If dams go dry – what it means for tourism in Cape Town

The latest forecast for Cape Town’s rainfall in June, July and August is that it will be 40% below annual averages.  And there are predictions that this drought could last at least two years.  Cape Town could become the first world city to simply run out of water due to bad management and too much wishful thinking.  And that’s something CapeTalk radio has been emphasizing for months.

Listening to the Kieno Kammies show on CapeTalk last week and the on-air spat about the water crisis between City of Cape Town (CoCT) Mayco member responsible for water, Xanthea Limberg and Tony Ehrenreich (Cosatu), one couldn’t help but feel that politicians put party politics and point-scoring above the interests of the city.  It was a spat that made a mockery of the mayor’s call the night before for everybody to work together!

From News24 — April 3, 2017:
“We will progressively intensify water restrictions and will reduce water pressure further to lower consumption, which could in cases lead to intermittent supply over larger areas of the metro at the same time,” said mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, Xanthea Limberg.

Rainfall over parts of the city would not materially change the low levels. Should dams reach below 10% of storage levels, a “lifeline” water supply would be implemented.

This would involve minimal supply pressure, intermittent supply, and very stringent restrictions. People in areas with low water pressure might have to get their water from tankers.

The city council could also install water management devices for consumers who failed to limit consumption, even if they already paid the highest tariffs.

So CapeInfo asked Cllr Limburg: “Is the City able to guarantee that tourists who visit Cape Town over the next four months will be able to have showers at their accommodation establishments?  And what restrictions might tourists expect to encounter if rainfall over June, July & August is 40% below the annual average as predicted?”

There was no acknowledgement or reply to the email.    #Fail1

So I copied these questions to Dr Theuns Vivian, CoCT’s Head: Destination Development, since we had exchanged several emails (with no answers) on this subject and emailed, a little facetiously, “I must assume that your destination planning hasn’t taken the availability of water for tourists into consideration at all?”  Of course that got no reply either.    #Fail2

What is the City actually doing, apart from pleading for consumers to use less?
CoCT continues to accelerate its emergency water schemes in accordance with the disaster declaration. This includes:

  • Emergency drilling of boreholes into the Table Mountain Group Aquifer, with a yield of approximately 2 million litres per day. (Work on a pilot project will only start at the end of June.)
  • A small-scale desalination package plant, located along Cape Town’s north-western coastline, with a yield of approximately 2 million litres per day.
  • A R120m small-scale wastewater reuse plant at the Zandvliet water treatment works. The plant will produce 10 million litres of drinking water per day for the central and southern suburbs of Cape Town.
  • Intensifying the city’s pressure management and water demand management programmes.

If you tally up all CoCT’s new supplies (2ML/day aquifer, 2ML/day desalination and 10ML/day wastewater treatment) it comes to a total of 14 million litres of water a day.  Last month Cape Town used 720 million litres of water a day (above the 600 million litres a day target set by CoCT).

If the dams run dry of clean water, Capetonians and visitors to the city will have to get by on just 2% of the water they used last month… based on CoCT’s emergency plans.

For a Municipality that has bragged about its Climate Change credentials, this is scandalous.  Everyone knows that our world is getting hotter and dryer, year by year, and that droughts will be more frequent.  So they cannot blame unexpected droughts, only their bad planning and management.

CapeInfo spoke to John van Rooyen, TsogoSun’s operations manager for the Western Cape, Emma King, Communications manager at V&A Waterfront (V&AW), and Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism (CTT), to find out what steps have been taken by the tourism industry.

TsogoSun, V&AW and CTT have done everything that could be expected of them.  (Remember also, that V&AW came top in the world for Responsible Tourism and sustainable development last year!)

John had waited for the meeting with the mayor last Thursday, hoping for something new, before answering my questions. (See mayor Patricia de Lille’s speech to that meeting here.  It contains absolutely nothing new and is totally uninspired and uninspiring.  This sentence beggars belief: “We are currently reviewing our 30-year water plan to give greater consideration to climate change so that we can to see a shift [Sic] where Cape Town will become a water-sensitive city.”    #Fail3 )

John also spoke about the possibility of water in hotels only being available between something like 07h30-09:00 and again between 18h00-19h00.  But how will tourists react?  Will there be no hand-washing all day, no flushing of toilets?  Will accommodation establishments in low pressure areas have no running water at all, with sole reliance on water tankers?  Which are those areas?  No-one has any answers.

Emma met especially with the V&AW Operations Team after my first questions to find out if there was anything new.  V&AW can’t do anything until “the City announces Level 4 restrictions.  We can only develop a relevant strategy for a way forward when we know what those restrictions are.”

Business has done everything that is possible to do individually and through their  organisations.  CTT has been focusing on Responsible Tourism practices and programs since 2009.  “Some of our members have also incentivized visitors to reduce their water consumption in exchange for discounts or free drinks or dinner,” says Enver.  “Along with our JAMMs partners FEDHASA, SATSA and SAACI, we have held meetings with our combined members to discuss the impacts of water shortages in our businesses and felt that we needed more direction and action from local and provincial government in addressing this beyond the water level percentages.

There is a concern that nobody seems to have a clear plan to resolve or alleviate our concernsEnver Duminy, Cape Town Tourism CEO

“Water shortage will and does affect tourism and tourists, however a bigger concern for us is the impact it will have on our very survival as Capetonians irrespective of our sector or industry objectives.  There is a concern that nobody seems to have a clear plan to resolve or alleviate our concerns as citizens.  The only thing I know is that everyone is praying for more rain and more frequently.”  #NotInOurLifetime

Now I know Enver well enough to throw a real curveball of a question, one that many people are too terrified to even think about.  “If tourists planning a visit here in 3 months time asked you if you can guarantee that expectations will be met, or should the trip be delayed given the water crisis, what would your answer be?” I asked.

He answered… “Very good question — my job is always to recommend that people visit Cape Town and, similar to the electricity issues we faced a few years back, we will adapt as locals and business to the changing environment with a better understanding of how to respect and use our natural resources better. I would also ask if they have any ideas on how tourists could play a part in helping us solve our challenges.  And finally, tongue in cheek, ask them to bring some water along from their homes and we will give them discount on experiences.”

Well… providing clean water under pressure is a lot more difficult than buying a generator and plugging it into your building.

I don’t think that Councillor Limberg is up to the job and I do think that she should be replaced immediately.  CoCT needs to put all its cards on the table.  Now.

Eikestadnuus (Stellenbosch) May 11,2017: Only 5.1% left for drinking. Most towns in the Western Cape face a crisis. A few already rely on water tankers for their daily needs.
Eikestadnuus (Stellenbosch) — May 11, 2017:  “Only 5.1% left for drinking.”  Most towns in the Western Cape face a crisis. A few already rely on water tankers for their daily needs.  This photograph shows Theewaterskloof Dam, Cape Town’s main dam.  At the end of this week, weather forecasts expect 30 degree centigrade temperatures again in this area.


The following email from the CoCT was received after the story was published.

From: Jyothi Naidoo
 Sent: Monday, 15 May 2017 11:18 AM
 To: capeinfo.com
 Subject: RE: Water restrictions & emergency plans

Hi Carl
 Your enquiry has come through to the Media Office for a response.
 I will get input from the relevant people and send through a response a bit later today.
 Kind regards
 Jyothi Naidoo
 Senior Media Liaison Officer
 Integrated Strategic Communication, Branding and Marketing Department
Sent: Wednesday, 17 May 2017 8:03 AM
 To: 'Jyothi Naidoo'
 Subject: RE: Water restrictions & emergency plans

Hi Jyothi
 I’m still waiting…
 Kind regards

And we’re still waiting. There was no response whatsoever.

One can only assume that “the relevant people” fail abysmally at communicating.  And that’s bad news for an unfolding crisis.


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