Where does our water come from?

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 23 March 2011

“South Africa needs to be more sensible about the use and management of land and water resources. The more we reduce the ecosystems’ ability to deliver clean fresh water, the less water secure we will be and the greater the cost we will have to pay for our water,” says Mark Botha, Head of WWF’s conservation programmes.

We need to concentrate more of our efforts on catchment security. Photo by: Peter Chadwick

This week (20-27 March) marks South Africa’s National Water Week 2011, and the theme for this year is, “Water for cities: addressing the urban water challenge.”

“Many South Africans, especially those living in urban areas do not have a full understanding of where the water that flows from their taps really comes from, and the key role clean catchments play in providing it,” says Botha.

“Cape Town has run out of water many times in the last century. Each time an expensive “supply side” solution was found to buy us more time, but always at a cost. Now, with augmentation (further water supply) options rapidly diminishing, we’re finding that the biggest cost of dams is the complacency that they leave us with as ratepayers.”

“At some point, we need to realise that we cannot only continue building more dams and other water infrastructure, but that it is imperative to invest in the natural resources that we already have. We need to concentrate more of our efforts on catchment security,” says Botha.

According to Botha, catchment security is about the sound ecological management of our water generating infrastructure – not the dams, works and pipes that bring the liquid to our houses – but the catchments, wetlands and rivers that bring it to our dams and farms reasonably clean.

“We invest substantially in the concrete, steel and pumping systems, but hardly anything in our ecological infrastructure – the ratio has to be at least in the order of ten thousand to one,” says Botha.

WWF recognises the need for man-made water infrastructure; however it believes that without healthy freshwater ecosystems this infrastructure may be rendered useless. To illustrate, it appears that the much-touted desalination plants built in haste at great expense in the southern Cape in 2009/10 are hamstrung by ecological water constraints. As many as two of the four have already been shut down due to insufficient water availability. At the same time, the mountain catchments in the Garden Route are being over-run by invasive plants, and clearing efforts are not even holding them at current infestations. If the costs of the desalination plants (estimated to be around R35 million) had been routed into securing the ecological integrity of the catchments, the people of Plettenberg Bay may have not experienced water shortages last summer.

WWF, through the WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership works to conserve and ensure the healthy functioning of South Africa’s important freshwater ecosystems through various interventions and thus contribute towards the country’s water security. The organisation works with the government, the private sector, academia and other partners to achieve this goal.

Source: WWF

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