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Western Cape hurtles towards worst-case drought scenario

Publish date: 10 October 2017
Issue Number: 528
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Water

The drought in the Western Cape continues to wreak havoc, with Cape Town announcing a disaster plan as day zero draws near, and the Green Scorpions warning that they will be policing illegal water connections, writes Legalbrief. Intermittent water supply‚ followed by having to collect water in buckets under the supervision of soldiers: This is Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s vision of the near future if the city’s dams run dry. According to a TimesLIVE report, after meeting Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane‚ De Lille outlined the city council’s disaster plan at a briefing last week. She begged Capetonians to stave off a disaster by saving more water‚ warning that otherwise day zero – when dams are no longer usable – would arrive in March. Officials were working to avoid a disaster but it was vital to plan for the worst-case scenario‚ she said‚ revealing that the city council had activated the first of three disaster-management phases. This would involve extreme reductions in water pressure to force down consumption. ‘As water rationing is intensified‚ some areas will be affected for short periods of time. This will lead to intermittent‚ localised‚ temporary water supply disruptions‚’ she said. In phase two of the disaster‚ water collection points would be introduced. ‘Residents will be able to collect a predefined quantity of drinking water per person per day from these collection sites,’ said De Lille. De Lille said council law enforcement officers‚ the police and soldiers would be deployed ‘to ensure that general safety is maintained throughout the city in this phase’. In the final ‘extreme disaster’ phase‚ when dams expired‚ ‘there would be a limited period in which the city can continue to supply water before complete water system failure’. Said De Lille: ‘Non-surface drinking water supplies‚ sourced from groundwater abstraction from various aquifers and spring water‚ will be available for drinking purposes only. The city will distribute this drinking water to residents through water distribution points.’

Full TimesLIVE report

About 45 000 jobs in the Western Cape are at risk because of the drought, and the longer it stays dry the more that figure will rise. Already 94% of companies in the province have reported water as a direct risk to their operations. A Cape Argus report notes that this figure is the highest globally and companies could soon face closure as the drought eats into their profits. According to the Western Cape provincial economic review outlook, the potential impact of water shortages on businesses’ reputation for reliability and quality could be severe. ‘While the focus is currently largely on physical risk, financial risk is emerging as a concern with increasing water tariffs resulting in higher cost for companies and a potential loss of competitiveness. These risks are likely to have more disruptive impact on highly water intensive users,’ the report read. Alan Winde, MEC for economic development, said the less rain the province got each month, the bigger the risk of job losses. ‘We had a figure estimated at 17 000 job losses. That figure currently stands at about 45 000 job losses. The risk grows bigger each month if we get less rain,’ Winde said.

Full Cape Argus report (subscription needed)

The national Department of Water and Sanitation will ask its regional office to approach police about arresting people taking water illegally from rivers or water pipelines, said the department’s director of media liaisons, Sputnik Ratau. A Cape Argus report notes that this comes after the department announced the Green Scorpions (who investigate environmental crimes) have increased law enforcement after illegal connections and dams have been discovered in the Western Cape in farming areas. Ratau said the department would be speaking to its regional office in Cape Town to approach police and empower them to arrest people who take water illegally. Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane is quoted in the report as saying: ‘Concerns remain regarding illegal connections and dams that are emerging in farming areas, extracting water for agricultural purposes during this period. The department, working with the province and the Green Scorpions, is attending to these matters and increased enforcement of laws and by-laws will be effected.’ Mokonyane said the water being taken illegally was used for agriculture.

Full Cape Argus report (subscription needed)