JOHANNESBURG — Thanks to admirable water savings efforts by Cape Town residents, the city won’t experience ‘day zero‘ this year, according to an announcement by that region’s DA administration this month. But with stringent water restrictions in place, the situation is still bleak. Capetonians will be hoping for good winter rains, but even this is not certain in a world in which climate change has started to turn weather patterns into less predictable models. Entrepreneur and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg visited the region this week and below are his and other experts’ thoughts on the situation. – Gareth van Zyl
Statements on the Drought in Cape Town and Global Preparedness from Michael R. Bloomberg and Leaders from the City of Cape Town, UCT’s Future Water Research Institute and WWF-South Africa.
As Cape Town faces an extreme drought that has required a massive conservation effort, Michael R. Bloomberg, in his first undertaking following his appointment Monday as U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Action, toured the Theewaterskloof Dam, the largest dam supplying water to the Western Cape of South Africa, on Wednesday. The founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York City was joined by several prominent environmental and water experts to better understand the scope of the drought and discuss how, given the intensification of extreme weather due to climate change around the globe, cities can accelerate their preparations for an uncertain water future.
The experts joining Bloomberg included Christine Colvin, Freshwater Senior Manager, WWF-South Africa; Peter Flower, Director Water & Sanitation, City of Cape Town; Dr. Gisela Kaiser, Executive Director: Informal Settlements, Water and Waste, City of Cape Town; and Dr. Kevin Winter, Future Water Research Institute, University of Cape Town.
Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Colvin, Mr. Flower and Dr. Kaiser, and Dr. Winter have issued the following statements:
Mike Bloomberg said: “The extreme drought here in Cape Town should be a wake-up call for all who think that climate change is some far off threat. It’s already here, it’s making droughts and storms more dangerous, and we’ve got to do more to keep it from getting worse. Cities and businesses are helping to lead the way, but all levels of society in all countries – on all continents – must take bolder actions. We cannot let droughts like this become common around the world.”
Christine Colvin, WWF-SA said: “The current Cape water crisis has had a dramatic impact not just on water availability, but also our relationship with water. Water has suddenly become everybody’s business as households and the private sector have scrambled to secure alternate, off-mains supplies and improve their levels of water-use efficiency and independent water security. A ‘New Normal’ is going to require a diversification of water sources and a rethink of our current infrastructure. Catchments, aquifers and our water source areas are a critical component of that infrastructure. They require direct attention and investment as part of our future economic development. The natural links in our water value chain can no longer be allowed to fall through the administrative gaps between national government and water service providers. As we move to more decentralised use with thousands of individuals managing boreholes, recycling systems and rain water, we need to find a new model that enables us all to be both consumers and custodians of this our shared water resources.”
Dr. Gisela Kaiser and Peter Flower, City of Cape Town said: “Following three years of progressively reduced rainfall in the Western Cape catchment areas, the current drought has exposed our vulnerability being solely reliant on surface water from rainfall. In Cape Town alone, four million people depend on the city to provide water for domestic, industrial and commercial use. The system of dams further provides water for small municipalities and many agricultural users. While the impact of climate change is hard to predict, even poorer regions must become resilient and not rely on historical climate stability. For Cape Town and the Western Cape, this requires diversified supply, reducing reliance on surface water to a substantial mix of costlier ground, desalinated and re-used water. It is both impossible and unaffordable to do this within a season, therefore reducing demand is critical. Urban demand has been reduced by nearly 45% since February 2017, with agriculture constrained to saving 60%, providing confidence that dams will not run dry before the rainy season. Permanent augmentation schemes providing water at optimal volumes are in various stages of planning and implementation. Once operational (over the next one to three years), the region will be able to weather future droughts and have time to provide further augmentation should year-on-year rainfall continue to reduce.”
Dr. Kevin Winter, Future Water Research Institute said: “There has been an underlying widely held perception that the onset of climate change would be slow, less erratic and that it would allow more time to prepare for drought. In reality, the impact of what we are now experiencing has been rapid, unpredictable and more far-reaching than expected. This coincides with a city that is facing numerous other developmental challenges including access to land, housing, education, health and sanitation services. It appeared as if we were capable of overcoming the water supply challenge despite an increase in urbanisation and the limitations of its institutional and financial resources. However, the combination of climate and weather variability has raised new uncertainties that are leaving their mark on the socio-economic development and environmental sustainability of the region. If the current drought is prolonged it will stretch this city’s resources to the limit and will test the ability of its citizens to adapt to heightened levels of living in an uncomfortable urban environment and risk. There may be a silver lining somewhere, but as yet it is unclear how the city is going to find the necessary resources to address the severity of a long term future in conditions that are predicted to be more drought-prone, drier and warmer.”
Michael R. Bloomberg founded a financial data start-up in 1981 and built it into a global business. In 2001, he was elected mayor of New York City and served for three terms before returning to lead his company. Bloomberg serves as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action, and currently helps lead two networks of cities focused on combating climate change, the Global Covenant of Mayors and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, he supports a range of climate-related initiatives including the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, and has been at the forefront of involving the financial community in climate change, serving as Chair of both the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. Bloomberg is also co-author, with Carl Pope, of Climate of Hope.
Christine Colvin, Freshwater Senior Manager, WWF–South Africa
Christine Colvin leads the Freshwater work with WWF-South Africa, with a national focus on water source areas and water stewardship for water resilience under climate change. Her background is in groundwater and she started working in Southern Africa in the early 1990s, since the early days of post-apartheid democracy, in a drought relief effort for Namibia. Colvin has an M.Sc in hydrogeology from University College London and her key areas of professional work have been the integration of groundwater into the new water governance regime in South Africa, drought preparedness in SADC and groundwater dependent ecosystems. She lead a multidisciplinary hydrosciences research group at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, before moving to WWF-SA in 2011 where she has developed a national programme of work with key corporate and government partners.
Peter Flower, Director Water & Sanitation, City of Cape Town
Peter Flower is a registered professional Civil Engineer who graduated with a BSc and a GDE from the University of Cape Town. Peter has over 37 years of experience in the water sector in planning, design, construction project management, operations and management. Most of his career has been spent at the City of Cape Town, where he was involved with, and responsible for, the planning and development of a significant portion of the bulk water supply infrastructure for the region since the late 1970s. Flower is currently the Director of Cape Town’s Water & Sanitation Department, which is responsible for the full water cycle from “Source to Tap and back to the Environment,” comprising Bulk Water, Reticulation, Wastewater Treatment and Catchment & Stormwater Management with five support service branches including Water Demand Management, which has worked to significantly reduce the City’s per capita consumption and non-revenue water since the turn of the century.
Dr. Gisela Kaiser, Executive Director: Informal Settlements, Water and Waste, City of Cape Town
Gisela Kaiser is qualified as a professional Civil Engineer with an MBA and PhD, as well as more than 25 years’ experience in infrastructure development in public and private organisations, covering a broad variety of sectors including consulting engineering, industrial, retail, higher education and local government. She has been responsible for utility services at the City of Cape Town since 2012, and for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste since 2017. Her passion is finding a balance amongst the competing priorities of social equity, technical development, environmental sustainability, corporate governance and financial sustainability.
Dr. Kevin Winter, Future Water Research Institute, University of Cape Town
Kevin Winter is a senior lecturer and researcher in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town. He is a lead researcher in the Future Water Institute at UCT and is widely published in work in water resource management including urban river restoration and monitoring technologies. He has undergraduate degrees from UCT, a Masters Degree from London University, and a PhD from UCT.