The crisis threw a harsh spotlight on an array of serious shortcomings in the governance of water not only in the Western Cape but in South Africa as a whole. Water governance has to be fundamentally reformed and substantially improved if the country’s water insecurity is to be addressed.
The current water governance system in SA is fragmented, insufficiently coordinated and severely compromised by a dysfunctional national department. Fundamental change is needed, with a leading role for cities.
The impact of the drought would not have been nearly as severe had the water supply system been managed effectively and according to its own rules. Underlying systemic issues significantly exacerbated the situation.
Opportunities were lost to put water restrictions in place in the early phase of the drought, says Peter Flower. Save it while you have it, and start saving as early as possible.
Remarkable success in water demand management in the decade and more preceding the drought contributed to repeated decisions to delay implementation of supply augmentation plans. With the benefit of hindsight, recently retired City of Cape Town Director of Water and Sanitation Peter Flower re-examines past decision making – and the thinking underlying it at the time.
The amount of water lost every year due to alien vegetation in the catchment areas is equivalent to about two months of Cape Town’s consumption. Catchment restoration, says Louise Stafford, can increase supply at a tenth of the cost of alternatives such as desalination, groundwater abstraction, re-use and additional dams.
Groundwater abstraction offers a welcome alternative to rain-fed dams during drought periods. But with hundreds of businesses and thousands of households drilling into aquifers, and in the absence of an understanding of the cumulative impact, the sustainability of the resource is in question, says Claire Pengelly.
Development, argues Andrew Boraine, requires both the top-down organising environment and the bottom-up mobilising environment – plus the governance structures linking these two, as they are typically threatened by each other and find it difficult to talk to each other and work together.