Cape Town’s water (mis)management crisis
No to profiteering!
by Rose Lichtenstein, Cape Town WASP
Cape Town is facing its worst drought in almost 100 years. Rainfall was at a 100 year low two years in a row, and the dams that supply 98% of Cape Town’s potable water are currently only 26% full. The biggest, Theewaterskloof Dam, is only at 13%. Once a dam is below 10%, it becomes very difficult to extract water. This is the reality Cape Town is faced with today.
The City of Cape Town has pushed the narrative that ‘Day Zero’ will happen, and the only way to avoid it, is to reduce individual water usage. Day Zero is supposedly the day the taps will run dry, because there is no water left in the dams. Four million Capetonians will have to collect a 25 litre daily allocation of water from less than 200 water collection points. Schools, hospitals, and the CBD will not have their water turned off.
What is missing from the news is the fact that the City of Cape Town reported water loss at a rate of 106 million litres per day due to infrastructure failures for 2017 – 20 million litres per day more than that of 2015 and 2016. That amounts to 19.3% of the current demand of about 550 million litres per day. When we take this and the agricultural use into account, residential usage amounts to a mere 63 litres per person per day.
Despite this evidence of significant savings from residents, the government continues to fear monger with talks about Day Zero, unjustly scolding the people for not doing their share to save water. Blackmail tactics are being used to install water management devices, with false promises to fix leaks and write-off inflated water bills, limiting households to 200 litres of water per day. When leaks are not fixed, this allocation runs out within hours before automatic shut-off engages. This leaves the household with nothing until 4am the next day. Note that the allocation is calculated on the City’s clearly false assumption that an “average” household consists of four individuals – just another indictment on the City’s complete disconnect from the people it supposedly serves.
As far back as the 90s scientists have warned the City of Cape Town that a decline in rainfall and incline in population would lead to a water supply shortage. At the root of this crisis lies a lack of planning for alternative water supply and storage options, as well as negligence in maintaining existing municipal infrastructure that make up the water supply system. This ultimately indicates a failure by all levels of government to the people of Cape Town, but currently city, provincial, and national governments are too busy playing politics to engage in meaningful public consultation to explore rational, affordable, and sustainable solutions.
Profiteering from disaster
The one unifying factor amidst the petty squabbling of the career politicians is the beckoning of a lucrative desalination public-private partnership. Make no mistake, the only role of the public in these partnerships is to ensure the private sector can profit off the resources that constitutionally and ethically belong to the people. With projections from the City of Cape Town that one large scale plant will cost R14,9 billion to implement and R1,2 billion per year to run, it is clear that government is using the conditions of crisis to rush through a tender that will impact the people of Cape Town for generations. The only question seems to be, which party gets to award this lucrative tender?
Regardless of the environmental impact, massive energy requirement, and unaffordability of extracting fresh water from the sea, these plants take 2-3 years to build and therefore make for a terrible intervention in a drought. Immediate interventions – such as removing water-guzzling alien vegetation from the areas surrounding supply dams and their catchment areas; fixing all leaks on public and private property; updating and maintenance of infrastructure; extracting groundwater sustainably with artificial recharge; recycling wastewater; and harvesting the water of the Camissa springs currently flowing underneath the CBD through sewers and storm water drains into the ocean – have the potential to not only increase our water supply in a matter of weeks, but provide many jobs and training opportunities for residents.
WASP has joined more than 70 organisations from various backgrounds in forming the Water Crisis Coalition (WCC). The main aim of the WCC is to reject the privatization of our water and the fear mongering of Day Zero, and explore sustainable and rational water management options. The WCC has grown in less than a month’s time to include several community committees. The coalition has successfully pressured AB InBev (formerly SABmiller) to open to the public 24/7 the spring they claim ‘heritage rights’ to, increase the access points of the spring, and provide paid security during the night. Currently the WCC is pushing for distribution of the spring water to communities that cannot access it.
On 28 January the WCC organized a protest against the mismanagement of our water by all tiers of government. Hundreds of concerned citizens participated in voicing their frustrations, community-specific struggles, and handing over the WCC memorandum to the Minister of Water and Sanitation. The Western Cape Premier and Cape Town Mayor chose to ignore the invitations extended to them by the coalition.
Efforts to meet with all tiers of government have proven a waste of time, with ministry officials for the National Department of Water and Sanitation indicating that “harmonizing relations” between the DA-led city and province and the ANC-led national government must happen before a public consultation process can occur. While government sits in boardrooms shifting blame and negotiating their slices of the desalination pie, it is clear that the WCC’s energy is better spent in continuing to organize communities, schools, and workplaces, and build a true mass movement against the rush to privatize our resource.
We Stand For:
- Free, sufficient and accessible water for all; STOP cut-offs, metering, punitive tariffs/levies and Water Management Devices!
- A rational water plan managed by democratically elected committees from the communities affected.
- The responsible use, recycling, and rehabilitation of our water resources to ensure its health for future generations.
- NO TO PRIVATIZATION—stop robbing the working class and poor of their water. Kick out the tenderpreneurs!
- FIX THE LEAKS—maintenance and infrastructure public works initiatives that prevent water wastage and provide permanent, well-paid jobs.
- STOP THE LOOTING: Private water bottling companies and breweries must pay for using our water! Luxury tax on unnecessary water guzzling entities like golf courses and wine exporters.
- Protect whistleblowers! Workers reps to ensure full compliance of industry with water restriction measures. No loss of pay or jobs from production slowdowns.
- NO TO FEAR MONGERING AND SCARE TACTICS—Democratic control of disaster relief. Community assemblies to elect accountable and recallable representatives to scrutinise all disaster relief processes in their community.
- Nationalization of commercial farms that control 95% of agricultural land, and implementation of sustainable agricultural water practices. Farms should be in harmony with the community, not competing with us for resources.