Water Crisis

DROUGHT SPECIAL #4: CPT Water Crisis Update and the Cape Flats Aquifer


Capetonians rejoiced as a welcomed 0.8mm of rain fell on Friday evening. Day Zero has potentially been extended to mid-May as dwindling water supplies continue to be allocated at a rate of 50L per person, per day. While this may come across as a small, but triumphant victory for Capetonians, evidence suggests that water savings have not primarily resulted from reduced consumption by citizens. The city claims that this new forecast is due to a decline in agricultural usage.

Cape Town Water Crisis Snapshot:

  • Cumulative dam levels are sitting at 25.1%, down 0.7% from last week
  • The City’s main water source, Theewaterskloof Dam is at just 12.2% capacity
  • Only 1 out of 7  alternative water source projects are on schedule (V&A Waterfront desalination plant)
  • The City claims it’s progress in securing alternative water sources is at 62%

Agricultural usage of water is currently around 30%, but this is expected to drop by up to 50% in the coming weeks.

Cape Town’s Agricultural Land

Agricultural land surrounding Cape Town is becoming an increasingly contested space. The Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) is the most productive horticultural area per hectare in the country producing 150,000 tons of vegetables per year. This vast expanse of fertile agricultural land is located on the western side of the Cape Flats.

PHA Snapshot:

  • Encompasses 3,000ha
  • Custodian to the Cape Flats aquifer- a key natural water source
  • Supplies Cape Town with almost 50% of its fresh produce
  • Accounts for agricultural employment in the province (4,000 – 6,000 jobs)
  • Critical source of fresh produce for the metropole and townships

The Cape Flats Aquifer

The Cape Flats aquifer spans 630km2 and has the potential to provide Cape Town with 30% of its potable water needs. This aquifer performs vital ecosystem services- providing a free irrigation source for the area, ensuring the ongoing fertility of the land, and essentially ‘drought-proofing’ agricultural production in the area. As such, this area stabilises food prices in Cape Town, as its contributions amount to 1/3 of the vegetable market.

However, this key agricultural space is being rezoned for housing and commercial developments as commissioned by the City of Cape Town. These little-known facts are indicative of an agenda that does not prioritise water or food security. As Day Zero looms, why is the city not protecting such invaluable land?

November 2016 marked the beginning of an ongoing saga between the City, developers, and numerous environmental protection associations and campaigns, when the City granted developers permission to convert the land into a residential area. While structures have yet to be built, plans have been made for a development consisting of 30,000 homes, a private school and even a private prison that would pave over up to 1/3 of PHA. Hydrogeologists have warned that such a development will starve and eventually destroy the aquifer.

PHA is considered the breadbasket of Cape Town, and could potentially supplement the City’s water supply by up to 30% with its natural groundwater. While the proposed developments in the area remain contested, it nonetheless highlights a dangerous precedent for allowing corporate control over the public commons. These dire times call for more active stewardship of precious natural resources. If the City will not protect our water sources, who will?

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By: Beryl Visser

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