No matter how I am economizing my water usage, the water portion of my City of Cape Town bill seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. Three months ago my bill reflected a zero amount, and I regarded myself as Proudly Water Saving! As my water usage has decreased severely, now showering twice a week only, running the washing machine every ten days, saving all grey water for the plants and mopping and cleaning, it can only be a higher City charge that is creating an increase in my water bill! Worrying is that Day Zero is 100 days away, the date being brought forward continuously! 

The City of Cape Town is planning a water surcharge ‘drought charge’) based on resident’s property valuation, and Cape Town residents are up in arms about it, about the surcharge in general, and that it is based on a property valuation specifically! I was at a Water-conscious function on Church Square in December, and Mayor Patricia de Lille categorically said that there would be no such surcharge, despite requests from residents to be charged more for water, she shared! A week later she reneged on this promise, the first talk of this reflected in the media! Since then the City has sent its ratepayers a letter motivating such a surcharge, with their latest rates and water bill. It is not money for urgent water-related projects that the surcharge is required, but rather a R1,6 billion shortfall in City revenue due to the water saving by its ratepayers! This means that it is likely that the bulk of the surcharge monies, should the surcharge be implemented, will be allocated to City running and administrative costs, unethical in itself, rather than to urgently building desalination facilities!  A citizen petition is dong the rounds, standing up to the City regarding the surcharge.  

Cape Town water supply Day Zero estimate was extended by two months, to 13 May 2018, now reduced to 3 May!

The City of Cape Town letter states that the City is ‘working hard’ to make ‘new water’ available, having doubled its output from the Atlantis Aquifer, made water available from the Oranjezicht springs, and boreholes in the Table Mountain Group Aquifer to supply the Steenbras catchment area. It confirms that it will pressurize national government (the unnamed Department of Water and Sanitation) to ‘pay what they should paying for’, to police those who aren’t paying their bills, and restricting the water usage of water users. It states that the ‘drought charge’ pay for these projects, and ‘will primarily also be used to ensure the water operations of the City remain available’ – the word ‘primarily’ being the sting! Surely it should be used SOLELY for the water generation, but then it is the responsibility of the national government to do so in the first instance. It promises that ‘you will not pay more than what your water bill was before the drought’, which is absolute nonsense! Given the value of my house in Fresnaye, I am likely to be charged R420 – R565 per month, already paying R265 with my very best Water Saving effort in my single household. It threatens to implement the ‘drought charge’ from 1 February this year, and will be implemented until ‘only’ 30 June 2021!!!

Worrying too is the political infighting within the DA regarding the Mayor, and her alleged knowledge of irregularities in the operation of the City of Cape Town Transport Department, with monies misappropriated, it has been reported. 

Festive Season visitor to Cape Town and News24 columnist Howard Feldman wrote this somewhat tongue-in-cheek yet very realistic and questioning article about Cape Town’s water crisis, and our stereotype Cape Town laid-back response to it! 

Capetonians are nice people. They don’t seem to be angry. With around 100 days left before the taps run dry, the city may well become the first major city (certainly coastal one) to run out of water.

The residents’ attitude is a brilliant one.

I think.

But I do wonder if a little outrage earlier on would have motivated alternative solutions.

We spent a few weeks over December in the Mother City. It was remarkable. Aside from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world Capetonians seem to have taken the difficult reality in their stride. They have adapted their homes, they report leaks immediately, they are acutely aware of each wasted drop, and from what I observed, they do this without resentment.

When we were there, residents (and visitors) were being asked to use no more than 87 litres per day.

I am not even sure that I could manage my daily coffee requirement on that. Let alone everything else.

Dam levels in Cape Town have dropped and are now at 29.7%. This might not sound terrible but water is usable until just under 20%. The drought has also cost the City of Cape Town around R1.6 billion in direct revenue alone as a result of decreased water consumption. One has to wonder what impact this will have on the city.

Also worth noting is that Cape Town is using close to 580 million litres per day but can only really afford 500 million if Day Zero is to be avoided.

Plans for additional water includes drilling for more accessible water as well desalination plants at the V&A Waterfront, Monwabisi and Strandfontein, but it is unclear when these hope to come online.

It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the next 100 days.

What is clear is that the situation should not have deteriorated to this point. Cape Town should not be in this predicament and the residents of the city should not have been asked to endure that which is asked of them. As visitors we had the comfort of knowing that we would soon be returning to a city with water but residents of Cape Town are staring down a very dry barrel. And that is frightening.

What makes matters worse is that there are multiple environments around the world that receive less rain that Cape Town does, and yet manages on what little water they have.

And it’s not even clear why this happened. Fingers are being pointed at central government – The Department of Water and Sanitation – who apparently allocated too much of the resource to agriculture. Given a recent statement that they are going to be sending representatives to Cape Town in the “next two weeks” they seem to lack the care. Or at least an understanding of the severity or urgency of the situation.

Fingers are being pointed at the DA who have their own internal issues with Mayor Patricia de Lille, and who perhaps could have done more to get government to react. At the end of the day, it matters naught because it seems that all that is to be done now is to conserve what little water there is and to pray that the rains will avert the day that the taps are set to run dry.

A scary and unscientific approach if ever there was one.

It is almost impossible to imagine a city without water. Businesses and enterprises will not be able to function, hygiene will be severely compromised and each day will become a hardship. The thought of residents waiting in line with buckets for a daily water allocation is horrific. There is little doubt that additional security will be required as residents compete for what little resource remains.

The Cape Town drought is the storyline of a bad movie, and yet as the city slips into double digits away from the day the taps run dry, this horror might well become a reality.

100 days is not a long time. April is not far away. I believe that it is time to start seeing some real and tangible Day Zero scenarios and plans. There needs to be daily updates, clear communication and accountability. It is not enough to simply tell residents to consume less. The DA needs to make this their focus and they need to hold central government to account.

It’s the very least that they can do for the people of Cape Town.

– Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM’

POSTSCRIPT 13/1/18:  I have just seen yesterday’s Cape Argus, with an article suggesting that the drought levy be scrapped, the DA executive to suggest to the City of Cape Town caucus that the proposed drought levy not be supported at its next Council meeting. The party’s Cape Metro leader Grant Twigg is quoted as saying: ‘After careful co side ration we have co e to the decision that this proposal is not viable and will create an undue burden on ratepayers. We believe the City should prioritize its budget and active,t and robustly engage the national governs net on the needs of the City, as water sourcing is their core competency’. Given a public participation process, no final decision ha# been made about the drought levy. Cape Chamber of Commerce Chairman Janine Myburgh also spoke out against the levy: ‘We reject the idea that some form of surcharge on water users would be appropriate to cover the revenue shortfall. You cannot punish consumers for buying less of what the City cannot supply anyway’.

In a letter to the editor in the same issue of the Cape Argus, the accuracy and honesty of the City’s drought levy figures is questioned, it having been stated that 52000 persons would pay R150 per month while the majaorty would only pay R47 per month. The writer also quotes sources which state that the City’s water and electricity charges have increased by more than the inflation rate since 2009. It also quotes the figure that 45000 comments to the drought levy were received, but the ‘vote’ for or against it is not divulged. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein