Capetonians have been warned that many of them could be just four months away from dramatic changes to their daily lives, resulting from the water crisis.
The warning came from one of the country’s top water experts – Bill Harding, who is an ecologist specialising in aquatic ecosystems and environmental law.
“If the water runs out, the daily economy as we know it is going to stall. I am amazed by the public apathy that appears to pervade as Cape Town now races towards the end of water,” he said.
“Being this close to the possibility of CT running out of water suggests that a phased shut-down of big water users – schools, universities, large corporates, non-essential industry, perhaps even tourism and sporting events – should by now be in play?
“Schools and universities, inter alia, might need to stay closed for an extended period next year until the rains return.
“Can mothers continue to go to work if their day-care centres close because there is no water? What happens to their ability to earn? Will banks freeze payments on housing loans for a period?
“Will dialysis clinics, which use a lot of water, function as normal – or will patients need to relocate?
“How will conditions be managed in the many frail-care homes and institutions for the aged?
“And I have yet to hear a single word regarding the need to not neglect to provide water for pets.
“Has the acquisition of sufficient water tankers been planned for, to get water to key points across the city?
Harding questioned whether water-intensive industries, such as beverages and bottling, will be asked to relocate to other cities?
“At some point elements of the economy are going to fold. Should it not already progressively be deflating? Is the city telling us the full story,” he questioned?
He suggested that all the crisis scenarios must have been considered by city planners.
“I have to hope that detailed and comprehensive plans are being prepared to guide Cape Town’s residents when the taps run dry,” he said.
He expressed concern that the planning for dealing with the water crisis appears to be happening far too late.
“They have known for half a century that CT would have reached its limits by now. Added to this are the predictions on climate-change induced changes to weather patterns in the South African southwest.
“We should already have begun desalination and should have focused on the re-use of wastewater for non-potable purposes. True resilience planning requires layers of redundancy which, in terms of drought protection, suggests wastewater reuse and desalination should have already become established.
“A substantial pilot desalination plant could already have been in place at the Koeberg power station,” he said.
Harding was at odds with what he called the city’s “bizarrely administration-heavy” calls for desalination tenders.
“They have been dithering with desalination tenders. This does not equate with a true sense of emergency, at least not to me,” he suggested.
He also warned that “the biggest question is what will happen if next year there is no more rain than there has been this year? That gives us food for thought.
“It is increasingly improbable that heavy rains will occur in the Voelvlei and Theewaterskloof catchments before next winter, rendering the end of water more of a fact than a possibility.”
He noted that as temperatures climb in Cape Town, the rate of evaporation loss from dams will increase, the quality of the water remaining will decrease, while demand for water is also expected to rise with the influx of visitors.
“I assume all of this is in the minds of the city planners,” Harding concluded. “I certainly hope so.”
“Many Capetonians could be about to experience the rigours of ‘water apartheid’ that have been the daily experience of so many South Africans for so long – and continue to be so in many places.
“As such, the ‘end of water’ might be a very useful societal leveller, out of which could emerge a robust discourse on the need for a socially just and truly ecological society.”