The wine is fine, for now
Table Mountain is keeping the city’s vineyards alive with water captured on its cloudy slopes
A new and unlikely hero has emerged in Cape Town’s unfolding water crisis: Table Mountain.
The kilometre-high block of sandstone is keeping the city’s wine farms alive with water captured on its cloudy slopes.
Peninsula wine farmers, who rely on their own water supply, say the mountain acts as a massive water sink, absorbing moisture from the clouds driven over its summit by the prevailing south-easter. It’s a geographic blessing that first drew humans to settle in its shadow.“Our situation is different from the rest of the [wine-farming] industry – we are very very fortunate,” said Groot Constantia general manager Jean Naude. “We are all farming on the slopes of mountain here. It is not that we are not struggling, it is just that our problems are a lot less than what we would find elsewhere. We’ve got irrigation water in a dam here that will be sufficient for us.”
The cool south-easterly blowing in off the sea also helped reduce water consumption: “It cools the area down and as a result our transpirational needs are a lot less than you would find in the Swartland,” Naude said.By contrast, many other Western Cape farmers, particularly those in the Berg River area, have already reached Day Zero, with no more irrigation water available.Cape Town wine farmers also have more ground water to draw from, thanks to plentiful supply from natural springs.
“The mountain is a massive granite sponge,” said Grant Newton from Groot Constantia. “Even when there is a bit of cloud hanging around there is water coming out of every little hole. We have little streams on the farm that are still running.”
Eve McVey, spokesman at nearby Klein Constantia, said: “Being in Constantia we are more fortunate than most other areas. However, while our 100-year average rainfall is 1,069mm, in the last four years the most we have had is 700mm and we have noticed that the ground water level is markedly lower. ”
Anetha Connan, from Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek, said the farm had good water reserves. “We are completely off the municipal grid, getting our water from the mountain, seven dams on the farm and some borehole water.”
Farmers on the other side of the Cape Flats are generally in a far worse position, according to Agri Western Cape chief executive Carl Opperman.“As far as irrigation goes we are already in Day Zero in some areas,” he said, adding that a backlog in government paperwork meant farmers were not able to use new boreholes to augment supply. New dams also needed to be licensed and certified, which took time. He appealed to the Department of Water and Sanitation to resolve the administrative bottleneck.Organised agriculture was also talking to the government about debt relief for cash-strapped farmers, many of whom had removed vineyards rather than waste the little water they had keeping them alive, Opperman said.
City of Cape Town officials believe ground water will increasingly become a crucial water supply, particularly from the Table Mountain aquifer which is already being utilised. This week technicians were drilling on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, just above Groote Schuur Hospital.
Spring water flowing off the front of the mountain is also being pumped into a city reservoir, with more expected to be harvested in the coming months.