De Lille: consider drought to be the new normal

water shortage

It’s the last day of May and Cape Town, which should be experiencing the first of its winter rains, has only received a few sporadic sprinklings. With dam levels at 19.7% this week – effectively 9.7%, as the last 10% is not considered usable – this is an extremely worrying scenario and one which Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille addressed during a full Council meeting this morning.

She noted that the Mother City has actually been subject to water restrictions since 2005, but that they were intensified in December 2015, as it became increasingly clear that Cape Town was entering a period of severe drought. Over the past 18 months, Capetonians have been progressively reducing their water usage, but consumption still remains above the communal target of 600 million litres a day.

“I am disappointed that the target is not being met, and I know there is room for improvement from many people who may not yet understand the serious situation this city is in,” De Lille said in her address, adding that it was time to take serious stock of the situation and test the City’s traditional water management assumptions.

“What has worked very well in the past may not be the best model going forward,” she explained.

Water Scarcity as the New Normal

Citing the unpredictability of Climate Change, De Lille said that developing a new relationship with water is absolutely vital and that scarcity of this resource should be considered – what she calls – the ‘New Normal’.

“We all need to change our approach to scarcity. It does not mean that our lives should be diminished or the economy negatively affected. The New Normal is an opportunity for us to significantly change our approach to water,” she said.

Emerging from De Lille’s speech is a strategic shift toward resilience, as opposed to trying to remain within rigid structures that are no longer relevant to the City’s current situation. It is, in fact, one of the key principles included in the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) for 2017-2022 which was passed by Council on Tuesday.

She noted that the building of resilience comes down to an increasing capacity for individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kind of stresses and acute shocks they experience.

Water Resilience Task Team

In line with this, De Lille suggested that a Water Resilience Task Team be established under the leadership of the City’s recently appointed Chief Resilience Officer, Craig Kesson.

This team will be expected to lead a new, urgent and programmatic approach to water in Cape Town, starting with the improvement of the state of readiness for acute water shortages, which they will be working on with the Disaster Management Department.

To ensure that the task team remains fully informed and adequately advised, De Lille also tabled a proposal for a Water Resilience Advisory Committee, which will include a variety of stakeholders and experts, ranging from academics to members of communities. Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services; and Energy, Councillor Xanthea Limberg will serve as chair for this committee.

Level 4B

While it is expected that Level 4 water restrictions be approved and implemented today, De Lille asked that Council – who will not be meeting again till the end of July – also support further restrictions in the form of Level 4B to be implemented in the next 60 days.

“Such restrictions would be more closely aligned with a 500 million litre per day goal, and would be consequently more restrictive,” she said.

Alternative water augmentation solutions

Although the past few decades have seen the city relying heavily on winter rains to replenish surface water, De Lille said it was high time that non-surface water options be embraced whole-heartedly.

Various small scale augmentation schemes are currently being put in place to increase non-surface supply options, which include drawing water from the Table Mountain Group aquifer, the Cape Flats aquifer, as well as small-scale desalination at Koeberg. However, it’s evident that even more temporary water augmentation solutions need to be brought forward.

“Over the next four weeks, we will work tirelessly to bring online even more modular desalination and water reuse options,” De Lille stated, adding that the City will be doing everything in their power to ensure that no matter the state of rainfall over the coming months and indeed over the next year, enough water  remains available to not drop below 500m litres per day.

Featured illustration: Quasiem Gamiet

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