Bay tightens water curbs as crisis deepens

50-litre limit and other measures after dam levels plunge to 19.27%

The level of dams supplying the metro dropped to a meagre 19.27% in the second week of July, 2018. Pictured here is Nelson Mandela Bay’s main water supply dam, the Kouga, at 10.37% of capacity earlier this year.
The level of dams supplying the metro dropped to a meagre 19.27% in the second week of July, 2018. Pictured here is Nelson Mandela Bay’s main water supply dam, the Kouga, at 10.37% of capacity earlier this year.
Image: Werner Hills

A maximum of 50 litres of water a person a day – that is the appeal from authorities as the already critical water situation worsens.

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality has announced stricter water restrictions – effective immediately – as the level of dams supplying the metro dropped to a meagre 19.27% this week.

Mayor Athol Trollip said at a media briefing at City Hall on Wednesday that the municipality had to adapt its plans and come up with a more innovative strategy with regard to water usage.

“As a city, and neighbouring municipalities, we rely too heavily on surface water and need to look at other options.

Rain is the only real, reliable and best augmentation option.
Mayor Athol Trollip

“The reality is if we don’t take the necessary steps to make sure that the Nooitgedacht [low-level water scheme] delivers what it can potentially deliver, we might not be flushing toilets anywhere in the city,” he said.

While a Day Zero is still not on the cards for the Bay, due to the “unique [water] situation”, the municipality announced several additional measures to be implemented, including:

  • Households are restricted to total consumption of 15 kilolitres of water per metered connection a house a month;
  • High water consumers will have discs and flow restrictors installed across the board;
  • Hose pipes may not be used for anything, unless it is water from another source or for firefighting purposes;
  • Municipal water may not be used at all to water gardens, wash cars, hose down walls or paving, or top-up pools, fountains or ponds;
  • Car washes will be shut down by the city if they do not recycle at least 60% of water;
  • No applications for new pools will be approved;
  • All building contractors must use treated effluent, collected from Fishwater Flats (or any other appropriate wastewater treatment works), other than for concrete work;
  • Automatic urinal flushing systems are not allowed;
  • Municipal showers will no longer be operational; and
  • Municipal swimming pools must be filled with suitable ground water.

The municipality has also requested that residents use a maximum of 50l of water a person a day, that cistern “bricks” be used in every toilet to reduce the quantity of water per flush, that household toilets be flushed with non-municipal water (grey, rain or borehole water), and water-efficient showerheads be used.

“Now that our dams have gone below 20%, we have to introduce stricter measures [such as that] car washes will be closed if they do not meet the requirement of recycling 60% of their water and no municipal showers will be operating anymore, which is a problem because we have Blue Flag beaches and one of the requirements of a Blue Flag beach is to have showers,” Trollip said.

He said R35m had been allocated to Nooitgedacht in March to ensure that the city does not run dry.

“Rain is the only real, reliable and best augmentation option,” Trollip said.

“In the City of Cape Town, in one weekend of unpredicted rain, their dam levels rose by 7%, which was more than all the water they had augmented through mechanical manmade interventions in one year.

“We took a conscious, informed decision to redirect money to make sure this city does not run out of water.

“This city has a water augmentation and water supply resource like few other metros.

“We have got access through the Nooitgedacht scheme of water that is currently plentiful.”

While the Bay is still on Part C of the approved tariffs for the new financial year, the target of 250 megalitres a day set in January had yet to be reached, although it was extremely close to being achieved when the target was readjusted.

Trollip said that as of yesterday, a 251Ml a day target had been achieved, but the goalpost had shifted as the department of water & sanitation had set the Bay a new target of 220Ml a day.

The municipality is aware of about 30,000 households, mainly in settlement areas in the metro, that have not been metered – which is on the agenda to rectify.

“We will be implementing the installation of water restrictive devices to further reduce our city’s water consumption.

“In managing water effectively in a water-scarce area, it needs to be metered at every single household and every single business,” he said.

Businesses reliant on water, such as nurseries, car washes and other landscape compnanies, have also been affected by the “water-disaster situation”, with some having had to close their doors.

Builders Warehouse sales consultant Michelle Meyer, 31, said the effects of the drought had forced staff to change their mindset.

“We give people different ideas on how you can garden without water – we focus on indigenous plants and greyleafed plants,” she said.

“We inform our customers that there are options in waterwise plants other than succulents, because people do not all like them.”

The manager of Floradale Nurseries in Walmer, Francois le Roux, 44, said the business had stocked up on indigenous plants, trees and succulents.

The business had constructed its own boreholes as a result of the restrictions.

“The [borehole] water is okay – we have tested it, but some plants can’t take the water – like roses – [because] there are lots of solids and salts in the water,” Le Roux said.

“We will have to look at getting a filtration system.”

The manager of Brilliant Car Care in Walmer, Ellister Adams, 64, said they had to fix their recycling system, which had brought down the water costs substantially.

“We fetched water at a borehole in Deal Party about two months ago and have been recycling that water since then.

“We use minimal municipal water because it is expensive and it is better to recycle water,” he said. Part of the reason why the City of Cape Town avoided its so-called Day Zero was a heightened sense of social activism and extraordinary measures adopted by businesses and ordinary folk to save every drop of water possible. Nelson Mandela Bay is arguably in a much worse drought situation than Cape Town. Yet, there seems to be minimal social awareness of what is a very real crisis in front of us. This week we reported that the capacity of our supply dam levels had dropped below 20%. Our farmers are jittery and rightly so. The weatherman says this year has been the second driest since 1960.

As a result, yesterday the metro announced even more stringent water restrictions, which if not adhered to, could plunge us into mayhem. These include restricting household consumption to 15kl per metered connection and a ban on the use of hose pipes, unless the water used is not sourced from the municipality.

All residents are restricted to no more than 50l per person per day.

Car washes would be shut down by the city if they did not recycle at least 60% of the water, the metro said.

There is no doubt that the restrictions will have a farreaching impact on businesses dependant on water to operate. Economically, the consequences may be dire.

For the rest of us, the new restrictions should serve as a warning to take seriously the call to save every drop.

We must promote a social drive to take responsibility for our own usage as communities and individuals, and to hold each other accountable.

Equally important, the municipality must increase its efforts to deal with water leaks, speedily and efficiently.

Failure to do so does not only exacerbate our losses, thus depleting our dams, it makes a mockery of the city’s proclaimed efforts to save water.

This week should mark a turning point in social behaviour. It’s time to have all hands on deck.