27 October 2017

SA Water Institute on Western Cape water crisis


The water sector is filled with scientists and engineers that are trained to design, operate, and maintain a very complex system that needs to collect, treat, and distribute water to sustain life and business for South African citizens.

Some of the challenges that these professionals face do indeed stem from unethical practices in both the public and private sector, but the current drought crisis adds an environmental component that places the existing water structures under extreme pressure.

Water professionals have already been consulted in all possible alternative supply methods – including greywater reuse, stormwater harvesting, groundwater management, water efficiency at the city and in businesses, managed aquifer recharge, desalination, and wastewater reclamation as options. The city has also now adopted water sensitive design principles and we hope they lead the way for the rest of South Africa around integrated water supply and management.

The water sector is caught between a rock and a very dry place, and the worst response would be one that brings immediate relief that is not balanced by longer term responsibility.

The conversation in traditional and social media should not be around the format of the eventual solution, but of the various roles that need to be played in its implementation.

WISA is not a regulatory body, and neither is it a platform for environmental activism. It does not act as watchdog but rather provides facilitation opportunities for water professionals to share and grow their knowledge.

We have however been implored by our members to raise our representative voice on their behalf.

We urge all water professionals to have the courage to blow the whistle on activities they are aware of that is hindering the timely implementation of a responsible solution. There are several independent whistleblowing lines in South Africa that are equipped to deal with sensitive information and protect the identity of those that decide to not stand for corruption any longer.

We also implore journalists to use their best investigative skills to find balanced facts and not get caught in publishing information that promotes sensationalist activism. Sensational stories make it very difficult for those that are already working on solutions to keep their focus and spend their energy on what they need to do; deliver safe water to private and corporate citizens.

We commend the City of Cape Town for its efforts in facilitating exploring solutions and communicating with its citizens, and the significant reduction of water use since the implementation of its crisis management strategy.

We however also call on the City for acts of boldness in their decision to move plans into action; now is not the time for analysis paralyses. While procurement policies have their place in business as usual, and we strongly support adherence to those policies in normal circumstances, the circumstances that threaten lives and livelihoods of Capetonians are anything but normal.

We request from National Government their strongest support for what the City of Cape Town needs to make the bold decisions they have to, and to be ready to act as soon as it’s needed.

We ask of each private individual in South Africa to treat water as a precious commodity, not as an enabler of a comfort, not as an entitlement. We urge you to take responsibility for your own water usage, and not relegate the responsibility of dealing with this crisis to those that will be impacted first and hardest.

We warn anyone that considers creating their own solutions to stay within the boundaries of the law and the City’s regulations as those have ultimately been created to protect shared resources for all. Contravening these regulations will be seen as an ultimate act of selfishness once the crisis has been averted.

In the end, if we do not all take a hard look into what we’ve condoned so far in terms of our water use and systems, we will soon run out of time to look.