State of water within context

Pieter Wesselman, Sea Point

The raw sewage pumping matter on the Atlantic Seaboard needs to be seen within the context of the City’s deplorable water situation because with the sewerage we’re also pumping millions of litres of recyclable water into the Atlantic.

Let us, however, start at the beginning.

Around the mid- 1980s after the drought in Natal when water in Durban was rationed at 450 litres a household a day, we read a lot about the El Niño effect and the consequences of global warming.

The short of this was that the rainfall patterns in the Western Cape were going to change.

The province was going to get less and less rain. A situation that seems to be in a state of acceleration. A warning, that was happily ignored by the subsequent administrations in this province.

The Theewaterskloof Dam was built for agriculture only. As the Western Cape’s water consumption increased, water from Theewaterskloof had to be used for human consumption.

The reply was the building of the dam in the Berg River at Franschhoek. It was known that this dam would not solve the water problems for Cape Town.

Since 2009, which is the year I started keeping a greater interest in the winter rainfall, we did not receive enough to cover the city’s needs and our water reserves have been decreasing annually. There is a company in Cape Town that builds desalination and recycling plants in the Middle and Far East.

They approached both the provincial and metro governments, because with modern technology both desalination and recycling have become affordable, but were nicely cold-shouldered.

The metro’s response to the situation is tapping into the aquifers.

Unfortunately, the aquifers need to be replenished. A very slow process and highly likely this replenishment will be inadequate taking the metro’s needs into account. So here we have another resource that will be depleted slowly but surely.

There is a warning from UCT, that depleting the aquifers is not a very good idea. A token desalination plant is going to be build but its capacity will be likely inadequate to prevent the depletion of the aquifers. There are large groundwater resources but they have been very polluted over the years by industry. However, modern technology makes purification of these resources possible at acceptable expense.

This resource also is replenished by rain water and with insufficient rain their replenishment will also be inadequate and this resource will therefore also be slowly depleted.

And so we come to the recycling of waste water. This is the only way to reduce and/or balance the depletion of our other water resources and is supposed to be cheaper than both desalination and purification of our groundwater.

Therefore recycling should be at the centre of any water strategy.

Since sewage and waste water go together, it will not be possible to recycle the waste water of the Atlantic Seaboard without halting the sewage pumping into the Atlantic.

However, where are we going to build the sewerage plant on the Atlantic Seaboard.

Consequently, the City’s licence to pump raw sewage into the Atlantic should not be renewed at any price. A very amusing thought for me is the following. Taking into account the “developer captured” city administration then when sewerage and recycling plants need to be build the only place left to put them will be on the Beach Road in Sea Point and Mouille Point.

In conclusion, the City’s administration may not go down in history as the administration that ran Cape Town “dry” but most certainly will go down as the administration that is hell-bent on depleting the city’s scarce water resources.