How Water Tanks Might Have Helped Prevent Cape Town Shortages

Mention the Mother City and many South Africans will be instantly reminded of the near-disaster experienced by the residents of Cape Town in 2018. Faced with the worst drought in the province for almost a quarter of a century, the city’s correspondingly larger population was subjected to the most severe usage restrictions in the nation’s history. Relief finally came with just days to go before the city’s taps were due to run dry. However, this near-tragedy poses an important question: Had more Cape Town residents installed water tanks, could the impact of that epic drought have been avoided or, at least, kept to a minimum?

While it is largely a matter of conjecture, it seems more than likely that the answer to that question is yes. The average per capita consumption in South Africa was determined in April 2018 to be 235 litres per day, while usage by residents in Gauteng is well above the average at 305 litres. At the height of the drought, Capetonians were rationed to 50 litres per day and, when that figure was later increased to 70 litres, it added a further 50 million litres to the city’s total daily consumption. By installing water tanks, the residents of Cape Town could have reduced their consumption during normal rainfall periods by as much as 70%. With the extra reserves this simple conservative measure could have made available, it does seem possible that water rationing could have been unnecessary or at least far less severe.

This is the best-case scenario, as not all consumers have both the space and the finances to proceed with an installation, although some simple conservative measures could have helped. For example, we all love to spend far longer in the shower than is necessary, just as we tend to let the tap run whilst we are brushing our teeth. Where water tanks are impractical or unaffordable, whether in Cape Town or Johannesburg, the reality remains that South Africans can no longer continue to ignore the urgent need to conserve as much of this life-giving liquid as they possibly can.

In addition to various conservative efforts, there is also a parallel need to tap into new sources. Modern water-treatment technologies such as reverse osmosis, for example, offers a more cost-effective and energy-efficient means to purify seawater than energy-hungry distillation techniques and this is already leading to a more widespread reliance on desalination plants in coastal regions and in areas where sources are brackish. Even with these new facilities to augment the output of conventional treatment plants, the need for more water tanks in drought-prone areas such as Cape Town seems likely to persist as the demand from agriculture and a growing population continues to grow.

There are a variety of ways in which these storage vessels can be utilised. The simplest is to connect them to a downpipe in order to harvest rainwater from the rooftops. A strainer can be fitted to prevent the entry of leaves and other detritus, while a food-grade plastic liner serves to prevent the growth of bacteria and algae in the water tanks. Following some pre-treatment, Cape Town residents and all users could then connect the purified output to the home plumbing system. Even untreated, the harvested rainwater is suitable for irrigating lawns, topping up pools and general cleaning tasks. If desired, the installation can be set up to supplement rainwater catchment with water from the main supply as a further hedge against future shortages.

High-quality water tanks from Aquadam are available in Cape Town and throughout South Africa. Tough enough to withstand any weather, the range includes models with capacities from 1000 to 60 000 ℓ, while a choice of colours will ensure that the unit blends with its environment.