Dr Kevin Winter

5 November 2018 | Duration: 02:01:21


Dr Kevin Winter is a Senior Lecturer in the UCT Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, Lead Researcher of the Future Water Institute and a member of the City of Cape Town’s Section 80 Water Resilience Committee. His primary research interests are in integrated urban water resource management and he teaches on environmental engineering and catchment management courses at the University. During the 2017-18 water crisis he was one of the experts most frequently asked to contribute to the understanding of the public and of government officials in relation to its origins and possible solutions. Kevin has a degree in Environmental and Geographical Science and a Masters in Education. His doctorate explored public involvement in environmental sustainability and resource management.

Key points

  • Lessons: 1) we need to be increasingly prepared for these kinds of scenarios where a drought is not just a year or two but longer; 2) the importance of monitoring and measuring in order to be able to manage; 3) cities should lead and not wait for national governments; 4) information builds trust; 5) we need to diversify our supply; we need to start looking at different water qualities in the supply chain; 6) avoid investing in a crisis
  • Planning is crucial if we’re going to see the city survive thirty / fifty years ahead
  • We avoided the catastrophic Australian experience with costly desalination plants not really used to capacity; but Australians did gain confidence from having reserve capacity
  • In the long term desalination is probably going to become a major water source for CT; possible long-term outlook is that we will have a diversity of water sources, with possibly a third each from dams, groundwater and desalination; diversification increases water cost; while diversifying, important to keep commitment to free water for urban poor
  • Vital to have functional catchment management authorities, and to have participation in how decisions are made by CMAs, otherwise the inequalities of water access in SA are exacerbated
  • During the crisis the City felt unsupported by national DWS; as a result it increasingly felt it had to start making its own decisions, going it alone as far as possible
  • Before crisis Cape Town had been very successful with water demand management strategy, flatlining water demand despite doubling in size since 1996; achieved by: 1) fixing leaks, 2) pressure management, 3) education, 4) tariff system; leakage rate of 14% to 16% excellent in world terms, and far better than SA average of 37%
  • Water management devices are sound theoretically; way implemented was problematic
  • Data needs to be accessible; then needs analysis to be able to effect policy change
  • Ironic that we’re on a resource that’s increasingly unsteady and needs to be conserved, and you’re selling water at a particular price in order to sustain the system in order to subsidise the poor; difficult balancing act; few cities worldwide have to cope with that
  • Fixed cost introduced into the water pricing system during the drought is a useful way both to manage the mindset and to ensure that there is fixed income to the system



A number of things we’ve learnt from the water crisis: 1) we need to be increasingly prepared for these kinds of scenarios where a drought is not just a year or two but longer: how we begin to adapt to these conditions which suggest weather variability and/or climate change; we need to start making long-term climatic adjustment; 2) the importance of monitoring and measuring in order to be able to manage, probably best example of which is pressure management system that is saving the city about 70 million litres per day; 3) cities should lead and not wait for national governments; 4) information builds trust: trust should have been built earlier with sharing more information earlier; 5) it is obvious that we need to diversify our supply; less obvious is that we need to start looking at different water qualities in the supply chain: use different water qualities for different purposes; 6) avoid investing in a crisis


Look at stormwater as example of alternative water resource: in Cape Town, roughly three times as much water falls on the city as what we need; can become resource to recharge aquifers; almost 800 detention ponds across the city where water can be stored; fit-for-purpose water can be used for school fields, golf courses or urban agriculture for example


Summary of lessons learned from crisis


Fable of ants and grasshopper: importance of anticipating what the future looks like; but future is not easy to determine; in a climate change scenario stationarity of data may be increasingly problematic, when conditions are changing so rapidly: “we need to start thinking about the future that we want, a future that we can begin to adapt to, and a future particularly that we want to try and strive towards”


Planning is really important; we need to think differently about what the future looks like, with longer drought intervals and shorter intervals between droughts; we are going to have to adapt much faster and are going to need to be more able to adapt to that changing future; planning cannot only be done by planning professionals; we should involve more stakeholders in planning the future that we want, a future very different from current perceptions; “I want to emphasise that idea, that we can craft together with stakeholders and reach general agreement in a scenario where that plan is, I think, going to become much more constrained and challenged by climate change and by several other conflicts; we’re talking about climate change but actually there are multiple other issues and conflicts and tensions within the city, and so together we’ve got to find a very different modus operandi, a way of operating our plans for the future; planning is crucial if we’re going to see the city survive thirty / fifty years ahead, and it’s thirty to fifty year plans that we should be putting in place”


Diversification of supplies; City and Western Cape have had augmentation plans at least since 2004, and these have been updated regularly since then; the WCWSS reconciliation plan; current plan goes up to 2031; desalination; groundwater abstraction; transfer of water between dams; raising of dam walls such as Voëlvlei; no one’s really disputed that plan; it has been in place for a long time; “the difficulty of course is that that plan doesn’t factor in these perturbations, these sudden shocks and stresses in the system, that interrupts that plan, and that’s exactly what happened in our crisis whereby there just was not enough space, time, investment, and obviously it didn’t factor in a severe drought conditions that we’ve been through”; desalination is right at the very end of the chain for very good reasons: technology and costs are changing significantly; possibility of extracting resources from process; how do we reduce amount of energy required by desalination plants?; how do we recover resources like phosphate, nitrogen and ammonia from contaminated water?; how do we reduce the amount of brine that finds its way back into the water?; how do we set up secondary and tertiary industry around the process?; how do we do that cheaper?; we avoided the catastrophic Australian experience with costly desalination plants not really used to capacity; “having said that … I think it’s important to say that the Australians gained a lot of confidence in knowing that they had something in the bank that they could draw on”


The WCWSS; 98% of water from six large storage dams; this makes us vulnerable, particularly in a climate change scenario; so it’s important to diversify water sources; added complication is that agricultural sector and other smaller municipalities share these sources; augmentation plans


What is the tolerable risk?; in every 100 years you can expect 1 to 2 years of failure, which is considered tolerable; we have very high quality water in Cape Town, with very little that needs to be done to treat that water, so we don’t want to move off those dams too quickly; by far the cheapest approach to water management is the water from the dams; “so it doesn’t make sense to be suddenly investing in a whole lot of other sources where the water quality may be very different … as a result I think we’ve been slow to actually think about and invest into these other water sources because we have had it so good”; the water quality in Cape Town is among the top ten in the world; experience in other cities; in 1970s Perth was in similar position to Cape Town now with almost all its water coming off surface water; a series of interventions purposely aimed at diversification has changed this: currently as little as 30% of its water comes from surface water, with groundwater contributing 35% to 40%, and the rest from desalination; Perth’s plan is by 2022 to have most of their water coming from desalination; differentiate between drinking water and other waters


What should Cape Town look like in future? Should it look like the Perth model, which is very diverse and increasingly relies on desalination rather than surface water or groundwater?; “We don’t have at this stage a water strategy, it’s being developed at the moment, but it doesn’t have a clear understanding of what that future might look like. I think that in the long term desalination is going to become a major water source for us, and it’s going to require a much longer time frame before we can really see that investment and the treatment of that water ultimately filtering into our pipelines for the city of Cape Town”; what is desalination going to do to our water quality?; “But for the moment I don’t think we know exactly what it is, whether it’s a balance between a third comes from … our dams, as it is, a third comes from there, a third would come from stormwater, from groundwater, and a third remaining comes from desalination. I think what we’re going to see is a progression, a shift over time, in which we’ll become more comfortable both about managing risk and about investments that are required. What we can’t afford to do, and I think this is really important and makes us very different from Perth, is that water cannot become a commodity that becomes a cost that we cannot actually afford in a city with wide varieties of income disparities across the city, there’s urban poor, almost forty percent of the city of Cape Town consists of urban poor, we can’t afford to have water which is not available and subsidised to a point which enables people to live in a much more equitable environment, equitable in terms of access to that water and cost of that water and most of all water that is for their own health, hygiene and their productivity as well”


Summary: possible long-term outlook is that we will have a diversity of water sources, with possibly a third from dams, a third from groundwater, managed and recharged by stormwater, and a third from desalination


How national government is involved in managing water; after 1994 water governance shifted from owning water to being controlled by the state, and the state is the steward of that water; “that creates fundamental differences in the way we see and manage water and how we access water”; greater sustainability and equity with respect to access built into the law than before; role of provincial authorities; local governments responsible for distribution and revenue collection; subsidies from national and provincial government; “cities and municipalities find themselves behoven to whatever water comes into those pipelines; the amount and the quality of water enters their pipelines and they’ve got to work with that; they do not have control over the dams, other than the control that they have to adhere to … is the licence agreement with the state department”; in the drought the state department reduced the amount of water allocated to the city of Cape Town by 45%, and reduced the allocation to agriculture by as much as 60% and eventually cut it off to agriculture completely; we’ve moved from 19 to 9 catchments; the statutory functions of the water management authority within those catchments is still struggling to see the light of day: only two catchment management agencies that are fully functional, with a long history of effective functioning; “you have to have fully functioning catchment management authorities to be able to regulate that water, and you have to have participation in how those decisions are made, otherwise you create an inequitable situation; and if you don’t have catchment management authorities functional then you … exacerbate, you exaggerate the inequalities of water access in this country; so it’s crucial that the state department puts in place catchment management agencies, ensure that they’re given adequate support, then takes off their hands off that, and allows those CMAs, those catchment management authorities, to do the job that they’re required to do, and that they’re held accountable to do that job … you need strong leadership, you need really important authority to be given to those CMAs, and they then need to be accountable for the kind of decisions that they make”


“In the Berg-Olifants area clearly we’ve got to be working with the CMA in the way in which water is managed but at the same time we also need to be increasingly independent in the long run. Waiting for dysfunctional state departments to try to direct and lead the city’s water management doesn’t make a lot of sense in the long term. The City of Cape Town’s going to have to manage the risk in terms of ensuring greater water security and it will have to do this increasingly on its own”; large challenge of a million more people expected in Cape Town by 2030; very short time frame, but should be embraced as an opportunity; “the message I think is becoming increasingly independent; you cannot wait for a state department that is dysfunctional, that lacks leadership, that has a budget that’s long since spent, where there is elements of corruption which seems to have drawn this department into all kinds of shenanigans, that are making it really difficult to take the lead. So the concept is: cities lead, national governments will follow; we need strong examples from cities that are able to react to local conditions, to local climatic change and weather variability far faster than a national state department that seems to have fallen asleep and left the country behind”


Challenge: how does the city of Cape Town become more independent, more resilient, how does it become less reliant on the dams through a diversification of supply, on a state department?; going to require: 1) investment, 2) skill, 3) new management systems, 4) new leadership, and 5) innovation; major challenge is where money is going to come from for investment, and how to avoid water becoming too expensive for urban poor; first water strategy for the city of Cape Town is about to see the light of day and go through some form of public process; “the water strategy is crucial in guiding this longer-term plan; and we’ve got to have an agreement for what that vision looks like and that vision can’t be something that is lying within the desks of the City of Cape Town officials; we have to find a way to be inclusive in the way this is going to unfold, and that the plan itself becomes visionary but also acceptable to people who are living in very different circumstances in the city of Cape Town. That water strategy should be a connector, and I think one of our really important political and also economic means by which we’re going to improve our water management is when we start to see water strategies that connect us as a city, and transform the way our city looks both in terms of its spatial form but also in terms of access to water which is crucial for health, hygiene and productivity, education and ultimately our development. And we’ve got to see and plan [for] water as if it really does matter. I don’t think we’ve really been able to do that before. We’ve taken water as being something that doesn’t have a fundamental driving influence on our plans for the city and our strategies for development in the city. How can water become exactly that?”; difficult to reel in a city that has grown too fast and has become too expansive; we’re going to have to move to city that’s much more compact; business as usual approach not an option


Vision for building a water sensitive city – a city that begins to care for its water; close the loop on the water cycle: “all water that falls on the city is captured in so far as it’s possible, and all water that is processed through the city is used in some way as far as possible, and what is eventually released from the system is water that is treated, that is managed properly and then might go into recharging our groundwater or it could go out to sea ultimately”


Conversation about urban water crisis was often independent of the impact of the drought on agriculture just outside of the city; conflict arose between urban and agricultural water use; stories from agriculture to some extent neglected in the city; almost 60,000 jobs in the agricultural sector lost due to the drought; long-term impact of the drought on farms, may be as long as five years in some cases; “so how do we think differently now around how we share water from the same dams with farmers? Wouldn’t it make more sense if we started becoming increasingly independent and / or at least use less water from those storage dams so that we could literally give back to the farmers, and to see agricultural production as a very important part of the symbiotic relationship, this important interrelationship that we have with agricultural sector and the city? And that discussion I think was lost in a lot of the crisis management”


Tentative and what looked like a difficult relationship during the crisis between CoCT officials and politicians on the one hand and minister and officials of the national DWS on the other; “the ability [by the national DWS] to invest in the crisis seemed to be limited, and the politicians from the Cape Town side and from the Western Cape government were continually running up and down as it were up northwards to the state department and to the minister saying we desperately need this area to be declared a disaster, and with a disaster would hopefully come some form of funding and some form of risk management. And it took a long time before that particular call was made and I think it got the city officials extremely nervous that the national department was seemingly not cooperating, and they were unable to understand why that was not the case”; sinister suggestions; many issues within the national DWS: a lot of the money had been spent on other provinces, accusations of corruption, and the department had been pretty inept in responding to some of these other crises and the long-term planning function it is responsible for – these three factors limited the speed with which the department could respond; lots of tensions; difficult to understand the very nuanced relationships; “the City I think felt that it was being unsupported by a national state department and increasingly had to start to make its own decisions, to go it alone as far as possible, and what they can’t obviously do is to transcend the water allocation licence – that’s fixed and that had to be achieved”


How did we arrive at this point? And with what did we arrive at this point? Particularly from 1999 the city has been implementing a water demand management strategy; Cape Town managed to flatline water demand in the city despite doubling in size since 1996; this success was acknowledged internationally before the crisis already; achieved by: 1) fixing leaks, 2) pressure management, 3) education, 4) tariff system; “we came with a fair amount of experience, coming into Day Zero, with officials who had done their time, and had learned how to manage a water demand management system and been incredibly successful in that … for me, I was always incredibly grateful to have the experience of officials who had been on the job, for some of them for twenty years or more”; digital pressure management system in many ways a world-class act that needs to be acknowledged; tariff adjustment also important in getting people to use less water and also needs to be acknowledged; Cape Town has a leakage rate (in other words, lost water) of between 14% and 16% – “that on a world stage is pretty good going”; Singapore, which is the water hub of the world, loses about 9%, and Cape Town is not too far off that; Cape Town significantly better than SA’s national average of about 37%, and many SA municipalities lose well over 50%; Cape Town on a very different platform; very high tension in the city government January to April 2018


Water management devices and contention around them; restrict a household to 350 litres of water per day; the rapid way in which they were put in place; often installed with minimum communication; sometimes the devices were leaking; City got poor publicity from this; at one stage were trying to install close on 20,000 devices per month, and workmanship was shoddy; in theory this system is a really effective way of managing water and reducing wastage; in many cases leaks were fixed by the City free of charge


Easy to generate loads of data; “but data in itself takes us nowhere; data needs to be able to be interpreted; it needs to be able to move towards the next tier when it becomes understood after its analysis, and it needs to be able to effect change in terms of policy … and so here’s my concern: I think the City of Cape Town is now a storehouse of loads of data; it’s difficult to access that data … what’s missing for me is everything in between, making decisions that are based upon very scant data, very poor samples, the analysis is missing, and we’ve got to get better and better at that … there is a real danger that as we try to expand our monitoring systems that they simply go nowhere, and now what, then what – lots of data but no advancements”


The actual and possible role of the private sector in data management and analysis


The role of the media during the crisis; his experience as something of a go-to person at the university that was sought out during the crisis; “my experience particularly of the local journalists I think is worth just saying a word or two about, because in general I think our standard of reporting is fairly poor; that many of the articles that were written in the local press were obviously being fed by a frenzy, people desperately looking to try to craft some form of story, often taking a lot of the words which I either wrote or verbally offered over a telephone or some recorded message was often twisted in some way. I think that our local reporters never really got into the story in a way which looked at the integrity of it, and were more critical in the way they were thinking, the questions that they asked were often fairly mundane and advanced very little of our public education and information about the water crisis and how we were managing to steer our way out of it, and perhaps looking wider than just simply stories around water supply and the Day Zero scenario. So quite limited”; international journalists were much more thorough; much more coherent and stronger articles from international press than from local and national press; “I was perhaps disappointed largely by local and even national press in South Africa”; spoke to close to 250 different journalists and researchers across the world


Tension between private and public sectors; shortcomings in public sector’s dealings with private sector; most of all, the City is going to have to deal with how it deals with procurement; sometimes two years delay in the initial application is just unacceptable, particularly when you’re in a crisis – private sector just doesn’t work that way, quite clearly; procurement the most difficult one that created the most tension; delays and failures in communication; need new model; potential value in inputs from NGOs and community-based organisations


The price of water is going to be a challenge as we diversify supply; fortunate that large desalination project that was considered was not embarked upon because of the high price of the water produced by it (4 to 6 times the price of surface water), because we would have found ourselves in debt for a long time if we had; we have to manage this very carefully; free water for indigent citizens is something we have to hold very seriously as a value that this city is committed to achieve; “having said that, you’ve then got to make sure that water is used in a way and priced in a way so that it is able to subsidise both the system and also the poor … and it is ironic … that we’re on a resource which is increasingly unsteady and is needing to be conserved, and you’re selling water at a particular price in order to sustain the system in order to subsidise the poor, and that equation in terms of the imbalance of a scarce resource at that stage and you still need to subsidise is an extremely difficult balancing act … there are not too many cities in the world that actually have to cope with that challenge”


Fixed cost introduced into the pricing system during the drought; “you’re not paying for water, you are paying for an infrastructure that delivers it; that’s a useful way of managing both a mindset but also of ensuring that there is a fixed income at the same time”; water in Cape Town still relatively cheap (around R30 for 1,000 litres of water), which is probably why we were excessive in our water use in 2015 and earlier


Less research and innovation than one would have expected; example of Rotterdam where young students are supported to find market for innovations; crisis should be used to encourage innovation


Personal professional experience during the crisis; Future Water Institute at UCT; very recently taught on a course in Barcelona; also interesting engagement there with private sector and government that can serve as an example for what we should do in Cape Town