UCT community urged to continue saving water

25 September 2018 | From Kgethi

Dear students and colleagues

Earlier this year the University of Cape Town (UCT) initiated a water-saving campaign in light of the water crisis in the Western Cape. Faced with the real possibility of taps being turned off across large parts of the city with the approach of Day Zero, the UCT community was urged to save as much water as possible. We set ourselves a 50% water-savings target across campuses.

I write to give you an update on our efforts and to urge you to continue saving as much water as possible.

The reasonably good rainfall in the Western Cape over the past four months have spared the city from the threat of Day Zero. The main dams supplying Cape Town have risen to 70% of their capacity and the City has announced that the water restrictions will be relaxed on 1 October 2018 from Level 6b to Level 5 – daily water use per person will incease from 50 to 70 litres.

The City had to take drastic measures to manage its allocation of water during the drought. In February the National Department of Water and Sanitation reduced the City’s water allocation by 45%. In response the City implemented tighter controls over water management and requested that higher education institutions, among others, reduce their water use by 45% using 2015 as a reference. UCT committed to reducing its water use by 50% and has taken various measures to achieve this goal across all campuses and residences.

This is the first opportunity to report on the progress of our water-saving campaign, based on a comparison of our municipal records for January to July 2018 and 2015 water-use patterns for the same period. In summary:

  • UCT residences achieved a 55% reduction and we are very proud of the sustained efforts by students, residence house committees, water champions, wardens, management and staff who work in the residences. Properties and Services played a significant part in undertaking various interventions to control the demand, including the conversion of baths into showers, retrofitting toilet cisterns and installing aerators in basin taps.
  • The Graduate School of Business (GSB) campus achieved a 47% reduction thanks to a high level of commitment from operational managers, support from water champions, and an effective campaign to sustain awareness.
  • Results for other campuses, excluding the GSB, are difficult to determine due to the increase in the number of active water meters in 2018 (by as much as 32%) compared to 2015 records. However, even with the undercount, campuses showed a reduction of 11% in water usage overall.
  • Since 2015 the cost of water has risen substantially and this will have an impact on UCT’s operating budget. From January to July this year, UCT residences faced an increase of 43% (R3.4 million) compared to the same period in 2015, and an increase of 70% (R7 million) on all other campuses excluding the GSB, which had a slightly lower increase of 28% (R128 000). A relaxation to Level 5 restrictions will have only a marginal impact on the cost of water for UCT. Therefore, despite the improved water situation, the impact on the institution’s finances is still significant and we need to continue our commitment to reducing water usage.

Cape Town’s water crisis created an opportunity for UCT to improve its water management and sustainability. Interventions have included the installation of over 60 digital water meters, which are capable of monitoring water use in real time. An online reporting system is being used to detect leaks and anomalies in water flow. UCT’s Water Task Team has been at the forefront of encouraging improvements in measuring systems and in understanding UCT’s water system.

Thus far the water-saving campaign, with strong support from UCT’s Communication and Marketing Department, has focused on reducing water demand through communication, education and awareness. We have made an important start and already the results are encouraging, but we must continue to save water and adapt to the uncertainty of changing rainfall patterns in the Western Cape.

The City’s relaxation of the water restrictions eases the tension surrounding the threat of Day Zero, but it will be premature for UCT to ease its efforts. We are getting used to living a 50-litre-per-day lifestyle and we want to encourage this behaviour to continue.

It is imperative to save water and to save on the cost of water.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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