Despite the province being in the grip of a severe water crisis, the City of Cape Town has admitted that developers were allowed to use potable water.
The revelation was made at a recent public Ward 54 meeting at Sea Point High School where water and building developments were high on the agenda.
The meeting, which was chaired by Sub-council chairperson, Matthew Kempthorne, took place on Monday October 23.
The City admitted that potable water had to be used for cement mixing despite Level 5 water restrictions currently being in place.
At the same meeting, City officials said that up to 50 000 jobs in the agricultural sector were at risk due to the drought.
Many residents voiced their displeasure, criticising the City for approving major developments.
Calling for careful analysis of the situation before any decision was taken, Sea Point resident Janey Ball, said: “If all the construction just in Sea Point had to be stopped, what would that mean in terms of jobs? There has to be a balance.”
She added that she would like to see a proper analysis of how much water was used compared to the number of jobs that would potentially be affected.
Isa Jacobson, who belongs to Sea Point For All, said she felt it had been necessary to have the meeting because people were angry.
With regards to the construction industry and water use, she said: “The problem for me is that there is so little regulation or attempts to come up with alternative solutions.
“San Francisco acknowledges that climate change is an issue but the City of Cape Town says we’re having a once-in-a-millennium drought.
“It’s widely acknowledged that cement produces extremely toxic waste water. Where is it going? I’d like to know that the City is actually monitoring this so that it’s not contaminating our groundwater or going into our stormwater drains.
“Other cities understand that the world is facing a long-term crisis, that we are depleting our natural resources at a rapid rate. We need intelligent, sustainable, long-term solutions and a City that’s trying to find them. People all over the world are coming up with new solutions and even if our City isn’t capable of being as creative as other cities, why can’t they at least learn from them?”
Mr Kempthorne said construction companies had been given permission to use potable water. “Because of the chemical make-up of concrete and mortar, potable water is needed in the process.” However, he added, “The City encourages the construction industry to use non-potable water for all other uses in the construction sector, if this water is available.”
Mr Kempthorne said that he understood residents’ frustration.
“All Capetonians are in this crisis together, but we cannot shut down a vital economic driver and with it a substantial number of jobs.
“The residents of the city have saved a substantial amount of water. Before the restrictions, average daily consumption was 1.1billion megalitres per day. Last week the consumption was 585 ML per day, a halving of consumption.
“Without the residents’ efforts we would have run out of water last summer. With the savings and the City’s augmentation plans we should all get through this crisis together.”
According to, Xanthea Limberg, the City’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, developers “have to” use potable water.
“The City must balance very important considerations – saving water while at the same time, not compromising the economic welfare of our city. Potable water must be used for mixing cement as using lower quality water can adversely affect the structural integrity of concrete.”
Ms Limberg added that all developers had to submit an application for the use of potable water on site. “The City closely monitors levels of consumption and, as is done with other users, we will issue warnings or fines if there is excessive use. Applications could also be reviewed if non-adherence is found,” she said.
Before the drought, said Ms Limberg, the City was using water well under its registered allocation. “Despite our steep population growth since 1996, our water demand has remained relatively flat due to massive conservation efforts.
“Our Water By-law has been a progressive piece of legislation that has been one of the key tools that have been used to guide water demand and conservation efforts over the years. For instance, the by-law prohibits the use of drinking water for non-structural work such as for dust control.”