DAY ZERO’S WARRIOR-IN-CHIEF
Mmusi a miracle worker? Not so fast ...
Farming’s loss is everyone else’s gain
Mmusi Maimane must be a miracle worker. Since he appointed himself as Day Zero warrior-in-chief, the dreaded date has rapidly retreated from April 12 to May 11.
Mmusi for president? Hardly. Consider the following:
• Day Zero was invented by the DA-controlled City of Cape Town. The Department of Water and Sanitation opposed the concept, saying it was unhelpful panic-mongering. At a briefing 10 days ago, deputy director-general Trevor Balzer repeatedly said he was “shattered” by suggestions that citizens should start fleeing Cape Town. “We are not planning for the system to fail,” he said.
• Water savings are falling short of the 450 million litres a day target yet Day Zero is vanishing into the distance at a rate of knots.
• We still do not know where the City of Cape Town’s 200 water distribution points will be, yet we are supposed to believe plans for this life-threatening emergency are well advanced.
• The DA is transparently — and suspiciously — absolutely desperate to get rid of Patricia de Lille.• Early in January, when she was still responsible for fighting Day Zero, De Lille accepted the advice of Gisella Keiser, the city council executive director responsible for the water programme, that groundwater was the cheap and quick answer to the crisis. She therefore prioritised groundwater projects over more expensive and energy-intensive desalination.
• Only days after De Lille was relieved of her drought responsibilities at the behest of the DA federal executive on January 19, her decision was reversed. In the words of a city council source: “Such a significant policy shift is directly opposed to the expert advice provided after several years of careful planning, study and evaluation of options by numerous water experts and engineers.
“The shift towards desalination augmentation options, taken by a team of politicians who had been in place for just a few days, is a cause for much concern. Funding such initiatives is a cost the ratepayers will have to carry for many years.”
So far so good, as conspiracy theories go. But there’s more:
Tom Brown, who describes himself as a “retired international businessman with a background in finance and IT, and now a fruit farmer”, has been running one of the more informative blogs about the drought, and in his post on Monday he pointed out: “For the first time, the water consumed last week was less than half of the water consumed during the same week in 2017.
“Given that the Department of Water and Sanitation has throttled agriculture’s water use for irrigation at or about the agreed 40% level, overall consumption is falling fast and it is becoming clear that we can survive through to winter if we save water and reduce collective consumption in the metro below 450 million litres a day.”
Put another way — and this contention was supported on Monday by deputy mayor Ian Neilson — farming’s loss is everyone else’s gain. Said Neilson: “Agricultural usage is likely to drop significantly over the next weeks. Currently the agriculture sector is drawing about 30% of the water in the supply scheme. This should fall to approximately 15% in March and 10% in April.”Brown says his calculation that we will avoid Day Zero — as long as we keep furiously conserving water — does not even take account of “the amazingly generous donation of water from the Groenland Water Users Association, concluded just recently”.
He adds: “Essentially the Elgin and Grabouw farmers have offered some 8 billion litres of water to the Western Cape Water Supply System which will flow into the system during February and March through the Palmiet canal into the Upper Steenbras dam and on into the metro water treatment system. This will amount to some two weeks’ supply for the metro and allow us to safely reach mid-June, even if no rain falls whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, there seems to be no end to Maimane’s miracles. A low pressure system — unusual for the time of year — is forecast to arrive over the southwestern Cape on Friday afternoon.
Says Brown: “At the moment the predictions are for general rains for about 12-18 hours bringing 15-20mm to most areas and all the dam catchments, with Steenbras possibly getting 30mm.”