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Drought-stricken Cape Town ‘waiting on a miracle’

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Amidst what has been called the worst drought in Cape Town in 100 years, a city official told delegates at the African Utility Week conference there was no way they could reasonably have anticipated the severity of this drought.

Cape Town residents are now bracing themselves for level 4 restrictions.

Gisela Kaiser, a city official who addressed delegates at the conference says that, despite water restrictions, citizens are now essentially “waiting on a miracle”.

By last Friday the dam levels were already at 21,6% down from 70% in 2015 at the start of water restrictions. Kaiser says that, on the brink of winter when heavier rains are expected, meteorologists now warn this winter will be as dry as the previous two.

“Nothing can be taken for granted anymore,” she says.

With the help of consumers and water restrictions the city has managed to cut down consumption and has so far saved up the equivalent of the Wemmershoek dam of about 59-million cubic metres which translates into about “23 600 swimming pools or approximately 295 million baths”, she says.

Meanwhile, Kaiser says water losses have been reduced from about 25% in 2009 to below 15% as of today. She attributes this to various interventions among which are the rate of pipe bursts that the city managed to reduce. “It is less than half from 64 bursts per 100km back in 2010 to 31 bursts per 100km  – saving millions of litres of water.

She adds that the city is doing everything it can to serve almost 4 -million people, “bearing in mind that Cape Town is a water scarce region and South Africa is the 31st driest country in the world.

“We know that modelling the past to predict the future is not full proof, but there is no way we could reasonably have anticipated the severity of the drought at the time. Whenever water strategy is created it is informed by historical water patterns,” she adds.

According to Kaiser, additional water supply schemes for the region were deferred before the drought took hold. “The decision to defer plans for supply schemes was followed by exceptionally low rainfall.

“At the time, it was not practical to set aside billions of rands for a rainy day that might not come while there are more pressing humanitarian needs.”

She also refers to desalination plants as being hailed as a possible alternative, but says there is no way it could be built to scale quickly enough to compensate for such a drought.

Meanwhile Justin Friedman, founder of FLOW (For Love of Water), again called on industry leaders and stakeholders present to sign a pledge to commit themselves to water conservation. Friedman tells delegates this commitment can be in the form of money, time, actions or resources – all of which can make a difference in water consumption.