A drop in agricultural water use has pushed out Cape Town’s dreaded Day Zero to mid-May; however, with no significant decline in urban water use, the city has moved forward with its level 6B water restrictions and tariffs to limit water use to 50 ℓ/d per person.
The City of Cape on Monday moved out Day Zero from April 16 to May 11, less than a week after initially shifting the day the city is expected to run out of water by four days from April 12.
Agricultural use is expected to decline significantly over the next few weeks, as many of the agricultural users in the Western Cape Supply System have used up the water allocated to them as agreed with the National Department of Water and Sanitation.
“Currently, the agriculture sector is drawing about 30% of the water in the supply scheme. This should fall to about 15% in March and 10% in April. It must be noted that the city does not have any control over agricultural releases, so this is the best estimate we can make with the information at hand,” said executive deputy mayor alderman Ian Neilson.
“All preparations for the possibility of reaching Day Zero continue in earnest. The city also continues with the roll-out of aggressive pressure management initiatives in an effort to stretch our supplies,” he added.
Level 6B water restrictions and tariffs came into effect on February 1 to help finance water services and to reduce use, which remained at about 547-million litres a day – 97-million litres above the target of 450-million litres a day.
Meanwhile, the city is also working on establishing small-scale desalination plants as a means to urgently augment the rapidly dwindling water supply.
The use of desalinated water in coastal regions would mean that more water should be available for agriculture and food production, said Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Janine Myburgh.
The agricultural sector has made considerable progress in using water more productively through various technologies and initiatives and “deserves more water” to enable more and better food production which would, in turn, create more jobs and export earnings.
“The policy of taking water from the agricultural areas of the country and flushing it down city toilets is unsustainable, especially in coastal areas,” she said on Monday, explaining that there was “convincing evidence” that the desalination of sea water at an appropriate scale was now both viable and necessary in coastal towns.
“One of the proposals made to the Cape Town City Council was to build a large desalination plant to produce about 250-million litres of water a day, about 30% of Cape Town’s needs in a normal year. When this desalinated water was blended with 70% dam water the result would be an increase in tariffs of just 6.54%,” the chamber explained.
The increased cost of desalinated water could also be offset by the lower cost of recycled water, especially for industry.
“The recycling and reuse of water must be increased to get maximum value from our water resources. In Cape Town, for instance, only 6% of water is recycled in a normal year. The other 94% is discharged into the sea, most of it treated to a safe and acceptable standard.”
The chamber believed that increased water reuse should be a fundamental part of any future water and sanitation plan.