HomeRegional NewsAfricaEd's note: How to manage water use when drought threatens

Ed’s note: How to manage water use when drought threatens

Do you live in a drought-stricken area or one that is susceptible to drought? I do, and it is a worry. In early 2018, after three years of drought conditions, Cape Town had to plan for a looming Day Zero when the taps would run dry.

Fortunately, the city never reached Day Zero due to authorities at the time implementing water restrictions. However, the threat of drought remains a country-wide ‘alert’ and should be on every city’s watch list.

What can city managers and planners do to be more proactive?

There are several options. The most important being—and you might disagree—educating people on living water-wise lives.

Education is the number one influencer to our survival. When people know how much water is available, the process it undergoes to make it potable, and how their use and waste of water influences everyone, water savings, reuse, and recycling happen.

Second, on my list is communication. How does this differ from education? Once you’ve educated people on the importance of their water footprint, it will be necessary to keep emphasising the messaging. City managers can include this in their marketing strategy.

Put ‘adverts’ on billboards, reiterate the message in utility bills, communicate on radio stations, and use new platforms to reach millennials. But use the marketing budget as wisely as you’re asking citizens to use water.

The position of the communication is also essential. For instance, on my utility bill, the words ‘THINK WATER’ with the caption ‘CARE A LITTLE. SAVE A LOT.’ appear underneath the amount I owe. For added measure, a website is included.

Great effort, but still not enough.

This brings me to the third item on my list of proactive water management to overcome the threat of drought. This item I will build into local and national government-related regulation, policy and infrastructure build.

It’s in this circle of influence where long-term proactive management of water resources takes place. For instance, one critical factor in the City of Cape Town’s Day Zero predicament was the long-term decline of water supply combined with growth in demand.

This situation is not unique to Cape Town, but the rate of declining supply alongside increased consumption made the situation in 2018 extreme from a global perspective.

During the Day Zero campaign, the city managed to reduce water use by more than 40%, which was a remarkable achievement. Today, the lessons learnt in the process have informed a new strategy and roadmap whereby Cape Town will be more resilient to climate and other shocks.

Notably, the city is considering the complex relationships between water, people, the economy, and the environment. No longer will Capetonians rely solely on the winter rainfall to replenish dams, reservoirs and wells. In the pipeline are desalination plants and large-scale reuse initiatives that will add to the city’s supply.

The city’s approach includes using alternative water sources for non-drinking needs. Such as reusing treated effluent or untreated wastewater (where safe to do so) for irrigation, landscaping, construction and flushing toilets. Also earmarked are ongoing refurbishment and maintenance of the water reticulation network along with wastewater pump stations and wastewater treatment works.

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As stated, the country is on high alert in terms of water and drought. This week, the Department of Water and Sanitation reported that dam levels have begun dropping slightly as South Africa approaches the dry winter season in inland provinces. However, they are comparatively 15% higher than in the same period last year.

The departmental statement cautioned against rampant water use as the country is “not out of the woods yet from the previous drought. Because of a regional low rainfall pattern, South Africa remained a water-scarce country, and water must be treated as a scarce resource.”

The statement added that the Western Cape Water System, which supplies Cape Town and its surroundings, dropped from 69.7% to 68.6% week on week, while it is still higher than the 55.3% of a year ago.

It’s time to ramp up on education and communication again. In general, South Africans have become more attuned to living water-wise lives; however, it’s not yet a nationwide lifelong attitude. Each household and business must take responsibility to check for water leaks and use water wisely.

Until next week.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.