COMMENTS ON THE PROPOSED CAPE TOWN DROUGHT LEVY

9 January 2018

  • The need to augment raw potable supplies in Cape Town, via the re-use of wastewater re-use and/or desalination interventions, was predicted as early as 1970 (i.e. 47 years ago) to be required by the year 2000 (1970 Government Commission on Water Matters). The volumetric estimates of water demand by the latter date (2000) were also predicted with unprecedented accuracy in the 1970 assessment.  While the assessment pre-dated the construction of the Theewaterskloof and Berg River impoundments, it underestimated population growth and did not consider climate change — other than to acknowledge that the ravages of drought can only be offset through planning and optimal resource utilization.
  • Estimates placed the generation of effluent at 70% of total abstraction. For Cape Town, this is an immense volume of water, continuously available for treatment and re-use – instead dumped into the nearest river or the sea.
  • Despite the aforementioned warning, both the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and, in particular, the City of Cape Town (‘CoCT’), have apparently ignored same in favour of more recent reports/predictions which, ostensibly, have played down the need to take substantive preventative action to augment supplies. Despite population expansion and the burgeoning migration to the City, including thousands of economically-disadvantaged families, the CoCT chose to loosely follow a practice of ‘demand-management’.  None of the three interacting spheres of government — national, provincial or local —, however, can excuse themselves from responsibility for the extant crisis.

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Scientist predicts “a total system crash in March 2018” for Cape Town’s water supply

26 October 2017

The slow onset crisis unfolding in South Africa is – at least in my professional opinion – about to enter a new phase. Gauteng came within a week of running out of water last year, saved only by a major rainfall event that fell literally deep into the eleventh hour. Many think that the drought has gone away, so they no longer worry. Cape Town is now where Gauteng was over a year ago. Unless it rains in the next 4 months, then the water supply will literally collapse by March 2018.

This is very serious, so I have decided to write this piece in a sincere effort to galvanize constructive debate in the public interest.

The dataset attached shows dam levels since November 2016. Remember that the Western Cape is a winter rainfall area, so we are now out of the normal rainfall season entering the dry season with dams less than 30% full. But this only tells part of the story. The second graph shows the combined total of all dams in the Cape Town metro area since 2014 as the blue line, with useable water as the red line. Note the following:

1) Distinct seasonal cyclicity as rain falls in the winter followed by a dry summer.

2) Useable water is always less than dam levels, because of losses and other factors.

3) Each peak since 2014 has been lower than the previous peak, with a near linear downwards trend over the last three years.

4) Each trough follows a similar trend, being lower than the previous cycle.

5) The data stops in October 2017 (present date) on a high that is lower than all previous highs in this dataset, so extrapolating historic data into the future, we see a total system crash in March 2018.

This is dire. In fact, this will be the first case of total system failure in thecountry. Without water commerce is not possible. Shopping centres cannot operate if they cannot flush toilets. Banks cannot have staff on the premises if they cannot use the toilet. Schools cannot operate if children are unable to remain hydrated and flush toilets (here the proxy is a school in Port Shepstone that was forced to send pupils home for the same reason). Hotels cannot provide for guests so the tourism industry fails. Hospitals cannot function so patients need to be transported elsewhere (here the most accurate proxy indicator is the Murchison Hospital near Port Shepstone where water supplies have failed). If a high-rise building should start to burn, then there is insufficient water to extinguish the flames (here the proxy is Braamfontein a year ago).

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Thames Water ordered to pay record £20 million for river pollution

31 March 2017

Thames Water Utilities Ltd sentenced in the largest freshwater pollution case ever taken by the Environment Agency

(Press Release First published:22 March 2017).

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SA’s Drinking Water Reservoirs are full of shit. Literally

30 September 2016

(Guest post by Graham Sell – republished with permission – emphasis added)

It was only when I started looking into the controversial award of a Water Use Licence (WUL) to Metsimaholo Municipality (enabling them to pump treated and partially-treated effluent from their Refengkgotso sewerage works into the Vaal Dam at Deneysville) that I realised how deeply in the pooh we are across the whole country – both literally as well as metaphorically.

Before getting back to the specifics of the Refengkgotso pipeline, take a look at the compliance table below to see how your province fares in the Green Drop stakes. The Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS) Green Drop awards program sets standards for processing raw sewage into an acceptable state for reintroduction into the environment.  As a cornerstone of the program, municipalities are required to regularly test the effluent from their waste water treatment plants to ensure that it complies with prescribed microbiological, chemical, and physical standards.

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Convention on monitoring of ship ballast water nears ratification – bbe technology ready

20 May 2016

International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM)

Invasive aquatic species present a major threat to the marine ecosystems, and shipping has been identified as a major pathway for introducing species to new environments. The problem increased as trade and traffic volume expanded over the last few decades, and in particular with the introduction of steel hulls, allowing vessels to use water instead of solid materials as ballast. The effects of the introduction of new species have in many areas of the world been devastating. Quantitative data show the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate. As the volumes of seaborne trade continue overall to increase, the problem may not yet have reached its peak.

However, the Ballast Water Management Convention, adopted in 2004, aims to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms  from one region to another, by establishing standards and procedures for the management and control of ships’ ballast water and sediments

Under the Convention, all ships in international traffic are required to manage their ballast water and sediments to a certain standard, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships will also have to carry a ballast water record book and an international ballast water management certificate. The ballast water management standards will be phased in over a period of time. As an intermediate solution, ships should exchange ballast water mid-ocean. However, eventually most ships will need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system.
bbe’s BWM technology at the forefront of monitoring solutions

In a recent test of BWM technologies, bbe’s “10 cells” proved to be the world leader: Read more »

So little water, so much poor management of it

17 November 2015

South Africa needs an infrastructure revolution and a change in values if it is to avoid being left high and dry, writes Mmusi Maimane

THEY say countries should never waste a crisis. We need to see South Africa’s drought and water shortages as such an opportunity.

Our water system has reached a point where it could limit economic growth and development, which will therefore affect our social wellbeing and stability. This applies to both the quantity and quality of water available to us. Right now, we need to urgently and strategically manage our transition from a demand-driven to a supply-constrained economy.

With respect to quantity, we are experiencing a rapid increase in demand coupled with a steady decrease in supply. Population growth, immigration and changing consumption habits are pushing up demand. Supply is falling due to crumbling, poorly managed infrastructure aggravated by a shortage of engineers; an El Niño event; and a climate change trend making South Africa a hotter, drier country. This constitutes a looming crisis, despite Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s protestations to the contrary.

To make matters worse, the quality of water is also declining. Our municipal waste-water system, which treats and recycles used water, is under extreme pressure, with as many as 90% of waste-water treatment works dysfunctional. Urban and industrial effluent runs into our rivers, while acid mine drainage and the large amounts of hazardous waste that we are unable to deal with are further contributors to this problem.

It is generally agreed that at least a third but possibly up to two-thirds of our national stored water resources (in dams and watercourses) is eutrophic, meaning that it has dangerously elevated levels of nutrients that cause blue-green algae to flourish. This, in turn, produces chemicals toxic to our health. So pollution and waterborne diseases are also risking our supply.

The political and social risks of this deteriorating situation should be clear. Economic growth — and thus job creation — will be increasingly limited, leading to social instability. This will be exacerbated by rising food prices due to our increasing inability to withstand periodic droughts; our re-allocation of water from agriculture in an attempt to prevent job losses in more labour-absorbing sectors of our economy; and the general desiccation of our land due to overuse and poor farming practices.

Water insecurity will also drive energy insecurity, since energy production relies on water. Of course, water can be “imported” by means of food and energy imports that used water in their production cycle, but that option is becoming less likely because of our balance-of-payments deficit, a situation aggravated by our government’s penchant for presidential jets and the like.

As ever, the poor (particularly women and children, to whom it generally falls to collect water for cooking and washing) will suffer disproportionately — and are least able to adapt, move, or buy their way out of the problem. They are also afflicted by the least competent municipalities.

This is the bad news.

The good news is that a lot can be done to reverse this dismal state of affairs, avert the looming disaster and put South Africa back on the road to water security. Says water expert Professor Anthony Turton: “The transition can be managed, but it will require a carefully formulated strategy, driven by a policy that is based on the best available science, held together by sound political leadership embedded in robust institutions.”

Our challenge is to significantly boost water supplies, massively improve efficiency of use and increase our resilience to drought — all while ending the injustices of water provision in the past and ensuring the integrity of our ecology.

There is massive waste and inefficiency in our water systems. Wastage is due to poorly maintained infrastructure, with definitely at least a third but quite possibly up to two-thirds of all reticulated water being lost to failing infrastructure and theft. This means there is massive scope to boost our supply, but we need to channel resources — our best engineering talent and funds — to reverse the infrastructure decline.

This waste is compounded by the inefficient use of water by various sectors. We need to identify the sectors with the most potential for improvement. Here, the agricultural sector offers the greatest gains, because it uses 63% of our water for irrigation. Land management on farms has a major impact on water availability and quality. Soil erosion, for example, changes the flow of our rivers and reduces the storage capacity of our dams, resulting in the need for expensive water filtration and treatment systems. Poorly applied fertiliser and pesticides run off into rivers, polluting our water and killing aquatic life. Clearing alien vegetation is also a cost-effective, job-creating way to increase water supply on farms, because invasive plants use more than twice the water of indigenous vegetation.

Essentially, we need not only an infrastructure revolution, but also one of values. We need to recognise that our economy — and, ultimately, our wellbeing — are reliant on our national ecology, and start to treat our natural environment with the respect and care it deserves. Properly cared for and managed, our wetlands, rivers and organic-rich soil purify our water and provide resilience in times of drought. We need to restore, respect and protect our ecosystems. This requires strong leadership, which we’re not seeing right now.

Similarly, there is vast scope within our manufacturing processes and energy production for water saving, not only through efficiency gains, but through fundamentally changing the way we produce, consume and live. Once again, this begins with good governance.

As in so many other areas of state management, we know what needs to be done, but are falling short on implementation. As Mokonyane said in an interview with Chris Barron last weekend: “If you ask me, we need more bodies with the knowledge and capability, we need better management and better planning. Having the right people in the right place with the ability to do the job.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. All I would add is: “And with the government clearly having failed to rise to this challenge, it is time for a change of leadership, before we are left high and dry.”

•Maimane is the DA leader

(This article first appeared in the Sunday Times, 15 November 2015, page 18.  Republished with permission of the DA and the Sunday Times).

 

DA has quality of SA’s water resources on its radar

15 November 2015

Aquatic plants are very important stabilizers of waterbodies (Photo: Bill Harding)

Water quality is fundamentally important to South Africa’s future (Photo: Bill Harding)

As someone who has beaten the water quality drum for many years (search this blog for ‘water crisis’ articles) it is always pleasing when politicians recognize the pivotal role that water quality holds for South Africa.  This topic is currently receiving increased attention due to the very severe drought conditions currently being experienced.

The Democratic Alliance has been somewhat quiet on water quality issues since the days when Gareth Morgan held the portfolio.  Today, however, the Sunday Times (November 15, 2015, pg 18, see following post) carried an opinion piece by no less a DA member than its leader, Mr Mmusi Maimane, entitled “So little water, so much poor management of it“.  To my knowledge, addressing such a topic is a first for any leader of a political party in this country!

The article reads, inter alia, that “[to] make matters worse, the quality of water is also declining. Our municipal waste-water system…is under extreme pressure, with as many [sic] as 90% of waste-water treatment works dysfunctional“.  Furthermore, “…possibly up to two-thirds of our national stored water resources in dams and watercourses is eutrophic“.  Here Mr Maimane is referring to the legacy of inaction on the level of wastewater treatment required to prevent South African reservoirs from becoming eutrophic, a legacy that persists from the previous regime of government (see review article here for details).

Mr Maimane correctly notes that, the dire circumstances notwithstanding, there is still hope for mitigation.  What remains is for the ANC government to stop denying that there is a crisis, stop focussing solely on water quantity and to move demonstrably towards the application of more appropriate science and technology for the management of South African surface waters.

(Bill Harding is a South African aquatic scientist with a long history of experience in eutrophication and toxic algae.  He is a Certified Lake Manager – a USA certification and is the only person so registered in South Africa).

The looming water crisis, and its causes

11 November 2015

(Author: Anthony Turton)

Sitting on the Horns of a Dilemma: Water as a Strategic Resource in South Africa

South Africa is a water-constrained country with a vital need to conserve, manage, and expand its limited water resources as efficiently as possible. Since 1994, however, strategic planning has deteriorated, along with operational efficiency. Under the supposed imperatives of ‘transformation’, skilled engineering and other professional staff have been driven out of water boards (responsible for bulk water supply) and municipalities (charged with local reticulation and often also with waste management).

Municipalities are now discharging around 4 billion litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the country’s rivers and dams every day. The Government refuses to admit the extent to which water quality has deteriorated, and a public health crisis now looms. Various reforms are feasible, but the ruling party shows little willingness to allow practical reality to prevail over its transformation ideology.

That water constraint

South Africa’s rainfall is half the global average, making it a water-scarce country. The first proposal for the construction of large dams was made in the 1870s.

In 1886 Thomas Bain, a civil engineer in the public roads department in the Cape, followed up with a book on ‘water finding’ and‘dam-making’, which urged state intervention in the construction of hydraulic (water-driven) infrastructure as an essential foundation for economic growth and social cohesion.

When South Africa became a republic in 1961, one of the State’s first major projects was the creation of a scheme to transfer water from one river basin to another. This was achieved via the Orange-Fish-Sundays scheme, which transfers water from the Gariep Dam in the Free State to arid areas in the Eastern Cape. This initiative was specifically designed not only to address the water challenge in parts of the Karoo but also to restore investor confidence after the Sharpeville shootings in 1960.

In 1970 came the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Water Matters. This report warned that South Africa’s economic development would always be water-constrained unless a coherent plan was implemented by the State to overcome this obstacle. In response, the Government imposed a tax on the bulk sale of water (the first of its kind in the world) to fund a new body called the Water Research Commission. This commission was given the task, in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), of developing the science and engineering technology needed to address the country’s endemic water scarcity and so promote economic growth and prosperity.

Working from this foundation, South Africa became a global leader in the management of water. This allowed the country to develop the most diversified economy in the world compared with other nations with similar climatic regimes. One of its great achievements in the 1970s was the CSIR’s development of the first sewage recycling technology.

This cutting- edge innovation was put into operation in Windhoek (in what was then South West Africa and is now Namibia) in response to the absolute water scarcity in the city. This development was also part of a wider strategic initiative to harness water from a multiplicity of sources. South Africa thus became globally recognised for its ability to achieve economic growth and development despite its fundamental water constraint, which was largely overcome through high levels of technical ingenuity.

The National Water Act of 1998

After the transition to democracy in 1994, the new Government adopted the National Water Act of 1998 as one of its first ‘transformation’ interventions. This removed riparian and other common-law rights to water and made the State the public trustee of the nation’s water resources. It also gives the State the power to decide on ‘the equitable allocation of water in the public interest’, in order to address past racial and gender discrimination.

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Lots of apparent irregularities around the Elandsfontein phosphate mine?

13 October 2015

Elandsfontein looking west towards the lagoon (Carika van Zyl)

Elandsfontein, looking west towards the lagoon (Carika van Zyl)

The goings-on around the approval of mining rights for the proposed phosphate mine on the South African west coast at Elandsfontein (in the buffer zone of the West Coast National Park no less!), seem a tad murky.  There seem to be a slew of procedural anomalies and some of the specialist work, for a project that could, potentially, have ecological implications that extend into the marine environment, appears somewhat superficial – with concerns raised on review.  Political interference in favour of the mining has been alleged.  Legal opinion shows that the mining company may have been ill-advised in terms of their procedural obligations to seek approval under NEMA.  Anyway, readers need to draw their own conclusions from the following letter prepared by the stalwart conservationist heading up the opposition to the mine, Carika van Zyl.  Last week she circulated this letter with associated documents (published here with her permission):

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Misrepresentation of N3 De Beers Pass route wetland specialist findings

13 July 2015

DSC_2766

The De Beers Pass route is essentially untransformed and characterized by pastoral tranquillity and seclusion…

During 2013 we (DH Environmental Consulting, DHEC) undertook a significant body of work assessing numerous wetlands along the route of the proposed De Beers Pass N3 Toll Road (DBPR) between Warden and Keeversfontein.  Our final report, detailing our assessment of the impacts that would be incurred by the new road, was submitted in October 2013. We have not received any feedback thereon since that time.

We have recently learnt, via reviews of our and other specialist environmental impact assessment work conducted for the proposed new road, that our findings were not carried over into the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) or for the Draft Integrated Water Use Licence application (DIWULA) (these reviews may be found here).  One of the reviews concludes as follows:

The Draft EIA Report does not adequately reflect the findings of specialist studies. There have been material omissions and in general specialist findings have been watered down, with the exception of those relating to economic impacts. This is particularly true of those studies which show significant adverse impacts – these have been summarised to the extent that their significance is under-stated and preferred mitigation measures involving avoidance of impacts discarded. Accordingly, the obligation to conduct work in an objective manner as required in terms of regulation 18(c) of the 2006 NEMA EIA Regulations has not been achieved. Economic benefits, which are beneficial to the application have been fully stated (e.g. Chapter 11 of the Draft EIA Report) whereas the same cannot be said for significant adverse impacts as is demonstrated by some examples in Table 2 in this review.

DH Environmental was not provided with a copy of the DEIR or the DIWULA.  Had we been, we would have strongly contested the manner in which our findings were not carried over into these documents.

We are also extremely concerned to learn that, at public meetings, which we were not invited to attend or present our work at, the impression was allegedly created that all of the project specialists concurred with the content of the presentations being made by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP).  Furthermore that, inter alia,  the presentation of findings by a colleague wetland specialist were prevented from being shown at the public meetings (see report found here). Other alleged client intervention in the process is also documented.  We also find, from one of the reviews, that the opinion of the client – to wit casting doubt on the specialist findings – were included in the EIR.  This is wholly inappropriate and suggests a new low for EIAs.

A summary of our findings, which indicate the proposed route to be ill-advised, are provided below.  We strongly recommend that oversight by specialists become a mandatory component of the EIA and associated licensing processes – this to ensure that their findings have been correctly interpreted and included.  We can only wonder as to how many other EIAs have followed this practice and got away with it.

In our opinion, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the EIA process for the DBPR is sufficiently flawed for it to be set aside as being materially deficient.  We hereby disassociate ourselves with the process that appears to have been followed in deriving the DEIR and the DIWULA.

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