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At the height of last summer, as a three-year drought threatened to shut down Cape Town’s economy, scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research calculated that commercial forests and wild-growing invasive alien trees in the city’s main water catchments were drinking the equivalent of two months’ supply of city water every year. Clearing the plantations and the invaded areas in the primary catchments would push back the implementation of “day zero” — the city’s last-ditch emergency water-rationing measures — by 69 days, based on the city’s goal at the time of limiting collective use to 500-million litres per day. Another study, produced for international civil society organisation The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and due for release in November, shows that a 30-year programme to clear and maintain the ecological infrastructure of these catchments will be a cheaper way of securing water for Cape Town than building the desalination plants that are part of the city’s wat...

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