Community Co-operation in a Water Crisis beats Chaos

The biggest fears in a crisis are the fear of the unknown and of being alone.  Yes, we are heading deeper into the Western Cape and Cape Metro water crisis, but as individuals and households we are not alone.  We are all members of a range of overlapping communities:  neighbourhoods, schools, faith communities, business networks etc.  These communities are sources of a wide range of skills and information.  Even water.  With a dash of positive thinking and pro-active communication, some organisation and planning it is possible to create ripples that reach out and connect people to build communities of co-operation in a crisis.

This article identifies some of the steps for a Community Water Co-operation Plan (WCP).  Let’s do  it!   

Vision: To identity risks, opportunities and support systems at a community level with the aim of encouraging a co-operative response that builds resilience and cooperation in the face of the worsening water crisis in the greater Cape Town M  etro.

Context: As of 1 February 2018 Level 6B of Water Restrictions will be in place.  Stage1 of the City’s 3 stage Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan is already being implemented. A WCP needs to complement the City’s water restrictions and disaster plans while filling in knowledge and support gaps applicable to specific communities / neighbourhoods.  Links to the consumption restrictions and stages will be provided at the end of this document.

Level 6B water restrictions requires that potable water may only be used for drinking, cooking, washing your person, crockery, cutlery and clothing and must be limited to 50 litres per person per day.  This translates into a maximum of 6000 litres per household (of 4 persons) per month. Level 6B is being implemented to force total daily consumption below 450million litres (ml/d) to reduce the increasing probability that Cape Town will run out of tap water. Sadly and surprisingly to date over 50% of households are still not complying with the restrictions.

Stage1 of the Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan including water rationing. This involves switching off the water reticulation supply to most sectors of the City (excluding hospitals etc) for hours at a time.  The City recommends that households store 5ltrs of water in preparation for rationing.  High lying properties and tall buildings with poor access to water at times of low pressure should also store sufficient water.

Pressurization in the pipes when the water is switched back on results in tiny bubbles giving the water a `milky’ appearance.  Do not discard this water. Let it stand in a container to disperse the bubbles and then use it.  Changes in water pressure as a result of the irregular supply may loosen grit particles, harmless to humans, but which can block the filter in the geyser pressure reducing value and the toilet flush mechanism. To reduce these risks consider installing a filter in the incoming supply.

Transition to Stage 2 of the Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan: also known as “Day Zero”. This is when the City will no longer supply water to residential suburbs through its reticulation system (excluding informal communities).  This date is dependent on dam evaporation rates, water consumption and, if we are blessed, then possibly the addition of unscheduled rain. Based on current consumption around 600 ml/d, Day Zero will be the 21st April 2018. Citizens do have the power to delay and possibly even avoid Day Zero. This can only happen if we ALL reduce consumption at least to 50ltrs per person from today.  The ground water and desalination augmentation will NOT be enough to meet the needs of our City of over 4 million people.  We need to make our dam water last.

When (If) the supply drops to 13.5 % of our dam’s capacity, the city will implement Stage 2 of the Disaster Plan (Day Zero) and the majority of Cape Town’s citizens will be required to collect 25ltrs per person of drinking water from 200 collection points throughout the Metro Area.  Details of this collection process are scheduled to be released within the next two weeks. It is realistic to assume that City life as we know it will be significantly compromised.  By working together neighbours and communities can make the implications of Day Zero as least disruptive as possible.

Elements for a Residential Community Water Co-operation Plan (WCP)

1  Is there an existing organisation or community champion to co- ordinate the WCP?  A WCP needs to be home grown and voluntary. A leader or group within a neighbourhood watch, Resident’s Association, local church, school or an active citizen’s group needs to be found or created to co-ordinate the plan.

2  What is a community? A `community’ can be as small as a street, a neighbourhood or as large as a Resident’s Association or Neighbourhood Watch precinct. The idea is to identify local resources and vulnerabilities and to share information and support.  It is useful to identify the physical boundary of your WCP. The extent of a Neighbourhood Watch Area, where one exists, is a good option.

3  Sharing information about the restrictions and the Water Disaster Plan. Use of existing community based social media and/or community newspapers.  All information needs to be fact based and in support of City water management structures.  A dedicated community WhatsApp group and /or Facebook site are tools to share water related tips, information about water outages (rationing) and to help households plan for Day Zero and later if required, to co-ordinate water collection activities during Stage 2.

4  Support and advice for households battling to reduce their consumption.  Who in the community needs assistance and who can offer help?  Design and circulate a simple survey possibly through the neighbourhood watch. The City’s household water use webpage gives an indication of the compliance levels in neighbourhoods but needs to be used with sensitivity as households not identified as compliant may have exemptions for a variety of reasons including higher numbers of occupants. https://citymaps.capetown.gov.za/waterviewer/.

5 Potential alternative water resources – what, if any, are available in your community. Think in terms of potable water needs and non-potable water needs.  We do not need 25ltr of potable (drinking) water per day.  If there are sources of non-potable water in our communities that we have access to, this water can be used for washing and flushing and relieve the pressure on the precious potable water supply.   E.g. Does your school borehole have the capacity to provide some non-potable water to the school community.

5.1: Springs and private boreholes. What is the water quality – drinking or washing / flushing quality?  What are the volumes and sustainability of supply?  Are private spring / borehole owners willing to share?  If so what are the logistics?

5.2:  Swimming pools are a source of toilet flushing and washing water depending on the type and level of chemicals used.  How much water can be emptied from your pool without causing structural damage?

6 Preparing for Day Zero.  The best preparation is to reduce consumption so that Day Zero is pushed back as close to the rain season as possible.  

6.1  Push the City and your Councillor for the details of the City’s water disaster management plans and ensure that all in the community have this information and are preparing their households to function with extremely limited water sources.

6.2  Identify vulnerable people who are not able to collect and carry their water ration.  Find neighbourhood partners for vulnerable people.

6.3 Avoid the rush and purchase 25 liter water drums and additional smaller bottles and buckets.  It is not clear that the City will provide water containers at collection points.

6.4  Avoid sewer-cide. Raise awareness about the high likelihood of blocked sewers. Managing sewerage needs to be done by ALL.  One blocked drain in the street impacts other properties.  If there are streets in your community that often experience blockages and spills now is the time to get the City to service and clear them.

Avoid blockages as a consequence of the reduced volumes of water being flushed by reducing the amount of solids being flushed. Don’t flush anything except urine and faecal matter (No 2).  Toilet paper should be binned, burnt or composted.  Consider a DIY dry toilet option using a bucket.  A dry toilet is far safer than blocked sewers and is surprisingly inoffensive when set up correctly. Read more at: http://greenaudits.co.za/flush-less-avoid-poop-pile-ups-in-a-drought/

Identify sources of grey water or alternative water – such as swimming pool water – that can be used to flush toilets. Sea water is not recommended.

6.5 If we reach Day Zero people will need to know how to work with 25ltrs per person.   Fill 5 or 10 liter water bottles with water and start to work out what in your home consumes how much water and how to prioritize.  You may also have to hand wash clothes and dishes are you set up for this?  Encourage sharing tips on social media. Right now over 60% of households do not know how to use less than 87ltrs per person per day.

6.6 Water and household security.  There is a risk of water theft from rain tanks and or theft of water infrastructure – pumps etc?  Consider how to manage the risk of an increase in property theft and security in the event that a significant number of properties in your community are vacant if households relocate.  `Evacuation’ may be an option for households with other accommodation if / when Day Zero arrives.

7 Any Community Water Co-operation Plan needs to be based on a consultative process and then if endorsed by a majority it needs to be distributed within the community.  The aim is to share information and resources as much as is reasonable and to limit risks.  It is not a mandate to coerce community members who do not wish to participate.  That said, knowledge and co-operation are the key to avoiding water wars and to building a supportive community in troubled times.

Water is a great leveler! In leafy suburbs to informal settlements – we all face carrying water in containers.  When the crisis is over let us all be winners not just survivors.

Links to information about Rationing and the Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan

City of Cape Town website providing water information: http://www.capetown.gov.za/thinkwater

Graphic showing how to allocate your 50ltrs between consuming and washing http://ewn.co.za/2018/01/18/what-level-6b-water-restrictions-mean

Weekly updates on Wednesdays with pro- active advice about how to reduce consumption and what Day Zero means: http://www.wwf.org.za/?23981/wednesday-water-file-01    http://www.wwf.org.za/?24001/wednesday-water-file-02

Facebook pages focussing on water: https://www.facebook.com/groups/watersheddingsa/

& https://www.facebook.com/SouthPeninsulaWater/

Kim Kruyshaar  – January 2018

 

 

 

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