The City of Cape Town feels strongly that, despite Prof Mike Muller’s assertions to the contrary, we have prioritised long-term water security over the past 10 years (Lack of urgency over water crisis a critical concern as the taps run dry, April 19).
Since 2006, we have achieved much success in positioning Cape Town as an attractive destination for local and foreign direct investment, and much of this success can be attributed to the resource efficiency and security that we can offer. We dispute the argument that the city failed to act despite warnings of a potential drought crisis and that water-demand management and the conservation interventions that have been favoured over investment in new infrastructure have not been effective.
The city agrees that a secure water supply is one of the keys to continued improvement of Cape Town’s economic prospects, but one cannot look at this issue in isolation. There are other crucial municipal functions (electricity supply, refuse disposal, waste water processing) that have also needed to be prioritised. At the time the study to which the author refers was conducted, we identified significant potential to reduce demand via pressure reduction schemes, proactive reticulation maintenance programmes, effluent reuse and public education initiatives at a much lower cost, and this route was favoured.
Muller underplays the success of these initiatives, when in fact they were so successful that the Department of Water and Sanitation was prompted to update its strategic water resource plan in 2016 to indicate that the need for additional supply schemes for the region would now be required only by 2021. Both the national and municipal spheres, therefore, again pushed back plans for alternative supply schemes so that funds could be used for other pressing needs.
At the time these plans were being updated, or whenever this kind of planning is undertaken, it is done based on historical rainfall patterns. We acknowledge that these are inherently unreliable, but in our context, it is not practical to ring-fence billions of rand for the possibility of a drought that might not come to pass. In addition, it is impractical to fast-track supply schemes of sufficient scale quickly enough to compensate for a drought. We are given licence to implement restrictions where necessary to conserve supply during these times.
In other words, the fact that there is a shortage of water does not necessarily indicate a planning deficit, but rather that there is a degree of inherent insecurity in relying heavily on more affordable surface water schemes.
Xanthea LimbergCape Town mayoral committee member for water and waste services