Siyabonga Sesant - Cape Argus -
Cape Town - The severe drought which had gripped Cape Town, sending officials scurrying for solutions to the worsening water crisis in the region, has resulted in a number of desperate measures being put into place.
The municipality, which caters to a population of more than 3.7 million, has announced usable water left in dams would only last for about 99 days – but mayor Patricia de Lille has allayed fears taps would run dry.
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Speaking at a meeting of the Cape Town climate change coalition on Tuesday night, De Lille said there were "immediate interventions" being undertaken to avert a full-blown crisis.
Stormwater, groundwater, rivers and treated wastewater effluent, would be managed in an integrated way, with the ultimate aim of using the sources as drinking water, the mayor told the gathering.
Usable water in the city's dams receded to critical levels of just over 14% this week.
Water levels at the Theewaterskloof dam near Villiersdorp are at an alarmingly low level. Photo: Ian Landsberg
Mayoral committee member for water services Xanthea Limberg said the municipality had also begun controlling the supply from the Faure Reservoir by reducing pressure, a measure which would approximately save 25 millions litres of water.
"This is an innovative pilot project which has lowered pressure to the central and southern suburbs," Limberg said.
In addition, the city council had previously announced ambitions of drilling boreholes into the Table Mountain Group Aquifer (TMGA) as well as commissioning a small-scale desalination plant to boost reserves.
Limberg said these "emergency supply schemes" were being accelerated in accordance with the disaster declaration which allowed the City to speed up certain procurement regulations.
"Only when all processes have been completed, will the exploratory phase of the aquifer pilot be embarked on," she said. "This is expected to be near the end of June 2017, if all goes according to plan."
Chris Hartnady, a hydrogeological expert at Umvoto Africa, an Earth Sciences consultancy specialising in Water Resource Services, said "considerable environmental assessments" had been done on the mountain.
"The groundwater scheme is not like a dam, the advantage of underground aquifers is that we can develop them in stages and then gradually enlarge; you don't draw everything at once," he said.
"In terms of the amount of groundwater which can be extracted, it would be recommended we start small and gradually scale up as we gather experience. The usage would also have to be licensed and that permit is normally issued for five years."
Hartnady said when the aquifer is fully developed in "a decade or two" the municipality would be able to extract about 100 million litres of water per annum.
Limberg said the city council was taking a precautionary approach to determine the sustainable yield of the TMGA and to prevent over-abstraction and environmental damage to the aquifer.
Mayor Patricia de Lille said Cape Town has to save water "while there is still water to be saved".
"We simply have to save water while there is still water to be saved," De Lille said.
"We are currently reviewing our 30-year water plan to give greater consideration to climate change so that we can to see a shift where Cape Town will become a water-sensitive city."