Ticking water time bomb: Tenders for desalination plants left too late

17 October 2017 - 06:29 By Aphiwe Deklerk And Farren Collins
Mossel Bay Desalination Plant.
Mossel Bay Desalination Plant.
Image: Infrastructure news

Cape Town will have its first desalination plants working just weeks before the city's dams are expected to go dry.

That's according to Xanthea Limberg, the City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy .

"Monwabisi and Strandfontein [plants] are currently scheduled [to start operating in] February but we are exploring opportunities to implement earlier, once internal funding issues are resolved," Limberg told The Times.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said earlier this month that the municipal water supply might dry up in March if usage was not reduced.

Chris Braybrooke, general manager of water technology company Veolia, said completion of tendering for the desalination plants should have been six months ago and that the city's water problem was a "ticking time bomb".

"We were quite surprised there was such a long wait for the city to invite tenders and then they asked for instant solutions," said Braybrooke, whose company has built several desalination plants in South Africa, including the country's largest, in Mossel Bay.

"This type of tender should have [been invited at least] six months ago."

The problem was exacerbated by the poor maintenance of infrastructure. "We're waiting for the time when citizens will run out of water. It is a ticking time bomb and people are scrambling for solutions."

Limberg said t 17 sites had been earmarked for building the plants but some were ruled out because they were in a coastal protected area.

The city has recently come under fire for the way it has handled projects to exploit alternative sources of water, such as aquifers, boreholes and desalination.

Senior lecturer in water-sensitive urban design at the University of Cape Town Tom Sanya said not enough was known about the environmental impact of aquifer tapping.

"It's a very unstable area and it's possible that once you start tampering with the aquifer beyond a certain tapping point it could activate earthquakes worse than we have had in the past."

Anton Bredell, MEC for environmental affairs in the Western Cape, warned that desalination would not come cheap and ratepayers would be forced to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the new technology.

"Water is going to be much more expensive. It's a fact. We will know by how much after the tender process. It's an argument of expensive water or no water," he said.

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