Joint SAICE & SAAE (Academy of Engineering) Meeting at UCT on the Western Cape drought, featuring Gisela Kaiser and Neil MacLeod. Dr. Kaiser explained in some detail the real situation with regard to what is being done towards managing the water resources available to the City, and the development of new sources to match future demands. Small scale desalination plants will not contribute much – the three the City are building will deliver 15 Ml/day – and expensive large scale desalination at 100 or 150 Ml/day will not happen in the immediate future, although tenders are out for testing for 3 X 150 Ml/day (R8billion capex) at Koeberg. After the meeting Neil said that a major problem is the question of who pays? If the City, DWS might sit back and enjoy the ride. However, the Table Mountain and Cape Flats Aquifers do present attractive options (they were always on the longer term plan), which with recharge of aquifers with treated water possible in some cases (such as occurs in Paris) will go a long way to providing security.

Neil MacLeod said there had been a national Steering Committee comprising the metros and the national department, looking after water matters on the national scale, but the last time it met was on 14 April 2016, just before the nation-wide drought kicked in. Minuted then was that Cape Town was at that time voluntarily going to Level 2 stage restrictions. The national government did nothing, Cape Town did! There were not enough sensible officials attending the meeting anyway. The current supply chain regulations (which don’t prevent corruption, only sensitize it) are not conducive to assisting in large scale projects, a fact raised in the NDP, but the Auditor General views anything else with suspicion. Neil noted that on the Day Zero question, the people best qualified to deal with the crisis were removed and a separate structure set up. It is important to deal with fake news and to set up communications such that the message is tailored for the different audiences. Neil’s concluding remarks:

DWS is in a crisis of its own which will only worsen as the last few highly skilled people retire;
● The City has an excellent and passionate team dealing with the crisis; not always recognised;
● Cooperation between government spheres remains an issue, finger-pointing when nobody’s to blame has no benefits;
● Revision of Supply Chain Regulations and the introduction of processes to deal with emergencies is urgently needed;
● Revisions of section 78 of the Municipal Systems Act are urgently required.

Among the comments after the presentations: London’s water gets to one after being used many times over which Gisela said was a myth, and what about towing icebergs home? to which a reply was, well it wouldn’t quite make it before stranding on the continental shelf. Mike Shand said this is not the solution because the City was confined to tried and tested practice.

Our thanks to the Academy, Mike Shand, Marianne Vanderschuren, and especially to Neil Lyners for providing tea and coffee before and during the lectures, as well as a wide spread of snacks and drinks afterwards, which made further discussion and mingling so much more enjoyable…