction from the national government to do so.

Aquatic ecologist Professor Jenny Day said it was unfortunate that the city published the list before finding out the circumstances in each case.

“I gather (but only from the radio) that these immense amounts of wasted water were due to burst pipes. It’s hard to know how to prevent this from happening, because most burst pipes are underground and therefore not visible.

“So it is horrendous that these considerable amounts of water are wasted, but this was (it seems) not due to deliberate overuse of water,” she said.

Professor Day said it implied that we should all look at our water meters every few days to make sure that this doesn’t happen to us.

“By the way, there is no doubt that there are some real water wasters – the City should (and in fact I think they intend to) visit all the ‘culprits’ to identify those who deliberately over-use water,” she said.

Speaking about proposed solutions to the problem, Professor Day said there was no short answer for this. She said we would probably have sufficient water for normal purposes, (including watering the garden, for a few years.

“Then as the city grows, and climate change kicks in even more, we will be in water deficit. It is possible to upgrade a couple of dams, to use more ground water, to recycle sewage effluent, to manage our water use more efficiently and more ethically, to desalinate, and so on, but none of these is actually going to make the problem go away,” she said.

According to the City, over the period November last year to February , an average of 850 million litres of water was used.

Ms Limberg said this was 16 percent lower than the average of 1 015 billion litres per day used between November last year and February, during which Level 2 restrictions were voluntarily implemented and 21 percent lower than the average of 1 075 billion litres per day used between November 2014 to February last year, which was prior to the imposition of restrictions.