by Yvette Abrahams from Khoelife
A lot of ignorance is going around about Cape Town’s water crisis. I find this strange since this crisis should have been foreseen. I wrote on this since 2009, personally workshopped every province in this country in 2011, and in fact not only hosted my own climate change workshop in CCT (for the CGE) but in 2012 went to the City of Cape Town Women’s Day event to talk to them about it. In that year I went to two subsequent meetings with the CCT Energy and Climate Change Office, and why a city has such an office if they don’t know that climate change is happening is just inexplicable. They should have seen it coming. Those of you who follow my blog know that I can’t be shut up about these things. Well, better late than never. Maybe they will listen now. I will keep it short since shallow bowls fill quickly.
- No, this crisis is not going to go away. Climate change experts predict increasing extreme weather as the planet heats up. That means more floods and more droughts. Like happened in Jo’burg this year. So don’t act stupid.
- No, desalinization is not a solution. Desalinization is like toys for boys, it promises unlimited supplies without counting the cost. For one, your desalinization plant is very expensive to start with and gets more expensive the next time you have a flood.  For two, along with your clean water you also accumulate a mountain of salt. What are you going to do with it? If you put the salt back in the ocean you will destroy your offshore marine ecosystem, which is already coping with floods of sewerage and plastic. But if you accumulate it on land, it will in any case go back into the ocean the next time it rains, or, when sea level rise starts to hit. So just don’t do it. Don’t try to solve a problem by creating another one. That is the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. Besides, nature has a perfectly good (and free) desalinization system already. The reason why we will have more floods in Cape Town is because the hotter it gets, the more water evaporates from the ocean. Eventually this increased evaporation is going to fall back out of the sky. I suggest we get ready for it.
- No, we should really not be doing more boreholes. Once you collapse the aquifer, it never recovers. They tried this in Springbok Flats in Limpopo and proved conclusively that one should not mess with the aquifer. There is no need to redo the experiment. Picture the aquifer like a sponge. You know when you allow your sponge to dry completely the only way to rewet it is to immerse it completely in water. Do you really want to try this with the Cape Town aquifer? Should we maybe ask the Cape Flats what they think about that idea?
- Ok, it is a sound educational principle to not only tell people what not to do, but to give them positive alternatives. So the first obvious principle is that a litre saved is a litre earned. Cape Town loses a quarter of its clean water, in large part because it does not maintain its pipe system.  My suggestion is that we link senior managers’ and councillors’ salaries directly to the extent to which they fix our old pipes. That will sort out our maintenance problem very quickly.
- Then the City should subsidize rainwater tanks for every house. It should hand them out for free in informal settlements. If every roof in Cape Town collected rain, it would slow down floods at least enough for emergency services to have a chance to co-ordinate a proper response. And it would increase access to household water during droughts. See: we are preparing for floods and droughts simultaneously at a fraction of the costs of the more technical options. Ratepayers will be happy. We will stimulate local businesses. Your plants will love it. Plus rainwater is the absolute best thing for rinsing your hair in.
- Then we shall have to do some water recycling. More and more gray water is going to be re-used in gardens as global warming hits, but the one thing the City can be sure of getting is the water contained in our sewerage. Windhoek has had 99 % water recycling for decades. It works. Just think of more and more people coming to Cape Town as climate refugees begin to swell in numbers. But our rainfall is scheduled to decrease slightly every year, in fact, this is what is happening already which is why we are having a water crisis. You see where I am going with this! So why postpone the inevitable? Let us do what we have to do now. In that way it will pay the City to extend waterborne sewerage to unserviced areas. I think the 25 % of the city’s population who live in informal settlements and backyard shacks would appreciate that. It is not use expecting the poor to behave with human pride as long as we deny them basic human dignity. So stop complaining about the crime rate and get to servicing.
- Finally we need to give some thought to the fact that we messed pretty severely with the city’s water storage capacity during colonization. Think of the landscape as one massive water storage system. Water is stored in trees, in living soil (i.e. soil which is humus-rich, not your monocropped wastelands). A permaculture seven-layer planting: trees, shrubs, subshrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs, will let hardly a drop of water escape it. Water will be stored in the landscape and slowly trickle into streams and rivers. Colonialists came and paved over all this water storage. We Khoesan spent about 500 years telling them this was a stupid idea, but you know, hulle wat nie wil luister nie moet voel. Hopefully people will listen now. Cape Town is made by nature to be one massive water storage system. Replant it. The most beautiful natural setting in the world could do with some regreening. I love Kenya where, thanks to the work of Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, every roadside and every traffic island is an opportunity to plant trees. With the most beautiful natural setting in the world you would think the Cape Town City Council would be more serious about re-greening the Cape Flats which is where most of our water should be stored. Ja nee.
Well, there is my advice, absolutely free. No, I do not want you to vote for me either. If you would like to buy some soap, do so at the Conscious Living Fayre next month. We shall be launching our new household cleaning soap. It is 100% natural, bio-degradeable and actually will fertilize your plants. I have been growing my trees on it for two years just to make sure that it does what I say it will do. It’s called working towards a win-win situation.