The Western Cape is continuing to bare the brunt of the country’s worst drought since 1904. While eight of the nine provinces have been able to survive due to the water that gets caught by Lesotho’s towering mountains, the Western Cape’s population of 3.2 million people relies on six big dams along with the Berg and Breede rivers.

As of Monday 14 August, The City of Cape Town revealed the following water dam level statistics:

In addition to level 4b water restrictions which are still firmly in place, the city has implemented further conservation efforts which sees residents urged to use no more than 87 liters per person per day, or 500 million liters per day collectively – a target we are still a long way from meeting.

Under the latest restrictions, bathing should be avoided, showers limited to no longer than two minutes, gardens should not be watered with drinking water, and flushing of toilets must be kept to a minimum.

While it is crucial for residents to reduce their water consumption, the City of Cape Town has come under fire for their water mismanagement and seemingly casual stance towards the crisis. Regional head of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Rashid Khan has called for more serious intervention by the city and a look into alternate water sources.

He said: “Cape Town needs a more serious intervention with water. Even though we have done well with restrictions, we must look at the recycling of water. This includes underground water.”

“The rainfall we have had is not filling up our dams which is why we have to look at alternate sources of water.”

Western Cape Dam Levels

This has been echoed by environmental expert Dr Nicholas King, who said investment needs to go into desalination and extracting of water from underground.

However, plans to capture and store water are overseen by a small unit at the national Department of Water and Sanitation and are drawn up in “reconcilliation scenarios.” According to these scenarios, desalination was ruled out as the ‘last option’ earlier this year due to it’s high cost. The province said a plant would cost R16.5 billion to build and a further R1.2 billion a year to operate. The large amount of electricity needed to get salt out of the seawater pushes up the cost while on-going economic and population growth means the technology would need to be replaced as soon as the year 2030.

The severity of the drought however has accelerated the use of this option. A small desalination plant has been planned along the lines of the already up-and-running emergency plant in Richards Bay, Kwa-Zulu Natal. The Western Cape already possess a desalination plant in the town of Lambert’s Bay.

Other options from the reconciliation scenarios include building a new Voelvlei dam near Tulbagh (23 million cubic meters of water), tapping into the Table Mountain aquifer (20 million), and reusing water (40 million). The City of Cape Town plans to explore the option of the Table Mountain aquifers, which are expected to yield about two million liters per day. Critical institutions such as hospitals will drill boreholes.

In May this year, premier Helen Zille declared the Western Cape a disaster zone in order to unlock funds and by-pass bureaucracy. This was to support the province’s strategy to ensure that the taps do not run dry. The province plans to spend more than R300 million towards the crisis over the next three years.

Photography Farah Khalfe

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