The policy of taking water from the agricultural areas of the country and flushing it down city toilets is unsustainable, especially in coastal areas, says the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Chamber made this point in a letter to the Department of Water and Sanitation which is developing a master plan for the future.
Ms Janine Myburgh, President of the Chamber, said there was convincing evidence that the desalination of sea water on an appropriate scale was now both viable and necessary in coastal towns.
“One of the proposals made to the Cape Town City Council was to build a large desalination plant to produce about 250 million litres of water a day, about 30% of Cape Town’s needs in a normal year. When this desalinated water was blended with 70 % dam water the result would be an increase in tariffs of just 6.54%.”
She said the offer was in line with the highly successful process used by the Department of Energy to attract independent power producers. “In terms of this process the desalinating company would design, finance, build, operate and maintain the plant in return for the City’s commitment to purchase the daily water output for an extended period of about 20 years.”
Ms Myburgh said the increased cost of desalinated water could also be offset by the lower cost of recycled water, especially for industry.
The use of desalinated water in coastal regions would mean that more water should be available for agriculture and food production. She pointed out that agriculture had made considerable progress in using water more productively. Drip and micro irrigation systems as well as tunnels and shade cloth had produced bigger harvests with less water. Agriculture deserved more water to enable more and better food production which would, in turn, create more jobs and export earnings.
“The recycling and reuse of water must be increased to get maximum value from our water resources. In Cape Town, for instance, only six percent of water is recycled in a normal year. The other 94 percent is discharged into the sea, most of it treated to a safe and acceptable standard.”
Ms Myburgh said this was one of the important lesson to take from the drought in the Western Cape and “we believe the time has come to set recycling targets for all cities and towns and to increase these targets as progress is made. We believe increased water reuse should be a fundamental part of any future water and sanitation plan.”