Why water is so important

KAREN KOTZE

As we mark National Water Week, much of the country is drought stricken, water restrictions are in place, applications for fracking licences continue, and fragile eco-systems like wetlands are taking strain under the impact of human habitation.

The National Water Week campaign runs from today, Thursday March 17 to Wednesday March 23 under the theme “Water is Life – 20 Years of Water Delivery for Social and Economic Development” – but the idea is to teach people how vital water is, where it comes from – and how to save this precious resource, beyond this one week.

Locally, it is a call to protect Cape Town’s Khoi name, Camissa, which means a “place of sweet waters” – and the land beyond.

We owe our initial development to the availability of clean drinking water from Table Mountain, which is the reason Cape Town was established as a port city and trade route centuries ago – when the river in Platteklip gorge and the natural springs in Oranjezicht were used as the first fresh water sources.

Where your water comes from

The water that splashes from your tap goes on a long and complicated journey to get there from its source.

It trickles down mountain streams and rivers to be stored in one of the 14 dams supplying Cape Town – then travels up to 80km in a large-diameter raw water pipeline, perhaps even tunnelling through a mountain range.

Then, this water passes through pump stations or an electricity generator, is cleaned and made safe to drink at one of the City’s 12 treatment plants, spends a few days in a reservoir, and then travels the final kilometres in a series of pipes, decreasing in diameter, until it reaches your water meter and then, ultimately, your tap.

An estimated 37 percent of water is lost from leaks in urban supply systems and last year, water leaks costs South Africa about R7.2 billion. Ensure all your taps are fully closed – a dripping tap at one drip a second wastes up to 30 litres a day – that is equivalent to 10 000 litres a year.

It is sobering to think that 8 percent of South Africa’s land provides 50 percent of our water.

There are currently seven dams in and around Cape Town supplying the water to the metro, however, these are not enough as the city’s needs now exceed what they have.

Additional water is sourced from the Berg, Theewaters, Voëlvlei and Steenbras dams located outside the city, and are supplied by the Boland mountain water source area.

Many rivers in Cape Town, such as the Zand River near Muizenberg or the Diep River at Woodbridge Island, form vleis or small estuaries before entering the sea.

Some rivers such as the Black River and the Lotus River have been partially canalised.

Cape Town in particular obtains its drinking water from many water sources.

The water reticulation system is integrated and is mixed within the pipes and reservoirs.

Local concerns

Education is key, says Fish Hoek resident Kate Parr, who is deeply worried about the drought-stricken parts of our country.

“My thoughts every morning centre around this: imagine if I could not have this first cup of coffee; imagine if I was unable to utilise the cistern or wash my face, simply because there was no water to do so. This is the reality of how dire the situation is in parts of the country, namely the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West,” she says.

“To my surprise there are still many people unaware of the severe drought inland, and many people are uncertain of how they could assist. Pensioners have told me that they cannot afford to buy bottled water to donate. Finances are not the issue. The contribution of a two- litre cold drink bottle filled with water and labelled TW (tap water), dropped off at one of the numerous water collection points (for instance, at your local Pick * Pay) will be gratefully accepted,” Ms Parr says.

“Donating is the easy part. It’s the water’s journey from that point on which I find so amazing. Volunteers work endlessly to collect and deliver the water to people and animals stricken by this devastating drought. Nothing is officially funded,” she says.

“Boreholes are being drilled and tips on how to save water or recycle water are being published which is all good and well for future conservation, but, the horse that has already bolted needs to drink this instant,” she says.

In another example of local concern, Ocean View resident Samuel Grodes pointed out to the False Bay Echo that the taps at the civic centre in Ocean View work on a push button system that lets water run for a set amount of time – about a minute, with each push, he says. He says the City should lead by example on issues of saving water, which is vital to us all.

Ernest Sonnenberg, the City’s mayoral committee member for utility services, was asked if all City owned civic centres/workplaces operate on the same system, and if so, can the amount of time which the water runs, be adjusted to release less water.

“Not all City buildings operate on this type of system. In terms of adjusting the timing, we will ask our relevant operational staff at City facilities to monitor this and make adjustments where needed,” he said.

Mr Sonnenberg was asked what grey-water initiatives the City uses or supports.

He said that the City does not have any specific grey water initiatives that it supports as it has no control over the quality of grey water.

For more information about grey water use, go to http://www.capetown. gov.za/ en/KeepSavingWater/Pages/Greywater reuse.aspx

For more information about what water-saving strategies the City has in place, go to http://www.capetown. gov. za/en/KeepSavingWater/Pages/ Watersavingtips.aspx

Water Saving Tips

* Make your garden water-wise by planting indigenous drought-resistant plants which require minimal watering. Only water your garden very early in the morning or after sunset, to reduce unnecessary evaporation.

* Capture rain water from gutters to use in your garden and invest in a rain water tank.

* Install a grey water system and recycle water at home. Generally, 40 to 60 percent of household water is used for non-essential purposes, such as watering gardens and filling swimming pools.

Report water leaks

Residents can contact the 24-hour Technical Operation Centre (TOC) to report any water leaks, burst pipes, blocked and overflowing sewers, on 0860 103 089 (choose option 2: water-related faults). Alternatively residents can send an SMS to 31373 (max of 160 characters) or an email to waterTOC@capetown.gov.za