Cape Town’s new water restrictions

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the word on the bone-dry street is that South Africa has very little water. This is allegedly due to several factors: poorly maintained infrastructure, a lack of adequate rainfall during the winter just past, and overuse by ignorant and/or uncaring consumers. And, because sorting out infrastructure is – pardon the pun – no quick fix, and the rain dancing seems to have failed to appease whatever sky fairy it was directed at, guess who is going to have to bear the brunt of the plans to save water?

Spoiler Alert: It are you and I.

Cape Town is permanently on Level 1 water restrictions because there’s not enough wet stuff around to be wasteful at any time, but given that the dams are just 63% full (vs 90+% for the last three years at this time), the Mayoral Committee recently decided that puny Level 1 restrictions simply weren’t doing enough to adequately conserve water, and has suggested that more draconian Level 2 restrictions be brought in, and that looks set to happen on the 1st January.

Here’s a list of what those new Level 2 restrictions entail:

Restrictions applicable to all customers

  • Watering (with drinking water from municipal supply) of gardens, flower beds, sports fields, parks, lawns and other open spaces allowed only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for a maximum of one hour per premises either before 09:00 or after 18:00. This includes watering with buckets or automated sprinkler systems.
  • Watering via boreholes and or well points falls under the same restrictions as above. Residential users are allowed only one hour a day per premises whereas businesses, industries and City or Government departments are allowed two hours a day per premises.
  • No watering will be permitted within 24 hours of rainfall that provides adequate saturation. Customers making use of boreholes or other sources are not exempt from this.
  • Special users (e.g. golf courses and schools) can apply to the Director: Water & Sanitation for exemption from any of the above restrictions by emailing Water.Restrictions@capetown.gov.za.
  • When watering with alternative water resources like harvested rain water, re-used grey water or treated effluent water, you are encouraged to comply with the above restrictions.
  • If other water sources (e.g. boreholes, well points, grey water re-use, treated effluent water) are utilised, all customers should ensure that they display signage to this effect that is clearly visible from a public thoroughfare.
  • No automatic top-up systems are allowed for swimming pools. It is recommended that all swimming pools be covered by a pool cover to avoid evaporation when not in use.
  • Ornamental water fountains and water features are to be operated only by recycling the water.
Restrictions applicable to residential customers
  • Washing of vehicles is only allowed with hosepipes fitted with automatic self-closing devices, or with waterless products.
  • No washing or hosing down of hard-surfaced or paved areas with drinking water from a tap is allowed.
  • Residents are encouraged to replace all taps, showerheads and other plumbing components with water efficient parts or technologies.

Red emphasis by me. Points two and three may be of particular interest to our local schools, who – using borehole water – irrigate their fields during the day, come blazing sunshine, pouring rain or umshado wezinkawu. And there are several other quite significant rules there as well, I think you’ll note. Here’s a poster with all the info on.

However, as ever, the issues will be threefold.

Firstly, people won’t hear (or will claim not to have heard) about the restrictions and will plead ignorance. This happens every year with the road closures for the State Opening Of Parliament. Every year.
Secondly, those who do hear about the restrictions will ignore them anyway, because that’s what South Africans do – it’s obviously about other people, not them – and thirdly, that’s fine because there will be absolutely no enforcement anyway.

Oh dear.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because those all too easy excuses won’t save you from the increased charges you’ll be paying. For an average domestic customer, the differences in price are as follows:

Fullscreen capture 2015-12-09 123413 PM.bmp

But, since this is a “revenue-neutral” plan, what will save you from the increased charges is if you cut your water consumption by 10% from its current level. And, if you follow the rules and the recommendations above, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

That said, as consumers we were told that if each of us were to lower our electricity usage by 10%, there would be no need for loadshedding. And that blatantly didn’t happen. For all the reasons given above, funnily enough.

So, I predict outrage from about mid-February, when the first billing cycle from the 1st January increases lands in the post and email inboxes of those poor people who “just didn’t know”, or just didn’t care. I’d like to think that my Capetonian readers won’t fall into either of those two categories. I’ve done my bit right here on at least one of them.
Why not share this post so that your friends join the water saving party too?

UPDATE: via @JacquesR here are some FAQs from the infamous 2005 drought, lending further detail to waterwise behaviour.

As I was saying…

The power of the ill-informed social media lynch mob wins again:

YOU, Huisgenoot and Drum announces Slide the City events will no longer take place this year in light of one of South Africa’s driest seasons in recent years.

Because people got their knickers in a knot over the fact that it was going to use water. Even though it wasn’t really going to actually use very much water at all.

Let’s listen to some experts, shall we?
Yes, I recognise that’a a bit of an unusual step in this sort of situation, because OUTRAGE! is better, but still:

A veteran environmentalist says:

“I would rather ask whether they are employing local people and contributing to the economy,” said Simon Bundy of SDP Ecological and Environmental Services, an organisation operating in the environmental sector since 1999. “The tourism industry, for example, would have benefited in the cities where Slide the City would have been hosted. The volumes of water that would have been used would be miniscule,” Bundy adds. “I don’t think it would make much of a difference if you used it for something else.”

Sod what you think, Bundy. I completely disregard your 16 years of specialist experience and I’m going to ignore everything that you have to say because I’ve got a bit of a bee in my bonnet over this and your views don’t match mine.
Because, yeah, how are the farmers going to manage without that water? How? Huh? HUH?!?

Well, let’s ask one, shall we?

Jannie de Villiers, head of Grain SA agrees. “What will happen if you give 35 000 litres of water to a farmer? It won’t make a difference. Perhaps it will for a household but it will make no difference to the agricultural sector.”

Yeah. See? Oh… wait… But anyway, what does he know? There’s more to agriculture than grain. Cows and stuff. And some of the water would have, like, evaporated or something.

Of course it would. But now, those several thousand individuals who were going to use that “miniscule” amount of water under the eagle eyes of the self-elected Water Police, will instead be cooling off at home in their pools and gardens, each wasting water left, right and centre because splashing in swimming pools and jumping through sprinklers does that, and there’s no-one there to stop them. *cough* own goal *cough*

And they won’t be helping out our tourism sector either: they won’t be buying drinks and snacks in or around the event, they won’t be parking their cars and helping the local car guards, they won’t pop into pubs and restaurants afterwards to cap off a great day in the sun. All the people who were going to be working the events across the country will now have to find alternative seasonal employment.
All of this is fine though, as our economy is absolutely booming right now. Isn’t it?

Perhaps setting up a store selling pitchforks and flaming torches might be a good business plan?
Just a thought.

But, the mob has spoken and we’re not allowed to have Slide The City, because the mob is unable or unwilling to comprehend simple facts that go against its narrative.

God help us all when they find out about the City of Cape Town’s six “Spray Parks”, which run every day throughout summer. But those will be ok, because:

Water is recirculated and treated through a process similar to that of a swimming pool filtration system. Water is a scarce resource and spray parks have been designed to minimise water usage.

Now, where have I heard that before?

Ban #SlideTheCity? No.

OK. Long story short:

  1. There’s an event coming up this summer in SA called “Slide The City”.
  2. It makes use of some really long (300m+) inflatable slides for people to slide down streets in various cities.
  3. It uses water to make the slides slippy.
  4. We don’t have huge amounts of water in SA right now.

If you look at the facts above, then Slide The City (STC) – while still sounding like a whole lot of fun – doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, does it? And that’s why there are not one but two online petitions calling for it to be banned. I’m not helping you out by linking to them, but I will share the fact that one of them is called: Stop the City of Cape Town From Allowing Slide the City Events During a National Water Crisis. All the facts, all in one catchy title. Perfection.

Except that Cape Town and South Africa have issues with potable water. And STC doesn’t use any potable water. Here’s city spokesperson Priya Reddy:

“Non-potable spring water is being provided. Forty kilolitres charged at the applicable tariff will be transported to the organisers’ holding pool by tanker. Treatment of the spring water will be performed by the organisers on site.

We applaud the public’s rightful concern over the prospect of wasteful consumption of our most precious resource, but would like to assure them that the use of drinking water for this event was never contemplated.”

40 kilolitres isn’t actaully a lot of water, either. It’s about what one average household uses in a month. I’m not saying that we should waste 40 kilolitres just for the sake of it, but I can’t help but think that there might be better ways of saving water than going lumbering after a single event in Cape Town.
A single event which re-circulates its water so as not to waste any, and then gives it back at the end of the day:

In Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Knysna, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth, the water is put through the filtration system and then put into tankers and delivered to the municipality to be used where they need it most.

Could it… could it really be that someone hasn’t actually done any homework before launching an online petition?
Could it?

As someone wise commented earlier:


Still, online lynch mobs petitions can sometimes carry a disproportionate amount of weight, so maybe the City of Cape Town will take note. Once they’ve removed the large plank from their own eye, that is:

Fullscreen capture 2015-11-10 110658 AM.bmp   Fullscreen capture 2015-11-10 110802 AM.bmp   Fullscreen capture 2015-11-10 110742 AM.bmp
Just a sample of their twitter feed this morning. And I’d happily wager that any of these burst water pipes wasted more water than any Slide The City event.

Not that I am suggesting the just because water is being wasted somewhere, that makes it ok to waste more. Not at all. In fact, the fact that so much water is being lost to burst pipes and naughty people should encourage each of us to use water more sparingly.

But going after Slide The City, who are providing entertainment for literally thousands of people at a very, very limited cost to the environment? I’m sorry, but that just smacks of an ill-informed, cheap points scoring exercise.

Disclaimer: 6000 miles… has no affiliation with Slide The City. I just wish people would actually think before they sign online petitions.

UPDATE: Slide The City duly cancelled.