Working towards a water-wise UCT

16 March 2018 | From the VC’s Desk

Dear students and colleagues

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is one of the city’s major consumers of municipal water. As such we need to set an example in water-wise use and sustainability, not only during the current crisis but far into the future. While the City of Cape Town has stated that Day Zero may be avoided in 2018 if we all continue with our current water usage, this precious resource will remain in very limited supply.

According to the City of Cape Town’s Level 6B water restrictions, which were introduced on 1 February 2018, UCT must reduce its water usage by 45% with reference to our 2015 water usage levels. A failure to conform with this requirement will incur heavy fines. We have therefore set a slightly higher savings target of 50%, which will help keep UCT on a solid financial footing as well as setting an example for the responsible and sustainable use of water.

In 2017 UCT used an average of 40 000 kilolitres of municipal water per month across all campuses and residences, with campuses using an average of 16 500 kilolitres and residences an average of 23 000 kilolitres per month. The latter equates to an average usage per person in residence of 120 litres per day. It is not as easy to unravel the daily campus usage, excluding residences, on a per person basis. A simple calculation, assuming 30 000 students and staff are active on our campuses on any one day, and a 22-day teaching month, equates to 25 litres per person. However, a proportion of this usage obviously relates to water used in teaching, research, gardens, etc.

Our best current estimate is that of the 550 kilolitres of water used per day on our campuses some 50–60 kilolitres relates to water used in teaching and research laboratories. We are not able to quantify the 2017 usage for gardens, open cooling HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, etc. It is therefore difficult to estimate the per capita proportion for personal use. Nevertheless, if one assumes that gardens, HVAC systems, etc used a similar amount to academic teaching and research, then, as a rough indication, the water usage per person for personal use translates to approximately 14 litres per day during 2017.

Based on these figures and the City’s water tariff, we have set our reduction targets for 2018 to an average monthly usage of 20 000 kilolitres of municipal water per month across all campuses, with campuses targeting an average monthly use of 8 250 kilolitres and residences 11 500 kilolitres. This translates into a target of 50 litres per person per day in the residences. Based on the above estimate of 14 litres per person per day for all personal activities on campus, this usage must be decreased to 7 litres per person. The more general academic, support and environmental use must equally be halved.

These water usage targets are in line with the City of Cape Town’s targets, which require that we all use less than 50 litres of water per person per day in total, whether we are on campus, at home or in residence.

We are still negotiating with the City to determine what water and sewerage rates we will be charged during 2018 – whether residential, school or business rates. Our calculations to date suggest that our water and sewerage bill could increase by as much as R30 million in 2018 – a major budgetary impact which we obviously need to do everything to avoid.

On all our campuses and in residences, UCT staff and students are taking steps to reduce our collective and individual water usage. I encourage you to talk to one another about how you can reduce your water usage. Water saving must be part of our daily routines.

Every individual effort is important. With your help, we can reduce UCT’s water consumption by half and make our institution water sustainable into the future.


Dr Max Price

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