How Cape universities are planning for water restrictions and #DayZero

UCT, fountain, university

Universities in Cape Town have a predicament on their hands. They have to somehow facilitate thousands of students on their premises in a time severe water restrictions without much assistance from government. Currently, universities and schools are not on the City’s list of institutions (hospitals, old age homes, prisons, fire stations, police stations, clinics, children homes) which will be exempt from #DayZero restrictions – meaning their taps will also be shut off when that fateful day comes a-knocking. To find out how these institutions plan to cope, the Daily Vox interviewed the spokespeople of the University of Western Cape (UWC), Cape Town University of Technology (CPUT) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) on the plans their institutions has in motion.

UWC: current water conservation measures

According to spokesperson Aiden van den Heever, UWC has implemented a number of water saving initiatives:

  • They will be using groundwater for the stadium and sports fields when necessary, and moving towards using groundwater for the ablution systems as well.
  • They have already reduced water pressure on campus and cisterns in the bathroom are being modified to use less water.
  • UCW is also in the process of installing more aerators for taps to reduce water flow – with some taps being deactivated entirely wherever possible.
  • Showers are being fitted with timers to ensure further savings, and waterless hand-sanitizers are currently being installed.

“The university has also installed water saving devices to reduce water consumption by about 50% when our res students are doing their laundry. In general the university has been running a Water Awareness Campaign to promote water appreciation and conservation in residences and among the wider campus community,” Van den Heever said.


UWC: after #DayZero

In addition to above measures, when #DayZero hits UWC plans to cut off the water supply to certain buildings for limited periods of time. It also intends to extract water from the atmosphere, using technology that will lead to the condensation of coils for collection into tanks – to be used as drinking water.

UCT: current water conservation measures

In an interview with the Daily Vox, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said UCT had appointed a consulting company and added capacity to assist in developing detailed contingency plans to avoid Day Zero, and to operate if Day Zero becomes a reality. Their contingency plans account for different scenarios that might be faced at Day Zero such as no water, restricted water supply and the use of alternative water sources.

Currently the City of Cape Town’s Level 6B water restrictions, which limits water usage to 50 litres per person per day, are applicable to UCT too.

To deal with the current situation, the university has set up a Water Task Team to address and manage the impact of the drought on UCT. The team has implemented a number of initiatives already, including raising awareness, publishing articles on the water crisis in Cape Town, capturing stormwater, identifying and mapping water meters on the campuses and ensuring that digital water meters are installed on the main campus.

UCT’s Water Task Team has already implemented, or is commissioning, the following projects on the campuses:

  • Ongoing retrofitting of residences with water saving technologies including the conversion of baths to showers and fitting existing showers with water-saving roses.
  • Fitting washing machines in residences with water-saving devices.
  • Each student in residence will be supplied with a bucket to catch grey water for reuse. On campus, departments, and in some cases individual staff members, have brought buckets in as well.
  • Installation of smart meters and a web-based reporting and display system on hourly water use (13 new meters installed during January 2018). Ongoing expansion of digital water meter services across the campuses. The programme is driven by the slogan: ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’.
  • In other parts of campus, particularly outdoors, the university is fitting some taps with locking mechanisms or even removing them, and early last year reduced water use in the gardens and grounds.
  • Taps on Upper Campus are being replaced with push-operation-demand taps that restrict flow.
  • Large amounts of water are used for cleaning air-conditioning filtration units. The university has now procured two machines that recycle water during the cleaning process that has led to a significant saving of water.

UCT: after #DayZero

The UCT executive is determined to ensure that the university does not close. Moholola says this depends on achieving three goals:

First, UCT needs to reduce its daily water usage so that accessible water is sufficient.

Second, UCT is pursuing the possibility of alternative water resources, which include:

  • Projects for capturing water from seepage zones (high quality water) which will be used as a source of water for drinking and other essential services.
  • A geohydrological survey of the campus to determine suitable sites for boreholes.
  • Enlisting the services of a borehole drilling company once the geohydrological survey is completed.
  • Exploring tanker contractors to replenish campus reservoirs should the city supplies be inadequate. Much of campus water supply comes from UCT’s own reservoirs which are normally fed by the municipal supply.
  • Investigating alternative fire water supplies for emergencies, by keeping all tanks on roofs of residences and other buildings full by protecting the use of that water.

Thirdly, UCT are in urgent discussions with the city and province (along with other universities) to establish protected access status after Day Zero (similar to the hospitals and CBD).

CPUT: current water conservation measures

Lauren Kansley, the media liaison said CPUT campuses have always been relatively water-wise through the years with treated effluent water being used for close to 20 years for landscaping purposes. “CPUT is at the moment running information campaigns in residences and to staff and students and our infrastructure and maintenance teams have a strategy plan in place to maximise our borehole water use in a responsible way,” she said.

Kansley said the current impact of the water crisis was still uncertain and that meetings with City officials remain ongoing and CPUT don’t have an official mandate yet

CPUT: after #DayZero

Students are being communicated to in the same way ordinary Capetonians are, and that is that they will need to queue for their daily allocation on Day Zero.

“We have also been in discussions with the City of Cape Town to have water saving shower heads fitted in our residences. And waterless hand sanitisers are also being rolled out campus wide. We have a special task team allocated specifically to this issue and they met with the premier earlier this week to continue,” Kansley said.

Featured Image via Flickr