When still active in Engineering, I worked on various South African and British Water projects, always on the Mechanical and Electrical side of things. I know a fair bit about the workings of Water, both Clean and Sewage: and I also know that, in the wrong hands, Water Policy can be truly disastrous.
I lived in Cape Town for seven years; and in Johannesburg for a further eleven years. The very idea that the residents of the Cape would be told that, in two months time everyone, and that means everyone; will be collecting their water from municipal stand-points if the drought does not break, to me is patently absurd. I have walked along the very top of Steenbras Dam in the height of the summer months, with the water lapping placidly over the concreted top cill as it was blown along by the gentle breeze; full to literally overflowing. Cape Town: Water Crisis? Impossible. The rains that came almost by a set calendar week were so regular, and so plentiful, that you could set your watch to the fall rains.
But it seems that, forty-three years after leaving that beautiful place, things have changed so dramatically that Cape residents are seemingly sticking to a mandated 50 litres of water per day, so as to eke out what is left in the fast-dried-out reservoirs. Now I blame the Black-Majority Terror-Come-Lately ANC for most things which go wrong in that land after the ludicrously-named ‘Rainbow Nation’ came to fruition, but even I can’t absolutely state that the kleptomaniac ex-Prez. Zuma, or even his thieving successor Cyril Ramaphosa can carry the ‘can’ (geddit?) for the rains not dropping over the fairest Cape in the world. But the group of people who should be blamed for ALL of the Cape’s water problems are the inept cluster of clowns who infest the Department of Water Affairs, and their politically-appointed masters of that self-same ANC Government.
When the British took over in South Africa, when they fought the Boers, they brought with them the oppressive tools of Empire. The evil Brits installed a water reticulation system which actually brought fresh water to the hotels, mining offices, villages, homes and campsites of the depraved Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Pretoria, and brought further shame upon the British Empire by extending that service to Cape Town and Durban; in fact we were so bent upon making the places dependent upon the British that we imported British sewage technology. We ensured that, whilst the depraved Imperialists were in power, everybody could drink clean water, and use decent toilet facilities, as part of their iron grip upon South Africa. But the mains water pumping delivery system for the Cape Town area was completed in the 1920-1940’s; was aimed at a population of about 400,000; included a farm water delivery system; but didn’t allow for the huge expansion in population which occurred over the next sixty-seventy-odd years. Major improvements to the system were mooted; but the various Administrations, both Afrikaans- and English-speaking looked at the six main dams; looked up at the skies, shrugged and said, “We can manage, it always rains in June-July-August for six weeks solid; we don’t need any more storage!” But the main delivery pipes, some six feet in diameter; are old, and leak like it was just invented yesterday. It has been estimated that for every 100 gallons (I’m dead old-fashioned, no metrics on my posts!) 35-40 gallons leak away between the dams, the pumping and filtration systems and the users.
Major works to repair, reduce or relieve the leakages which plagued the entire system have been implemented in the past ten years, so effectively that Cape Town reached its leakage reduction target three years ahead of schedule. The warnings operated on a system by which the Water Affairs people monitored the rainfall levels at the Theewaterskloof Dam catchment areas, and by modelling; were able to deliver fairly accurate ideals of the actions the Cape Administration had to undertake to alleviate the leakage problems
BUT: Provinces don’t have the power to make water allocations to agriculture. This is done by the national government. In 2015, the city of Cape Town was allocated 60% of the water from the Western Cape’s water supply system. Almost all of the rest went to agriculture, particularly long-term crops like fruit and wine as well as livestock.
The drought began to take its toll on provincial dam levels. Yet the national Department of Water and Sanitation took no action to curtail agricultural water use in 2015/2016.
There is evidence that the department’s failure went even further: that it allocated too much water to agriculture in the Western Cape. This pushed demand for water beyond the capacity of the supply system and consumed Cape Town’s safety buffer of 28 thousand megalitres (or, in my terms: 6 billion gallons) in 2017: and the dams commenced drying out, as the drought became stronger.
A small interspersion of fact is now needed. One of the most expert nations on the planet when it comes to drought alleviation is Israel. They recycle more than 85% of the water their cities use; they are masters of desalination techniques, and their plants work, They take time to build, but the technology is trusted, and the water flows in Israel!
But the strangest thing about the drought in the Cape area was that it was not only forecast; it seems as though the strong anti-Israeli lobby, along with the movement going by the magic abbreviation B.D.S. (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) had a hand in chopping down the only intelligent effort to establish a way for the Cape’s water services and supplies to be bolstered. Seems as though the Mail and Guardian South Africa was going to host a conference on Drought, and how to alleviate it. Great, you may think; ‘get some experts around a table, gather an audience of those both interested and in position to actually achieve something’: and the ‘Good times will Roll’, or words to that effect. But the major problem was the panel was to include Israeli water management experts, and the guest of honour was going to be the Israeli Ambassador.
The B.D.S. bunch went into overdrive,; and one commentator noted:- Amidst one of the worst droughts in Southern Africa’s living memory, a water conference was to be hosted by the Mail & Guardian Africa. On the list of delegates was Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk. During his assignment to the country, Lenk has spent considerable effort in educating and assisting the region whenever possible.
“As a result of Israel’s participation, another delegate, Prof Lorenzo Fioramonti of the University of Pretoria, withdrew his participation. And although the conference was still set to go ahead, it was subsequently canned. Needless to say promises of rescheduling have been made, but there is little chance of getting the whole program together on a new date.
“Radio Islam in South Africa celebrated the announcement by interviewing a Prof Patrick Bond, who stuck very closely to the hater’s handbook. Apparently what Israel has achieved in this area can be done by any child and all that Israel has done is practice “Water Apartheid” and steal Palestinian water. That is hardly an achievement at all. He spoke with authority and played to his interviewer who had as much interest in the plight of the local Africans as did the professor. His narrative dripped with hatred and the thin veneer of pretence of academic objectivity did little to mask his agenda. A lesson that the prof might learn is that just by conceding something positive about Israel’s achievement, he would have made the rest of his fiction more believable. He of course made no mention of desalination or the fact that Israeli cities recycle around 85% of their water. Nor did he mention any other achievement in Israel that has changed the ecology of the country for the better.
So the conference, and the expertise went away, the dam water levels became ever lower, the Cape Administration commenced identifying whole streets where the most water was consumed, and the stand-pipes, which will be under military control, are being set up as I write. But the blame for the whole mess is laid at Cape Town’s doors, when it should be placed; rather firmly, at the B.D.S. Bunch: at the ANC Government in general, and at the Department of Water Affairs in particular: staffed as it is by incompetents brought in through politics, through Black Empowerment regulations, and through blatant nepotism!