In 2007, Cape Town became the first municipality to adopt a comprehensive water conservation and demand management strategy, which was aimed at minimising water losses and promoting efficient use of the precious resource.
This strategy is a holistic approach to addressing conservation and demand management based on three broad principles: that water is a strategic, precious and scarce resource; that there should be no wastage of water; and that all water should be measured and accounted for.
The programme that flows out of this strategy is a multipronged initiative that focuses on both technical and behavioural aspects of saving water.
Some of the technical interventions that have made excellent progress in minimising water losses include improved asset maintenance, pressure management schemes, pipe replacement programmes, leak detection and improved meter management.
The programme includes a “leak repair” project that was implemented in 2008, and entailed repairing leaks in indigent households where often both nonpayment and high water leakage occurred.
As part of Cape Town’s leak repair programme – coupled with the debt management programme – we offer a one-off chance to write off the water account debt on condition that the consumer agrees to a water management device being fitted to their meter, which controls their monthly consumption so they remain within the free basic allocation.
We have also rolled out the pressure management project across the city, which targets those areas that experienced high water losses and consumption.
This project entails regulating and lowering the water pressure, thereby reducing the number of burst pipes and water lost due to leaks, and prolonging the life of the reticulation system.
The water conservation and demand management programme includes extensive public awareness and the promotion of water use efficiency, the introduction of a “stepped” water tariff designed to encourage water savings, free plumbing repairs for low-income households, training of “community plumbers”, and the promotion of alternative water sources such as borehole water and recycled water for irrigation.
As a result of the initiation of a pipe replacement programme and improved maintenance and repairs, there has been a significant downward trend in the incidence of bursts and leaks.
Since 2010, this programme has resulted in reducing the burst pipe rate from 62 to 24 bursts per 100km of water mains a year.
In terms of asset management, in recent years we have accelerated our meter replacement programme to enhance the accuracy of the measurement of water usage, and the associated billing focusing on areas of old meters and identified faulty meters.
We have also made extensive use of technology to monitor the performance of the network and analyse the data to identify areas of high consumption and water losses to maximise the benefits of the replacement or repair programmes.
As part of our community awareness programme, we have conducted extensive and ongoing door-to-door campaigns in communities, industries, schools and businesses across Cape Town to raise awareness and educate residents about good water conservation practice.
Expanded Public Works Programme workers have been trained to assist in these campaigns.
In the past year alone, more than 1 000 of these workers were trained to conduct the door-to-door education drives.
Over 15 years, the programme has resulted in a reduction in demand or water savings of more than 30% for the city.
Some of the results of other interventions include:
. More than 6% of all treated potable water is being recycled and supplied as treated effluent for non-potable use to offset the use of potable water;
. More than 266km of water pipes were replaced between July 2011 and June 2015;
. By 2014/15, at least 32 111 water demand management devices were installed;
. Savings from pressure management: 965 megalitres in 2014/15, and 21 961 megalitres since 2007; and
. Leak detection and repair on households: 32 111 households in 2014/15 and 57 568 since 2011.
Through careful management, innovation and consumer education, the city has managed to stabilise the demand for water.
Because we have implemented the various water demand management initiatives and reduced demand, we have managed to contain the consumption level in the past 15 years so that we have only now reached the same volumes that we consumed in 2000.
This is despite significant development and a 30% increase in population in Cape Town since 2001.
The early implementation of the programme has – most importantly – meant savings for residents, and has enabled the city to effectively manage and mitigate the many risks facing our environment.
Last month, Cape Town’s water conservation and demand management programme was announced by C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group as one of three finalists from around the world in the adaptation category for the upcoming C40 Cities Awards at COP21 in Paris next month.
De Lille is mayor of Cape Town