World Water Day promotes effective water management

Extract from a speech delivered via satellite feed by City of Cape Town Executive Deputy Mayor for the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia, Brazil from 18 to 23 March 2018.

"On this World Water Day, we support the call of the World Water Forum to promote awareness, to build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues at all levels. This is to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, and management of water in an environmentally sustainable manner. 
 
Cape Town is currently experiencing a devastating drought which can be considered an extreme hydrological event. For the last three years, our rainfall has been significantly lower than in previous years. This has resulted in a substantial decline in the levels of the six large dams that make up the Western Cape Water Supply System. This system is the sole source of water, not only for the City of Cape Town, but also for a number of the surrounding municipalities as well as our agricultural sector, which is a significant job creator in the regional economy. 
 
Our dam levels are currently at 22,7%; less than 10% above the level at which we calculate the City would need to restrict consumption to 25 litres per person and overall city consumption to 350 million litres per day. Until very recently, our models showed that we could reach that day towards the middle of this year. 
 
This modelling was based on a conservative approach, due to the unpredictability of factors such as rainfall and consumption outside our control. On balance, we decided it would be better to plan for the worst case scenario, and be proved wrong, than to plan more optimistically, and be caught short. 
 
However, in the past two months, the situation has improved, with the City’s water consumption dropping significantly. 
 
In 2015, we were consuming an average of 1,2 million litres per day. A year ago, that figure had dropped to 900 million litres per day, and in the last few weeks it has dropped even further to around 500 million litres per day. This amounts to a reduction of 400 million litres per day in the past year alone. It is an extraordinary achievement.
 
This drop in consumption has been the result of very strong cooperation from residents and City management. This includes steep tariff hikes, a continuing roll-out of pressure management across the city, the installation of water demand management devices, a leak repair programme to minimise water losses, and an extensive communication campaign to encourage a behavioural shift among residents.
 
In addition, the National Department of Water and Sanitation cut the water supply to the agricultural irrigation boards once they had made use of their full allocation, and the City received an agricultural water donation. 
 
One of the lessons we have learned from this drought experience is the importance of a diversified water supply. Rainfall patterns and distribution are changing as climate patterns become increasingly unpredictable. We can no longer rely solely on surface water supply. 
 
The City is thus driving a supply diversification programme. Our emergency desalination plants will be coming online soon.
 
We have also initiated a number of groundwater abstraction projects which, at their peak, will supply almost 150 million litres of water per day.  
 
Water recycling is another component, and we are also using water from some of the natural springs around Table Mountain.
 
Cape Town, like every other city in the world, is vulnerable to the effects of rapid urbanisation and climate change. As the demand for water grows, it is not only diversification of supply that is required to address future risk but also a sustained campaign to encourage behavior change among water users. 
 
The City has therefore been running an extensive communication campaign, and will continue doing so, to encourage residents to cut their water use and keep them informed of all developments.
 
In addition, the City has been engaging with large industrial water users on how they can reduce their consumption. One of the initiatives introduced just this week is the City’s updated Star Rating Certification, which is intended to encourage business compliance with water-related by-laws. 
 
Behaviour change is a cornerstone of our new approach to water. For behavior change to succeed, it is important that the drive to change comes from within. As a government, we can impose restrictions; we can implement punitive tariffs; we can limit the amount of water use. This in itself is not enough. If we as individuals are not intrinsically motivated to adjust our thinking around water, we will not achieve the transformation that is needed.
 
We have all had to redefine our relationship with water. We need to accept that the days of plentiful water supply in Cape Town may very well be over. We are not alone in this, as many cities across the world are coming under increasing strain due to urbanisation, aging infrastructure and climate unpredictability.
 
We, therefore, need to build resilience into every aspect of our thinking and planning around water. We need to have a plan in place to deal with possible acute water shortages, and we need to ensure that the systems we put in place over the longer term reflect our new approach to water. 
 
It is now more crucial than ever that we craft a common strategic vision on how best to conserve and manage our water resources for a sustainable future."