“We haven’t yet shifted the public perception about how important water is and we’re running out of sites to build dams – there are no other rivers with excess water,” says WWF living lands unit head Mark Botha.
He said that South Africans were not paying for the water they used and that the demand for water would exceed supply, despite plans to build dams.
“Municipalities need the income that water generates and so we’ve built ourselves into this dependency on water. If urban water demand keeps increasing, you’ll never get to water security unless you flatten the demand curve.”
As SA prepares for Water Day on March 22, authorities accept that something needs to be done about urban water consumption, and acknowledge that there are “legacy issues” to compound the water problems.
“We have various legacy issues: There has been inadequate maintenance and we’ve reached the point where there’s no lead time. We’ve consumed 52% of our water infrastructure – that’s a challenge,” said City of Cape Town director of water and sanitation services Lungile Dlamini.
Botha conceded that the city was improving water management, but urged that high water consumers be obligated to pay more for their consumption.
“The City of Cape Town has woken up and they’re doing some amazing things, but the average house uses 22 000l of water per month. We are not paying the true cost of water and the city should regulate water management, then people will learn the value of water quickly.”
Botha insisted that pre-paid water be installed at all homes and moves are made to eliminate waste in the water network.
Around 20% to 30% of water is lost through breakdowns in the ageing network, according to the WWF.
Also, Botha said that high water users like farmers and industry should be held to account for the water they used, but rejected the argument that increased water tariffs would lead to inflation.
“I don’t buy the economic argument because that’s the true cost of water. Farmers pay, but they don’t pay for water, they pay for electricity and pumps. Agriculture uses at least 80% of our water in the Western Cape,” he said.
Botha also slammed the proliferation of golf courses.
“The days of pumping rivers dry to green fairways and putting greens are over. Golf courses are designed to increase house prices. We don’t need any more golf courses; we have more than enough.”
There are 17 water springs around Cape Town and News24 found one that was, according to the WWF, capped with the water being directed down the storm water system.
The City rejected this, saying the water was being used.
“The bulk of that water is being directed toward the Green Point Urban Park,” said Farouk Robertson of the City of Cape Town.
He added though, that directing all the natural springs to the water network would be cost prohibitive.
“That one [spring] cost a few million rand, about R20m, and all the springs have different origins. One has to look at the quality of the water,” he said.
Botha acknowledged that water was a human right, but insisted that high water users pay the “true cost” while at the same time subsidising the poor.