Water warning for one of South Africa’s biggest cities

The City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation directorate has advised residents to be more cautious about their water usage as the current rainfall is noticeably lower than the previous hydrological year.

“The city’s Bulk Water Branch has reported that, at this stage, the current season’s rainfall and its projections both indicate that it is likely that this hydrological year’s rainfall will be below average. The city is carefully monitoring the situation and engaging with stakeholders to ensure water resources are optimised,” the municipality said.

“We thank our residents as well as the agriculture and urban sectors which have continued to be mindful of their water usage and still implement water saving efforts. The lower water demand has benefited the system.

“However, we want to caution that the data from this hydrological year mirrors what has previously been experienced in drier years. Thus, the potential of having a sequence of drier periods cannot be excluded,” said councillor Zahid Badroodien, the city’s mayoral committee member for Water and Sanitation.

“We have learnt in the drought to follow a cautious risk-averse approach to water resource management and therefore would like to remind everyone to continue with water conservation measures. I also want to thank everybody for their support.”

Cape Town was hit with a severe drought four years ago which forced the city’s more than 4 million residents to halve their daily consumption.

Cape Town’s latest dam levels stand at 75.5%. This time last year, dam levels were at 97.5%, the city said.

Following a comprehensive study of potential long-term climate change impacts, the city said it is assuming a reduction of 25% in water availability from both surface and groundwater sources over a 30-year planning horizon.

This is marginally more than initially assumed in the Water Strategy (2019) and is based on an innovative calculation methodology. The modelling also indicates that as a result of climate change, rainfall is expected to be experienced later in the typical rainfall season.

The city said its New Water Programme aims to bring more water online to ensure a safe, reliable supply for years to come through groundwater abstraction, desalination and water reuse, as well as optimising surface supply through clearing thirsty invasive alien vegetation.

The Department of Water Sanitation has also warned of deteriorating water supplies in and around the Nelson Mandela Bay area, describing the situation as ‘dire’.

A severe drought has depleted dams in the southern Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, which includes the coastal city of Gqeberha, with three of the main reservoirs that supply about a third of its 1.3 million people close to empty.

Much of the remaining water is of poor quality and the overuse of chemicals to treat it has led to the deaths of at least two children, livestock and vegetation.

Bloomberg reported that underinvestment in water and electricity infrastructure makes South African towns and cities vulnerable to events such as floods and disruptions in these services can be a credit risk for some municipalities, citing Moody’s Investors Service.

Capital expenditure in most of the country’s municipalities that Moody’s rate is below the 10% to 20% of total spending recommended by the National Treasury to ensure that infrastructure needs are addressed, the ratings company said in an emailed report in July.

“Physical climate events like floods and droughts can also expose infrastructure deficiencies and lead to severe water stress or blackouts,” Moody’s said. “These events can damage already poor infrastructure even further, like the severe flooding and landslides did in the south and southeast of the country in April 2022.”

South African cities and towns have been plagued by financial mismanagement, bad service delivery and crumbling road, water and electricity infrastructure for years. Severe droughts and flooding have added to challenges in delivering basic services, Bloomberg said.


Read: Government says situation ‘dire’ as Nelson Mandela Bay runs out of water

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Water warning for one of South Africa’s biggest cities