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Tackling water woes

Online since 9.03.2018 • Filed under News & Views • From Issue 23 page(s) 22-23
Tackling water woes

Understanding the current water crisis being experienced in the Western

Cape involves a mixed set of both long-term and short-term observations. At the time of writing, the issue is far from over, but the volume of public debate has been intense around this issue.


Trying to distil the facts and arguments that are out in public, it seems as if:

• The authorities were warned as far back as 2000 concerning the water consumption vector in the Western Cape, backed up by a report presented by the SA Biodiversity Institute in year 2005.

• Inadequate planning and implementation of additional bulk collection and storage infrastructure (dams) has occurred, a situation for which City and Provincial officials have blamed on the national water department.

• During 2015, when the onset of a drought was proven by our declining rainfall patterns, there was an increase in the use of potable water by consumers as evidenced by a spike in the volume of dam water through treatment plants.

• Aggressive public, agriculture and business water usage reduction regulations have only been implemented since late 2017, despite the City being aware of warnings by leading academics in early 2017 that a ‘day zero’ was looking likely in 2018.

• The impacts of climate change, accelerated by humankind-induced global warming are causing a sinister change in weather events across the globe.

• Political infighting, not only between the different spheres of government but also within the City, has bedevilled a clean and coordinated approach. According to activist group, Ground Up, the City of Cape Town’s population has grown 79% since 1995, from about 2.4 million to an expected 4.3 million in 2018. Over the same period dam storage has increased by only 15%.


The Berg River Dam, which began storing water in 2007, has been Cape Town’s only significant addition to water storage infrastructure since 1995. Its 130 000 mega litre capacity is over 14% of the 898 000 mega litres that can be held in Cape Town’s large dams. Had it not been for good water consumption management by the City, the current crisis could have arrived at a much earlier date. The question is why additional resources were not brought to bear at a much earlier stage to prevent the inevitable crisis. In a statement to Ground Up, the mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, Xanthea Limberg, said: ‘The City, as early as 2000, started implementing aggressive pressure management technology, infrastructure maintenance and public education initiatives to drive water conservation and water demand management.’ . (Ref: Exactly what is meant by ‘pressure management’ is at present unclear. Mayoral Committee members and various local politicians have glibly used this term as if it provides a solution to the city’s water woes. TO BUILD magazine approached the City’s media department to ask its engineers to explain this concept. Despite asking this question towards the end of January, the City has not provided a coherent answer nearly three weeks later – maybe because the use of the term ‘pressure management’ is misleading and more correctly should be referred to as ‘water flowrate reduction’. The confusion is apparent when reading the city’s advisory pamphlet entitled ‘Guide on Water Rationing – Reduced Water Supply’ as sent to editor by the City media department.


Role of the built environment

Businesses in Cape Town have to implement effective water-saving measures in a bid to avoid the looming reality of taps being turned off when water storage reaches 13,5%. According to a statement issued by the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC), the shopping centre and retail industry in Cape Town have already begun rolling out plans and campaigns to cope with the approaching Day Zero. Aspects of the retail and shopping centre industry that are directly affected by this crisis are:


Building safety: All major shopping centres are sprinkler protected. The reduction in water pressure results in inadequate pressure for sprinklers to operate.


Food preparation: Restaurants and supermarkets need water to trade. Water supply interruptions impact on their business and also pose a health risk insofar that necessary cleaning cannot be done.


Ablutions: Toilets need to be flushed. The inability to do so poses another health hazard to businesses, staff, tenants and customers. Property companies are doing their part to keep tenants and customers happy during this crisis by implementing various measures to control the situation. In situations like this, it is critical that all stakeholders collaborate to ensure the best possible outcome for all. The SACSC reports the following examples of programmes being implemented by major operators in retail property:


V&A Waterfront (Growthpoint Properties)

Stephan Le Roux, the director of Growthp

Issue 23

Issue 23

March 2018

This article was featured on page 22-23 of
To Build Magazine Issue 23.

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