The past few years have seen a gradual decline in dam levels in the Western Cape, leading to a point where Day Zero became a real possibility for Capetonians in 2018. The threat of Day Zero was always there, but this year it became more real. So, what can the rest of the provinces learn about water management from the situation in the Western Cape?
Firstly, the problem is not unique to Cape Town. Johannesburg faced a similar threat in 2015, and cities such as Port Elizabeth have also had their share of water scares. That’s not to mention the numerous town and municipalities across South Africa that also have declining dam levels and increasing water cuts, such as Grahamstown and Jeffreys Bay.
The Western Cape’s situation gathered international attention, but many smaller provinces and municipalities are in a similar situation. The main lesson is that situations can escalate rapidly if adequate planning and participation on all levels is not implemented.
Everyone can play a role in looking after water
The drought condition in South Africa is becoming harsher every year as less rain falls annually and more water is consumed by a growing population. To tackle this national problem, a complete collaboration between government, organisations, businesses and society needs to take place.
Water management in all provinces can be improved at various levels of government and by the organisations that own the infrastructure and manage the supply. The responsibility for water provision lies within these civic structures, however, the onus of using water wisely lies with ordinary citizens.
Water is such a precious commodity and we all need to appreciate its value. We take it for granted until it runs out. We are quick to blame the government for not planning ahead when dam levels drop, but we neglect the fact that our water consumption is simply too high.
Indeed, engineers and technicians often pursue jobs in the private sector, but these positions are in-demand at municipalities across South Africa. We need experts to maintain existing dams and to build new ones, and government can facilitate job creation to open doors for certified engineers within their departments.
Is the answer to build new dams?
A recent report by the 2030 Water Resources Group suggests that South Africa’s demand for water will outweigh its supply in the next decade. They state that rapid urban growth and a rapidly increasing population will put more demand on the water supplies if no new solutions are developed.
The logical answer is to build more dams, but this requires billions of rands and years of development. The proposed Polihali Dam in Lesotho will supply Gauteng with water, but the project has been met with various delays. At best, the dam will be completed in 2025.
Building new dams may take too long, so the next best solution is to repair and maintain the existing infrastructure properly. Dams that have been neglected or old, rusty pumps and pipes need to be looked after and replaced. Again, this costs a lot of money so funding solutions and re-budgeting will need to be implemented.
Leaking pipes account for up to 36% of wasted water. Municipalities are trying to stay on top of leaks but sometimes they go unnoticed if the pipes are deep underground. Similarly, water treatment plants should also fix dripping pipes and stop leakages where possible.
The last resort is water restrictions – they are highly unpopular and nobody wants them, so government tries not to implement them where possible. Forums do exist where all authorities in water planning and supply can collaborate on alternate solutions, but these solutions need to be acted upon timeously.
Current solutions being implemented
New technology and early warning forecast systems are being implemented in various municipalities as a result of the Western Cape scare. Updated hydrological records are being used to predict water demands in the future, which then drive planning and better management strategies.
The best strategy to combat water shortage is to reduce demand by using less water at home and in the office. Everyone has a responsibility to use less water, and as Capetonians have shown, it is possible to survive on a greatly reduced supply. Working together, they managed to avoid Day Zero for another year.
Image credit: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp
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