Answer to water crisis is on our doorstep‚ says UCT expert

18 May 2018 - 06:00 By Nora Shelly
Even though storm water could bolster Cape Townʼs water supply, it is being ignored as a water augmentation opportunity, says UCT’s Future Water Institute.
Even though storm water could bolster Cape Townʼs water supply, it is being ignored as a water augmentation opportunity, says UCT’s Future Water Institute.
Image: University of Cape Town

Rainwater coursing into Cape Town’s rivers and streams should be diverted to recharge aquifers‚ a water guru has said.

Kevin Winter‚ a University of Cape Town researcher who has been a leading expert voice during the water crisis‚ said stormwater — what rain is called once it hits the ground — should not be ignored as the city tries to augment its water supply.

According to Winter‚ stormwater could be channelled from waterways at peak flow during storms into detention ponds and wetlands. There‚ it can be stored and used to replenish groundwater and aquifers.

This could be accomplished by constructing simple channels connecting waterways and detention ponds‚ Winter said‚ or with more advanced machinery to pump water from the ponds directly into the groundwater.

Luckily for Cape Town‚ plenty of detention ponds already dot the city‚ Winter said‚ meaning it wouldn’t take much effort or expense to start capturing more stormwater.  Suggested the changes in an article on UCT’s website‚ he said the City of Cape Town had not budgeted to increase stormwater capture even though it would help to recharge the aquifers being tapped as part of the council’s water augmentation programme.

“At the moment we treat the dams as the catchment area and it looks like that’s where we are stuck‚” he said. “But now we have water which is already falling on the city‚ and so how do we think of the city as a catchment?”

Winter said the water crisis had made more Cape Town residents aware of their water resources‚ with many installing tanks to collect rain‚ but the city council was less focused on stormwater.

Its draft budget was “skewed towards finding new water supplies along with the importance of maintaining and operating existing water-based services”.

A council document outlining its water augmentation plans made only two mentions of using stormwater to recharge groundwater. Winter said it was difficult to estimate the cost of constructing a system to capture stormwater.

“We can’t get out of the starting blocks until we have a better handle on the kinds of methods that could be used‚” he said.

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