What Happens if the Water Runs Out? We Asked the City of Cape Town

Last week the City of Cape Town warned residents that dam levels had hit a low of 21.2%. This leaves the city with only around 11.2% usable water.

The question that has been in some peoples’ minds became even more prominent – what happens if the water runs out?

CompareGuru reached out to the city to find out what plans are in place if the worst happens.

This is what we found out….

What Is The City Currently Doing?

The municipality has been heavily focused on water usage reduction. It states that it is the most effective means to prevent water from running out and falls in line with international best practice.

“It must be emphasised that REDUCING CONSUMPTION NOW remains the absolute key intervention. This is the contingency measure that can be made at this stage and going forward,” the city said in a statement sent to CompareGuru.

“The City, in cooperation with residents and businesses, has managed to reduce consumption dramatically by approximately 400 million litres per day. This is down from about 1,2 billion litres per day for roughly the same time last year. But consumption must be lowered further.”

Some locals have been sceptical of the plan. The main feeling is that the municipality is relying on rains that have been unseasonably late.

Others have criticised the city for not implementing stricter solutions sooner.

But the City is remaining firm on implementing the restrictions. 

“Those who will not reduce their consumption voluntarily will increasingly be forced to reduce consumption,” the city said.

“Consideration is being given to a number of short- and medium-term initiatives. These are in terms of advancing the implementation of some of the phases of the planned water augmentation schemes.”

The city states that it has also been focusing on leaks and water pressure issues to curb demand.

But the city’s press releases and statements to the public hadn’t outlined much in terms of emergency procedures should the water run out.

“Other emergency interventions are under way, and if required, the City will start to implement a lifeline supply of water across the metro,” the city said in one of its previous statements.

We pushed harder to get a more detailed answer on the ultimate question on residents’ minds.

So What If The Water Runs Out?

We asked the city to provide more details on the emergency procedures in place.

Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services, and Energy, Xanthea Limberg, provided some more details.

She emphasised why the city is not relying on emergency procedures like desalinisation to increase the supply.

“It is not possible to fast-track supply schemes of sufficient scale that they can act as a safety net. As such, a focused effort from all residents to save water remains of utmost importance,” she said.

She said that the city may bring on stream emergency schemes which will supply small volumes of water.

If the worst-case scenario does happen, and we reach the last 10%, Limberg said that three steps will be taken:

  • Implement ‘lifeline’ water supply, which would involve minimal supply pressures, intermittent supply, and very stringent restrictions. Should we reach a stage of ‘lifeline’ supply, some areas may be provided with water using water tankers. 
  • Follow all legal, legislative and Council processes to expedite our medium-term infrastructure development plans
  • Consider installation of water management devices for those who do not limit consumption

In the meantime, residents can expect more drops in water pressure which may lead to intermittent supply for some areas.

“The bottom line is that we are in a water-scarce region and with significant climactic uncertainty. We must all become much more savvy with our water use. How long our water lasts hinges on residents playing their part,” Limberg said.

Other Alternatives?

A Water Indaba was hosted in Rawsonville last week, where more details were given on the City of Cape Town’s water plan.

Limberg’s presentation outline accelerated water supply schemes and their estimated costs. These include:

  • TMG Aquifer (R85million): Development of well fields into deep aquifer at Steenbras, Wemmershoek and Theewaterskloof Dams
  • Seawater Desalination Package Plant (R100million): Primarily for sea water quality data acquisition as well as to improve supply security in Atlantis
  • Wastewater Re-usage (R120million): Treatment of effluent from Zandvliet WWTW for direct or indirect injection into bulk water supply system.
  • Cape Flats Aquifer & Atlantis Aquifer (R50million): Incremental drilling of boreholes to abstract water from the Cape Flats Aquifer in Mitchells Plain as well as expansion of well fields in Atlantis
  • Voelvlei Augmentation (R300million): DWS Scheme – Pumped transfer of water from Berg River to Voelvlei Dam

Altogether, these emergency schemes would cost R655million, but would only supply an extra 90 Megalitres (Ml) per day.

The city is, therefore, sticking to their restriction plan, which cost R10million to implement but save a total of 100Ml per day.

Minster for Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane stated that divers were clearing dam floors in the Western Cape to allow for the last 10% of water to be extracted.

Worries Continue

Distrust has been festering as residents become more panicked about the water situation in Cape Town.

Adding to the worry are hoaxes which have claimed that municipal water is no longer safe to drink and will give residents stomach problems.

The City however assured residents that the water is safe to drink.

This hasn’t stopped a wave of criticism though. Social media users have not hesitated to complain that the city took too long to respond to the crisis.

“You should have done more than just wrung your hands until now,” one Twitter user said.

Others said that the water crisis was foreseen years ago, for which the city should have prepared.

Our question has therefore yet to be answered! What will actually happen if the water runs out?

What are your thoughts?

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