Preparing for Day Zero and beyond

03 February 2018 | From the VC’s Desk

Dear students and colleagues

The approach of Day Zero is on everybody’s mind. It is understandable that with the many uncertainties about the effectiveness of the city’s measures to reduce water consumption, and the unknowns about when and how much rain will fall over the winter, there is a lot of anxiety, even panic. Please be assured that we are working on the issue with dedicated focus and urgency, and are reasonably confident that we will be able to manage through the water crisis.

Our overarching approach in the first instance is to do everything within our power to contribute to the reduced water consumption targets prescribed by the city. We believe this will avert the arrival of Day Zero. But it will also stand us in good stead should we reach Day Zero, since the amount of water we will need to source in order to meet our daily needs will be manageable and this will avoid our having to close and send home those living in residence.

At the same time, we are developing plans to deal with different scenarios that may arise should Day Zero arrive, to ensure that UCT stays open. We are also developing a worst-case scenario for the academic programme to continue even if we are forced to close the residences and most of the campus for a few months.

The challenge is complex, as is our operational plant and footprint. We have been planning and implementing interventions since July 2017 under the guidance of the Water Task Team. Our consumption has reduced significantly since then (see graph below), but we still need to reduce it by half. Our strategy includes: improving water monitoring across campus and intervening, building by building, to reduce consumption; exploring re-usable water sources; as well as exploring alternative water sources if Day Zero arrives.

UCT water usage graph

The Water Task Team is chaired by Kevin Winter. It has developed a UCT water contingency plan that is being discussed, implemented and improved all the time. It is reporting to the Vice-Chancellor’s Management Advisory Group (VCMAG) on a weekly basis. In addition, we have now employed extra staff to help manage our response, including the appointment of Jessica Fell as coordinator of the UCT water desk. All concerns, ideas or other issues relating to water on campus can be reported to her. The next Campus Announcement will contain her contact details.

To explain in more detail, we are focusing on three clusters of interventions:

1) Immediate 50% further reduction of UCT water consumption:

The Western Cape Government has declared the entire province a disaster area. I know many of you are diligently pursuing water saving targets at home and here on campus. With the announcement of the level 6B restrictions, UCT will have to reduce our consumption by 50% (approximately).

At the central level, The 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 to be reused. On campus, departments, and sometimes individual staff members, have brought buckets. Departments should extend this practice in all toilets and basins.
  • 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, we are 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.

Additional measures to reduce use which may be required include identifying non-crucial locations to be fitted with stop valves to enable the maintenance department to channel water to more important areas; switching off all recreational showers; shifting heating, ventilation, and air conditioning supply to only fresh air.

But reducing water consumption depends primarily on your local efforts in faculties, departments and residences. Under the new water restrictions every person must limit water use to 50 litres or less per day, whether at home or at work or university. I am asking every member of the community to become an active participant in helping us achieve this goal.

We ask that each department and building appoint a water champion and develop a 50% water-reduction plan. This could include an assessment of all water consumption in the department, checking for water leaks, re-using water, minimising all water consumption to a set target, etc. This is a challenge we can only achieve if we commit to the collective savings targets. UCT’s water consumption has dropped over the past six months, but we need an extra effort to reach the further reduction.

Here are some useful tips and guidelines that may assist you. I am urgently appealing to all heads of departments to implement a reduction plan as soon as possible.

2) Preparing for and managing Day Zero:

I want to reiterate that we will do everything in our power to ensure that the university will not close if we reach Day Zero. This depends on achieving three goals:

First, we need to have reduced our daily needs as described above, so that the water we can access is sufficient.

Second, we are pursuing the possibility of alternative water resources.

  • We have commissioned projects for capturing water from seepage zones (high quality water) which will be used a source of water for drinking and other essential services.
  • We are completing a geohydrological survey of the campus to determine suitable sites for boreholes.
  • We have enlisted the services of a borehole drilling company once the geohydrological survey is completed.
  • Much of our campus water supply comes from UCT’s own reservoirs which are normally fed by the municipal supply. We are exploring contracting tankers to replenish our reservoirs should the city supplies be inadequate.
  • We are investigating alternative fire water supplies for emergencies, for example by keeping all tanks on roofs of residences and other buildings full by protecting the use of that water.

Third, we 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). As soon as we have the decision from the City we will be able to give you further details.

3) Developing a sustainable, long-term water contingency plan for UCT:

The university is taking the long view of water management and how we can change old patterns of water use. We want to ensure that in future years we are as water-wise as possible.

All the above measures will contribute to the long-term sustainable water plan. Further efforts include: greywater and stormwater capture; reconfiguring the water inlet and waste reticulation piping; recycling water to catchment tanks; checking all plumbing connections for leaks; procuring and installing more reservoir tanks to be plugged into the main incoming supply connection piping; investigating chemical sanitation methods; identifying locations for catchment water tanks.

Unfortunately, some incidents of water being stolen (not on campus) have been reported in the media. I wish to remind everyone that to remove water from UCT premises to use off campus, for instance at home, is an offence and will put our total savings target at risk, and hence increase the chance that we will not manage after Day Zero on the reduced supplies.

In conclusion, I understand that the threat of Day Zero is creating anxiety. I am asking that we remain calm knowing that it is receiving attention at the highest level, while playing our critical individual roles in helping to reduce consumption. I am most grateful to all those who are making a positive contribution towards our response to this significant challenge. We will continue to communicate with you regularly on our successes and contingency plans.


Dr Max Price

Here are some other useful items:

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