18/03/2018 00:55 SAST | Updated 18/03/2018 00:56 SAST

Action Group Opposes Cape Town Water By-Law Amendments

The Concerned Residents Action Group believes the city has no legal right to impose conditions on boreholes and other groundwater sources.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

Although Cape Town has been told by DA leader Mmusi Maimane that residents are off the Day Zero hook for this year, the water crisis in the city isn't over, and the ongoing Western Cape drought is continuing to cause controversy, largely related to the way the city and the province are managing the emergency.

As late as January 17, 2018, mayor Patricia de Lille was telling Cape Town residents that Day Zero was now virtually inevitable – the culmination of a scare-tactic campaign that over three months, finally succeeded in getting Capetonians to halve their water consumption. This, combined with savings in the agricultural sector and alternative water sources coming online, allowed Maimane to "cancel" Day Zero on March 7.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Sand blows across a normally submerged area at Theewaterskloof Dam, the normal supplier of most of Cape Town's water. Picture taken January 20, 2018.

Having come that close to disaster, few in the city would argue that a change in the regulations governing water supply and use might be appropriate, and the Cape Town city council is due to decide on a proposed water by-law amendment this month.

Residents action group opposes by-law amendment

However, the public consultations ahead of council considering the proposed amendments have received around 38,000 comments, many of them opposed to it. The Concerned Residents Action Group (CRAG) made a submission through its lawyers that the current draft be scrapped, according to EWN.

The group considers some of the amendments "draconian", "too broad" and "unconstitutional", EWN reported.

In particular, CRAG opposes the changes related to wells, boreholes, well points and excavations, because under the amendment, no interconnections will be allowed between those sources of water and any water installation supplied from the municipal mains.

CRAG lawyers argued that the city had no power to impose any conditions pertaining to underground water, as this is a government competency.

Many farmers feel 'betrayed' by the DA's surrender of the Day Zero incentive.

Other areas dealt with by the proposed water by-law amendment are:

  • reducing the demand on municipal water supply by expanding the regulations on alternative water use and efficient plumbing fittings,
  • enhancing enforcement of the by-law in relation to plumbers within the metro, and
  • strengthening the requirements for sub-metering on properties that have multiple accommodation units.

Farmers gobsmacked by scrapping of Day Zero

Not everyone was overjoyed by Maimane's bold announcement that Day Zero had been "avoided" this year, and they weren't limited to those who felt he was tempting fate, with the winter rains yet to come. According to Cape Business News, many farmers feel "betrayed" by the DA's surrender of the Day Zero incentive.

Farmers saw their water allocations severely restricted by the drought, leading to the uprooting of many hectares of crops and vines, and the culling of a good deal of livestock. It was water saved by cutting rural allocations – in some cases completely – that was later released into the municipal catchment system, along with water donated by farmers with private dams.

It was that water that allowed city residents to avoid day zero, and it came at a cost that will take many farms years to recover from, even if the region enjoys above-average rains for the next few winters. Having made those sacrifices, farmers are not happy to see the party governing the province and the city then abandon its primary tool for ensuring an equal commitment from residents to water-saving.

Maimane explains his involvement

The leader of the opposition said he got involved with the Cape Town water crisis because citizens had to be given answers about what exactly was going on. Maimane was speaking at a media briefing on Saturday following the party's federal executive meeting, at which water was one of several issues discussed.

He said that although he is not part of the Western Cape or city government, he had to step in as the leader of the official opposition.

"As we, the citizens of Cape Town, were facing this looming challenge of having Day Zero. There is nothing wrong with me calling the public officials of the DA, bringing them on board and saying as a party, here is the challenge," he said.

"When the citizens feel like they are not getting the right information, it is incumbent upon me as the leader of the DA to say – on behalf of the citizens who have elected to govern – what action must be taken," Maimane added.

Some political observers believe it is significant that it was mayor Patricia de Lille – currently involved in a power struggle with a party faction that wants her ousted – who got to announce the bleak inevitability of Day Zero, while it was Maimane who rode in as a white knight to announce that Day Zero had been scrapped two months later.

Offering an effluent lifestyle

The city has recently introduced the use of treated effluent water for businesses, according to Politicsweb, as part of its internationally recognised water-conservation and demand-management programme.

Approval has now been given for the supply of up to 10-million litres of treated effluent to various businesses from collection points in Cape Town.

Morgana Wingard/Getty Images
Farmers in Melkboom, Western Cape, had to let their 34,000 cucumber plants inside their greenhouses die this year, because they didn't have enough water for them due to the water restrictions caused by the drought. This farm had to let go half of its permanent staff, because there was not enough work for them.

"Management of other large facilities in Cape Town should take note of the significant savings that can be achieved through using treated effluent water and the installation of water-saving systems," said water and waste services councillor Xanthea Limberg.

She added that it is good way to "prevent a Day Zero scenario" and increase water security. This water cannot be used for drinking, however – it is for irrigation and industrial purposes, and for the flushing of toilets

The city is also rolling out supplies of treated effluent water for flushing toilets in areas where permanent connections exist.