World Water Day
Yesterday (22 March 2018) was World Water Day. A day where the focus is on the importance of water and raising awareness on the issues surrounding it. The residence of the Western Cape, South Africa all to well know of the scarcity of water, as in the last few years, water has become in less supply and expensive. Dam levels have declined compared to previous years, and at the time of writing this article, there has been no substantial amount of rainfall positively predicted for the coming winter season.
What this tells us, is that both government and civil society need to work together to alleviate the water crisis in South Africa. This can be done by better water management and drilling into alternative sources of fresh water, to mention a few. Clearly some businesses have benefited from the crisis. People are purchasing bottled water in its gallons and the sale of 25 litre containers has sky rocketed. Almost every household owns a few containers. Then there is the Jojo tanks residence purchased and used to catch and store rain water, and water from water sources. All these costs money to the ratepayer.
As Our Lawyer (Pty) Ltd is based in Cape Town, we felt it fitting to use our legal expertise to write something on the water crisis in celebration of World Water Day. We too are feeling the crisis in our office building where water saving measures are in place.
Cape Town Water Crisis
The water crisis in Cape Town is therefore clearly a real issue affecting not only its residents, but industry alike. Currently Cape Town is facing level 6B water restrictions, which allows its residence less than 50 litres of water usage a day. This has been the case for the past few months. Prior to that, the quota per person was in the region of 85 litres of water usage a day. With these restrictions, comes higher water costs in that, the more you use, the more you would pay as compared to periods before level 6B. This could be compared to the “polluter pays” principle when it comes to pollution.
Water Outages and Problems
As with the electricity crisis not too long ago, Cape Town is now experiencing water outages. And in some areas, more than others. Certain areas experience blue coloured water coming from their taps, which may not be potable. Then there is the issue of the controversial water meters being installed for homes across Cape Town. In some areas, the communities opposed its installations citing faulty devices as a reason. When the device fails, residence is left without water until it is repaired, and sometimes not soon enough. This can be particularly annoying as the devices comes at a cost to the ratepayer.
No matter how you look at it, water is still a vital resource on any level. We need it for our daily living. Industry requires it for their growth. And farms require it to ensure that there is food on our tables. But where does this leave us going forward? As can be seen, clearly there is a crisis, and costing us. Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or water at the bottom of the pit?
A right to water in South Africa
South Africa is an arid country with a small percentage of its rainfall available as surface water. It further has one of the lowest conversion ratios in the world. Each time we lose a water resource due to pollution or to poor conservation, we are driven closer to ‘water resource extinction’. It is therefore critically concerning that many of the Western Cape’s rivers are heavily polluted.
What does our Constitution say?
Section 24 of our country’s constitution states that “everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.” The same section further states that “the environment is to be protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development. Furthermore, section 27 of our Constitution states that “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water.”
Alternative Sources of Water in Cape Town
Cape Town has now bought into the idea of desalination. There are currently three desalination plants in Cape Town, hoping to be up and running in a few weeks’ time. This however would not supply Cape Town with all its needed water should it be fully up and running. Then there is the issue of borehole water. Many residences and businesses have invested in drilling boreholes. This however comes at a cost and the water is not drinkable. It seems whatever the alternative sources are, it would cost the user a pretty penny.
The South African Breweries has a spring water collection point in Newlands Cape Town open to the public. Here residence may collect their water. There is also another collection point a few minutes’ walk away. With only five taps, and long queues, even being open twenty-four hours a day, would not support the entire Cape Town population. People may find it easier to just purchase water from the store.
There are quite a few springs in Cape Town, but not all of them are open to the public. You will find people queuing in Muizenberg or collecting the water coming from the Mountain on Boyes Drive. Be that as it may, it would be clearly impracticable for a household of five people to collect their free water from springs, to alleviate a huge water bill. People work, and there are costs involved in transporting the water.
The way forward
Without pointing fingers, it is clear that something has gone wrong with regard to water management in the Western Cape. How can things change so quick? But we are where we are, and now with our eyes open. We cannot depend on government solely anymore to save us, we need to take positive action. If this means installing water saving devices, collecting water, or drilling boreholes; that is what we must do. In any event, our pockets will feel it.
We wish the City success with their water desalination venture, and making use of groundwater, and truly wish the Winter season will fill up our dams. However, we all need to have systems and contingencies in place, as this crisis is one that may be around for some time. For environmental legal services, visit Envirolaws (Pty) Ltd.
Happy World Water Day! The Our lawyer (Pty) Ltd Legal Team