Advice and Opinion

Capetonians need to take a proactive approach to current water shortages

Water usage

The Level Five water restrictions imposed by the Cape Town City Council which came into effect on 3rd  September will have a marked impact on the way people view the residential housing market and quite probably on the values of the market as well – but informed estate agents, coached by their management, will be able to show their clients that, although these latest restrictions are the most severe in the history of Cape Town, they need not reduce the home owner’s pleasure in his home or its value.

This was said recently by Rowan Alexander, Director of the newly independent Alexander Swart Property.

“In these relatively early stages of water restrictions,” said Alexander, “we are finding that buyers are becoming wary of homes with large landscaped gardens and/or swimming pools – but, although this is temporarily inevitable, we believe that time will show that such attitudes are not wholly justified. Provided Capetonians act quickly and take the necessary counter measures, Cape home values will continue to rise as they traditionally have done.”

Recapping on the new restrictions (for the sake of the few who remain ignorant or have not yet taken them to heart) Alexander said that home owners and tenants in Cape Town have now to ensure that they do not use more than the allowed 87 litres per person per day. The aim of this, he said, is to bring Cape Town’s domestic water consumption to below 500 million litres per day – recently it has been running close to 600 million litres per day.

“Council,” said Alexander, “has made it clear that it is crucial that Cape Town does not end up in a situation where it simply cannot supply water for long periods. They will therefore from now on penalise excessive users as never before: offenders will be subject to fines of R5 000 to R10 000 and the Council will now install, at the home owner’s expense, Aqualock metres on homes where the consumption has regularly been above the allowed limits. These water locks will cut off the water supply if the users go beyond their prescribed limits.”

Life for home owners and home occupants, said Alexander, can still be “comfortable” under the new restrictions provided that we all recognise where hitherto where we have consumed the most water. Bathing, in particular, he said, will now have to be cut back.

“Large baths can take up to 200 litres of water and the average size bath takes 80 litres. Obviously, even if a couple share their bath water, from now on baths will have to be limited to one or two a week and showers should not last more than four minutes, preferably less.”

“Gardens with a variety of non-indigenous heavy consumption plants could become a big liability provided unless, again, proactive action is taken. Here at Brackenfell major property developers have shown that it is not difficult to convert gardens to waterwise plants and to keep these healthy by means of recycled “grey” water systems. Similarly, if pools are kept covered, water evaporation can be reduced by 85% and rain water from gutters, fed into the pool can help maintain water levels. What is more, with today’s pool chemicals long standing water can be kept clean for extended periods”.

The Council, said Alexander, have also indicated that they will probably from time to time have to reduce the pressure in their supply network from 10 bars to 2 or 3 bars, thereby making it impossible for users to tap off too much water. This, said Alexander, could be a good move on the Council’s part but it will pose difficulties for those who live above ground level, whether one, two or more storeys up, because the reduced pressure will probably not be capable of pumping the water to higher levels. The solution, said Alexander, will be to install one’s own pump and multi-unit building owners will have to ensure that their pumps are strong enough to raise the water to roof level where it can be stored before being gravity fed to the occupants below.

History, said Alexander, had shown that when calls for a positive change are made to deal with housing problems, many people simply ignore them. If Capetonians are not really pro-active about changing their lifestyle and habits and embracing the necessary new technology, he said, the value of their homes will suffer.

“Right now,” he said, “some Capetonians are telling themselves and others that all will be well because drilling into the aquifer and desalinating sea water will make up the current shortfall. These measures, however, will take time to implement, will be very expensive and in the next decade are unlikely to supply more than 15% of the required increase in water.”

A warning similar to that given to home owners, said Alexander, must go to the owners of commercial buildings because the Council has shown that they have been among the slowest to adapt to the new situation and are some of the chief offenders as regards excessive use. They are now being told that they must reduce their water levels to 20% below their water consumption figures for the same time last year—and it remains to be seen if they will respond as they should..

“Anyone who has been involved with property for some time knows that property owners have a tendency to ignore warnings. In this case, whether they are simply home owners or the landlords of large multi-unit sectional title or commercial schemes, they must accept that we are now into a new era, one in which water is likely to be permanently scarce. Others, notably the Israelis and the Californians, have shown that such situations are manageable; we must do the same.”