Ian Neilson urges for adaptation across society

By Ian Neilson, executive deputy Mayor of the City of Cape Town

This conference (South African Facilities Management Association), with its focus on sustainability and technology in facilities management, is indeed very timely.

Cape TownAs I am sure you are all aware, we are currently experiencing the most stubborn, intense and protracted drought in recent history. This has necessitated a new strategic approach to how we view and manage our water supply.

It has required us to bring significant resources to bear on building water resilience and securing a sustainable supply of water to our city and its residents.

For decades, the City of Cape Town has been well served by its water supply infrastructure. This infrastructure, as well as associated water management techniques, enabled us to safely navigate previous drought periods.

Prior to the onset of the current drought, the City was using water well under its registered allocation, as determined by the National Department of Water and Sanitation. Despite our population growth almost doubling since 1996, our water demand has remained relatively flat.

This drought, however, is far more severe than any we have experienced in the past century.

We have had water restrictions in place since 2005, which were intensified in December 2015, and progressively over subsequent months up to the point where we recently introduced Level 5 restrictions.

Under Level 5 restrictions, residential properties exceeding 20 000ℓ a month will be fined. Commercial properties that do not reduce consumption by 20% compared with the previous year will also be fined for each month that this target is exceeded. It should be noted that this sector has not shown the same decline in usage that the other sectors have shown.

Water management devices are being installed on the properties of all excessive water users to restrict their usage and drive down consumption to 500Mℓ a day of collective usage.

Without this progressive intensification of water restrictions, Cape Town may well have run out of water by now.

Up until May this year, the City’s approach was based principally on driving down demand and supplementing supply with limited new augmentation schemes, in accordance with international best practice. This approach, based on projections from hydrological and dam modelling, had worked in the past. However, especially due to the protracted nature of this drought, it became very apparent that we could no longer rely solely on this approach.

Internally, we developed new scenarios based on the most pessimistic view of the drought and likely rainfall. We had to acknowledge that the impacts of climate change added significant uncertainty to existing models.

This meant that some decisions needed to be made in the context of unpredictability.

It meant making decisions that factor in a greater understanding of risk, and enable us to mitigate against shocks, in particular, those that affect the most vulnerable members of our population.

It meant constructing the ‘New Normal’ scenario – one in which we do not bank on water scarcity ending, but rather actively plan as if it will continue indefinitely.

This requires all of us to redefine our relationship with water. We need to accept that the days of plentiful water supply in Cape Town may very well be over. And we need to build resilience into every aspect of our thinking and planning around water.

Resilience is defined as the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems to survive, adapt, grow and even thrive – no matter what kind of stresses or acute shocks they experience.

This means changing our systems and our methodologies if they no longer produce the desired results. It means bringing disruptive thinking and technology to the table.

The City recently appointed a chief resilience officer to lead its resilience efforts and engage with various stakeholders and resilience experts to develop a comprehensive resilience strategy.

One of the first orders of business for the chief resilience officer was the establishment of a Water Resilience Task Team to revise our approach to water. The task team has been investigating how we can improve our state of readiness in the face of possible acute water shortages, and establish mechanisms to fundamentally rethink our approach to water over the long-term.

As a result, a portfolio response has been developed and supported by professional consultants, some of whom have experience in responding to droughts in other parts of the world, including Australia and California. 

Various programmes, each with associated initiatives, have been established over the emergency and tactical phases, which run until the end of June next year, and the strategic phase, which runs from July next year onwards. These initiatives build on the drought response initiatives since late 2015, which include pressure reduction, increasing restrictions and heightened enforcement.

We have already put in place various small-scale augmentation schemes to increase non-surface supply options. These include drawing water from the Table Mountain Group Aquifer, the Cape Flats Aquifer, the Oranjezicht Spring and small-scale desalination at Koeberg, among others.

A variety of technologies will also be introduced to augment the system. Up until now, we have relied on surface water in our dam system for more than 90% of our potable water requirements. This model is no longer sustainable.

While our dams may fill up again over time, our future will have to include an improved ratio of non-surface water to surface water options.

In June, the City released a Request for Ideas (RFI) to the market for proposed solutions that will enable us to temporarily establish several small, intermediate and possibly even large plants to supply potable water.

By the closing date of 10 July, over 100 submissions were received. The proposed solutions offered were varied, including desalination at various scales, inclusive of container solutions, barges and ships, water reuse technology at various scales, aquifer and borehole options, engineering and infrastructure options and water demand management options, among others.

Our technical experts scrutinised the submissions to determine the feasibility of commissioning various options and the time it would take, if procured, to deliver the options. Importantly, the technical experts were also able to improve understanding of the costs involved.

An extensive procurement plan is now in place and procurement has commenced, with the first tender issued on 16 August, and new emergency augmentation tenders scheduled for release approximately every two weeks.

It is hoped that the first water produced from this procurement process will become available in November.

We must accept, however, that this comes at a cost.

Bringing so many new technologies online simultaneously at multiple sites around the city is expensive. Under the Municipal Finance Management Act, budgetary provisions for augmentation will need to be increased and reprioritised.

Tariffs, inclusive of water and rates, are already established for 2017/2018 and cannot be adjusted. For this reason, consumers will not face any new costs for the remainder of this financial year.

All residents need to weigh up the costs of running out of water and the damage that will be inflicted on the economy and human health, against the costs of installing resilience measures to ensure that the city can adapt, survive and thrive no matter the extent of the drought.

The next few months will be critical. We need to bring the City’s consumption down to a maximum of 500Mℓ of water a day, and produce additional water through the emergency schemes to get us through as much of the summer as possible, towards winter 2018.

I will say it again: reducing consumption remains absolutely vital. We are still not achieving our target of 500Mℓ a day, which requires each resident to consume no more than 87ℓ a day whether at home or work or elsewhere.

Many of our residents have heeded the call and are going to extraordinary lengths to reduce their consumption. I would like to use this opportunity to thank every individual for their efforts and encourage you to continue. Collectively, your individual efforts are making a difference.

We are moving towards much more aggressive demand management initiatives. Over the coming weeks, advanced pressure reduction programmes will be rolled out across the metro. Further details will be communicated soon.

The City already supplies 7% of treated effluent water from some wastewater treatment plants to large consumers to reduce or offset the use of potable water. This figure is rising fast. Current clients include schools, golf courses, parks, sports facilities, gated residential complexes, commerce and industry. The treated effluent is used primarily for irrigation, industrial operations, dust control, washing of bins, and cleaning of outside surfaces.

I would like to urge you to investigate whether any of your facilities could benefit from this option as well. Remember, the tariff for treated effluent water is much lower than that of drinking quality water.

Behavioural change is highly effective in reducing water consumption. When reviewing your opportunities for reducing water consumption, don't forget to consider water used within your offices. Simple measures to reduce consumption are relatively inexpensive and highly effective, such as converting to waterless urinals, low-flow tap aerators and low-flush toilets.

Staff in your offices and facilities can be trained on the importance of reducing the wastage of water, and processes can be adapted to be more efficient. Behavioural change programmes could be linked to performance measures and targets.

Conduct regular water audits to understand and reduce operational and supply chain water footprints, and produce and implement water management plans. Set water efficiency targets and gain the support of suppliers, customers and staff. Build long-term resilience by implementing green building and water-sensitive urban design principles.

Prepare for the possibility of intermittent supply and low water pressures by ensuring sufficient onsite storage and effective operation of pumping systems. This should include consulting your fire prevention specialists to ensure that you are covered even if there is very low water pressure, and how not to waste water when testing fire prevention systems. 

I hope that we can count on you – as the managers of the buildings where so many people work, live and play – to make it your top priority as well.

As a city, we are managing the situation with absolutely every drought intervention that we have at our disposal. We have not let Cape Town down before and we do not intend to do so now. We need our residents and business partners to stand with us, to support us during these trying times, and to be constructive partners. We will only get through this by working together.

Please avail yourselves of all the resources the City has to offer and visit: Cape Town and Greencape.

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