Date: 14 November 2018

SAICE welcomes the Department of Water and Sanitation’s initiative to present their recommendations on future water restrictions in Cape Town and the rest of the Western Cape Water Supply System (WCWSS). This will help to highlight the important role played by the DWS’s forward planning systems and to educate the public about them.

During our interventions in Cape Town last year, we were concerned to find that there was limited knowledge about the planning that had been underway for over a decade. The aim of this work was to avoid a situation in which drastic supply restrictions had to be imposed. The ‘Day Zero’ crisis need not have happened if the work that had been started in 2007 had been taken more seriously.

In subsequent discussions then-Minister Mokonyane agreed that while the short-term issues were being tackled, long-term imperatives should also be considered and the functions of water resources planning and operational analysis needed to be strengthened.

“The drought in the Western Cape offered an opportunity to learn from past mistakes. It showed the need for improved planning and modelling, and for early consultation to ensure that water users and other stakeholders are able to participate in these processes,” she said.

SAICE believes that the development and operation of all major supply systems should be planned to ensure that risks posed by multi-year droughts can be managed without undue damage to domestic supplies and economic activities.

Last year, in our “2017 Infrastructure Report Card for South Africa” we warned that

“A serious depletion of skilled personnel and officials at senior levels in the DWS (and generally in the water sector) hinders decisive planning and development to avoid shortages. Systems are in general operated too close to failure.”

Those challenges remain. Although the majority of supply systems are currently in a good condition, there is an 80% chance that we are entering an El Nino cycle (*). That brings the risk of what we sometimes describe as a “slow onset disaster”. While a one year drought should not present any major problems, the experience of Cape Town demonstrates that multi-year droughts can easily tip a reasonably reliable system into a state of crisis.

The right time to strengthen planning for drought is at times like the present, when the dams are full across much of the country. We hope therefore that the DWS initiative to share its planning with the wider Western Cape public will be repeated across the country. 

In particular, we call on the Minister of Water and Sanitation to make available end-of-season reviews of the state of systems such as the Integrated Vaal River System, as well as the Umgeni, Algoa, Thukela-Mhlatuze, Polokwane and Greater Bloemfontein systems. These reviews should be available by the end of June 2019, so that DWS can inform cities and other major water users whether there is any need for restrictions over the coming year. In this way, the DWS can help to avoid a repeat of the problems that have affected Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and other systems in recent years.

(*) Climate Prediction Center, National Weather Service, USA

( )

Issued by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE)

For more information please contact:

Nadeena Le’ Tang

Tel: 011 805 5947

Cell: 071 008 2052



Leave a Reply