United in drought

Catherine Dillon speaking to the crowd at the Imperial Yacht Club in preparation for Day Zero.

Active citizenship has taken centre stage since the announcement of Day Zero.

In the far south, there has been a strong and unified reaction in the formation of the False Bay Water Task Team.

While Sub-council 19 and the recently formed South Peninsula Water Task Team strongly encouraged the establishment of the False Bay Water Task Team at a meeting in council chambers on Tuesday January 30, it was various members of the communities who committed to it.

The task team aims to enhance civil society’s response to the imminent water crisis and pays specific attention to communication, safety and security and socio-economic issues.

From within this structure will flow trustworthy information and logistical help for the disabled or elderly in the advent of Day Zero.

It is open to all who wish to offer their skills or services.

The FBWTT has two clusters to cover Ward 64: One meets at The Hive in Muizenberg and this includes volunteers from the areas of Muizenberg, Marine Estate, Kalk Bay and St James and has Fergus Turner as the contact person. The other cluster meets at the Imperial Yacht Club and includes volunteers from Lakeside, Marina da Gama and Capricorn and has Catherine Dillon as the contact person.

Although the meetings are held in two areas, all information is shared between all the participants.

There are simply two meeting places for the sake of logistics.

“We are non-partisan, apolitical volunteers. Our role is to convey factually correct information and help one another through this,” said Mr Turner.

Ms Dillon said: “We must remember that Day Zero will only be the start of a long process, and everyone is going to be out of their comfort zones. These are the times when neighbourliness, empathy and civil obedience are going to be vital.”

The FBWTT is expecting to receive a management structure plan and template from the South Peninsula Water Task Team to use as framework. The first meeting was held on Wednesday January 31 at The Hive and was to build momentum of involvement in the task team, discover risks, skills, and collate the skills and logistics of these contribution to preparing for Day Zero.

Time was spent identifying both the needs and resources within the community. Ideas that emerged from the first meeting included holding workshops to teach things such as creation of compost toilets and permaculture; the formation of street committees who could disseminate information and plans of action both in preparing for and when Day Zero hits.

There was also the idea of hosting a 25-litre challenge in preparation for what it will be like to have only 25 litres of water for each person.

The following week, on Thursday night, February 8, the False Bay Echo attended the meeting at the Imperial Yacht Club. At this meeting Ms Dillon urged the gathering to bring their water usage down to 25 litres a person now, to head off Day Zero, which the City of Cape Town has now pushed back to Monday June 4. She also encouraged the group to connect and discuss options for community collaboration with regards to the responsible sharing of well points or boreholes.

She stressed the importance of the community looking out for one another’s safety and stated that water theft is an increasing concern: she advised everyone to put locks on their taps and report every case of water theft.

“Please help us to identify who requires assistance with water, ablutions, etc, especially among the elderly or disabled. Let us know who needs our help,” she asked.

Ms Dillon had two guest speakers: Marc Hussey discussed the legislation, restrictions and increased tariffs for water.

Graham Kluk, a water specialist consultant from Envirowater in Durban, spoke about the complexities and necessities of water storage and purification. Think twice about universal reverse osmosis units, he warned. The cost of proper testing and matching of systems is essential. To put costs in perspective, he said that a yacht which needed 150 litres of fresh water a day would need to install a reverse osmosis unit which would cost R84 000.

He said that borehole water would need a variety of tests to establish what purification system is best suited to it depending on salt levels, if the water is considered brackish, what levels of iron or other contaminants; the wrong system would do nothing for water purity and would need replacing within months or weeks.

Testing is a problem at the moment, so many new requests have slowed the response time.

Ms Dillon said that clarification will be sought on whether all new boreholes or only boreholes being used for drinking water will need to have meters installed.

Mr Kluk explained that depending on your particular borehole and the pressure it is being pumped at, some boreholes can deliver up to 900 litres an hour. The idea of going off grid to lessen the load on the municipal drinking water then in turn creates a quandary when the aquifers are suddenly drained. The message was incredibly clear: if the aquifers are emptied, they can be permanently lost either due to collapse, or contamination: the worse of which would be having them filled by seawater.

“Act 36 of the 1998 Water Act changed ownership of water: There is no longer privatisation of water – no one owns water, you buy it. If you remove water from the vlei; you commit a criminal offence,” Ms Dillon said. A mutter ran through the meeting at the mention of this; it was common knowledge that some people have been taking water from the vlei, but the law is unambiguous – this is a criminal offence.

* To report water leaks and water theft, call 107 or from a landline call 0860 103 089 (choose the “water related faults” option) or send an email to water.restrictions@capetown.gov.za or SMS 31373 (Maximum of 160 characters).