UCT responds to City’s new water tariff

06 March 2018 | Story Jessica Fell and Kevin Winter. Photo Robyn Walker.
Reducing water usage in the residences will be one of UCT’s greatest challenges. Toilet flushing must be limited, and cisterns must be fitted with filled bottles to reduce their volume.
Reducing water usage in the residences will be one of UCT’s greatest challenges. Toilet flushing must be limited, and cisterns must be fitted with filled bottles to reduce their volume.

On 1 February the City of Cape Town introduced Level 6B water restrictions, which were accompanied by a new water tariff structure designed to be a disincentive for heavy water users.

The rise in water cost will be felt when the City issues its February rates and services accounts later this month: shifting the conversation from water saving to cost cutting.

Punitive water tariffs have two intended effects. They are a mechanism to force high-volume water users to reduce demand and to bring the city’s collective usage down to 450 million litres per day. They are also designed to cover the shortfall in the revenue received caused by a decrease in water and sanitation use of approximately R1.7 billion for the 2017/18 financial year.

The new tariff structure is an interim measure that will be in place until the City is able to present its 2018/19 water tariff later this year.

How the new tariff affects UCT

UCT campuses are categorised as educational institutions. Under the new tariff the cost of water will rise from R24.72 to R57 per kilolitre. Sewerage costs will increase from R21.50 to R44.18 per kilolitre. UCT can therefore expect its water bill to effectively double in cost in the absence of substantial water saving.

 

“We have a much better understanding of UCT’s water system, and the campus community are responding well to water-saving measures.”

Residences could face an even higher cost with increases of 550% in Step 1, the lowest rung of the tariff scale, which applies to those using up to 6 000 litres of water. Step 4, which is between 20 000 and 35 000 litres, will increase by 680%.

The tariff will be applied according to the number of people living in the complex. The challenge is to ensure that UCT residences stay on Step 1. This will require students and staff living in these quarters to use less than 50 litres per person per day, in total.

The new tariff also demands that UCT reduce its water use by 45% with reference to 2015 levels when water restrictions were minimal. A failure to conform with this requirement will incur heavy fines.

Decreasing UCT’s water use

UCT’s average water use for 2017 was 40 000 kilolitres of municipal water per month for all campuses. This included research and service activities. If we assume that 30 000 students and staff are accessing these resources daily, then the per capita daily use is approximately 25 litres.

If the obligatory 45% reduction is required, and taking into account that UCT wants to achieve a 50% reduction, the total per capita daily use on campus needs to be reduced to less than 7 litres per person.

It’s a tough ask, but it is essential as a cost-saving measure and a means to prevent Day Zero from occurring.

The urgent and more difficult challenge is in driving down water demand in UCT residences. In 2017 residence water use ranged from 42 litres per person per day to a staggering 160 litres.

Reducing water demand

The UCT water campaign starts with changing behaviour and establishing a comfortable level of water use that avoids compromising basic services and health. Only then will we invest in new water sources and technologies.

 

“Campuses are becoming catchments within themselves: where water is reused and treated for many purposes, and where waste water is minimised.”

Most faculties, departments or buildings have volunteer representatives who are acting as water champions. They play an important role in creating awareness, and many have already held discussions with staff and students about acceptable and appropriate ways of managing water.

Properties and Services is rolling out digital water-metering systems across the campuses, with 13 meters already in place and being tested. Real-time data will improve water management by helping to detect leaks and to better understand behaviour change.

The Water Desk is helping to coordinate information, to collect stories and experiences, and to support the Communication and Marketing Department in the campaign to conserve water.

Becoming water sensitive

We are making progress. We have never talked so long and hard about water before. We have a much better understanding of UCT’s water system and the campus community is responding well to water-saving measures.

The crisis presents an opportunity for UCT to consider how best to improve its water management and to find new ways of closing the loop in the campus water cycle.

A shift in thinking is taking place. Campuses are no longer places where clean municipal water flows into buildings and is discharged as contaminated water to sewer systems. Rather, campuses are becoming catchments within themselves: where water is reused and treated for many purposes, and where waste water is minimised.

We are beginning to value water more than ever before.


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