Going down to a waterless Cape Town
“We need all visitors to save like a local,” wrote Atlantic Seaboard City Councillor Shayne Ramsey on Facebook last week. As tourists enter the Cape, they will be asked to use just 87 litres of water per person per day, and they can expect buckets in showers, bath plugs removed, pools covered and a set of water-restricting rules presented on arrival, depending where they stay.
“The city will rely heavily on the tourism sector to spread awareness that Cape Town is a water-scarce region which is experiencing its worst drought in recorded history. The ‘New Normal’ requires us to adapt the way that we have been doing things, in all aspects of our lives,” Ramsey wrote.
The City has entered Phase One of its Disaster Management Plan, with water rationing and “water-shedding” starting imminently. The City has advised that each household should store up to five litres of water for essential usage in the event of intermittent supply.
The Disaster Management Plan outlines an apocalyptic picture for Cape Town, with the very real threat of the water running out by March 2018; and the SA National Defence Force patrolling the streets to keep law and order in such a scenario.
“We are treating the situation as ‘business as usual’, but abiding by the bylaws of the city requesting all guests use a maximum of 87 litres of water a day,” says Peninsula Hotel General Manager Chris Godenir.
“We’ve emptied our outdoor jacuzzis and placed restrictors on showers and taps, removed bath plugs (although they can be requested for special cases, like those with disabilities, or a baby to bath), and we have groundwater filtering through, so our pool and public area are fully operational,” explains Godenir.
The groundwater pumped to rooftop tanks feeding the hotel’s flushing system means that the Peninsula’s toilets will be working over periods of potential “water shedding”. Other small steps with a big impact at the hotel include placing waterless hand sanitisers in the bathrooms and re-looking at laundry and cleaning operations.
For those who do not abide by regulations, “we do have rules of occupation, and a direct flouting of the City’s bylaws could lead to the eviction of a guest. It would be difficult to prove, as individual suites do not have water metres to record actual consumption, so to impose a fine would be difficult,” says Godiner.
But in his experience, “tourists do care and it is only a few individuals that would abuse the regulations.
“We assure you that within our control, your experience won’t be negatively impacted and you can have as good a holiday as you normally would – just be water wise.”
The nearby President Hotel has also removed bath plugs from all rooms, which will only be available upon guest request; reduced the water pressure in the public bathrooms of the hotel and installed water restrictors on all the shower heads in hotel rooms; switched off water features and installed artificial grass that does not need to be watered; and will only replace towels on request.
President Hotel Manager Nikki Varden agrees that it remains difficult to ensure that tourists adopt a “water-wise” lifestyle while on holiday, and to “police” actions of tourists. “We can only educate, inform and advise our guests and hopefully trust they would be empathetic enough to care and abide by the restrictions as we all do.”
But some hosts are taking a more proactive approach. “We are renting out our home over December. In our booking terms we mentioned compliance with applicable laws dealing with water restrictions. We also said that tenants are liable for fines for any failure to comply,” explains Paula Janks, who has been implementing water-saving measures in her home for months.
“We have buckets in every bathroom and I have removed the plugs from all baths. The level 5 water restriction rules will be printed and placed in our bathrooms and kitchens. We have a pool but it will not be in use for guests as we can’t fill it.”
Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) Cape Chairman Jeff Rosenberg agrees that the message should be that “this is everyone’s problem”. The organisation has vowed to increase water-wise efforts in the hospitality industry and has created a Cape Water Wise Pledge which each member of the organisation has signed and will display prominently at their establishment.
“Day Zero is not an option. Water saving is a unified effort and hoteliers can’t do it alone,” said Rosenberg. He advised that efforts will “start in the lobby” and will include “in your face tactics” to communicate the need to save water.
Dr Lana Marcus, who lives in Johannesburg, visited Cape Town for Yomtov and describes the situation as “stressful but doable”. She and her family stayed with their in-laws, and put a lot of thought into saving water.
“With five of us we would have increased their water usage by more than 200 per cent. So I packed more than usual to minimise washing. My children had quick showers, and all dishes were piled up in a sink before quickly being hand washed in another sink – even on Rosh Hashanah first night!
“You need to go with a positive mindset and know that you may have to give up certain little luxuries while you are there,” she said.
In terms of maintaining Jewish life while in the city, Rebbetzin Esther Maizels assures visitors that the mikveh in Sea Point will remain operational. “The mikveh has sufficient rain water.”