Water Wars

He built the Fernkloof Dam at Hermanus. And a much bigger one in the Free State. Numerous very round ones all over the Overberg, on wheat farms. Several canals, pipelines, water works. And he shaved the tops of hills, cut canals and even a railroad through the forbidding rock of the Hex River Mountains. His last dam, he never saw. He did the initial surveying, drew up plans, wrote a proposal to Eben Dönges, MP. On his death bed in 1968, he was informed that “his dam” would be built. Within a week, Piet Marais was no more, a forgotten man, yet one whose visionary foresight affords the Western Cape life-giving water in 2017 and beyond.

Theewaterskloof. Oupa Piet’s final dam.

With water being scarce as it is, we South Africans are just very crazy. Precious, expensively treated drinking water turns our yards into lush gardens. Taking water for granted, we indulge,wasting copious amounts of water on non-essentials. In a country rated by some scientists as Africa’s second most water-stressed. An indulgence that is not sustainable.

We need to adapt. Oupa Piet taught us not to waste water, as he knew where it came from. He carried a lot of it. Trekking with ox-wagons, he traversed large parts of South Africa and formed a lasting legacy, sculpting rock faces with basic hand tools. The hot Karoo sun at Kleinstraat does not mix well with hammer and chisel. The cold can be arresting.

My other grandpa, Thys, also built a concrete dam in the Nieuwekloof between Tulbach and Gouda. Both were sub-contracted to canal building between the Little Berg River and Vogelvlei Dam. Oupa Thys also worked on expanding the same dam.

While two of my uncles worked on these projects, with hand tools, my father also worked at installing a pipeline from Stettynskloof Dam to Worcester and another from Fairie Glen. The latter is in the Brandwacht Mountains.

One of my uncles held a degree in theology but there was no work, so he laboured with pick and shovel in laying a pipeline to the industrial area of Worcester, where a textile factory was being erected.

This is typical of the spoils of white privilege in South Africa. Only some became financially independent, most still live in heavily mortgaged homes and drive encumbered cars. It is easy to appear wealthy,but hard work and unquestionable work ethics is our mainstay. Strikes and riots are alien to our culture, we are defined by sacrifice and perseverance.

Modern city dwellers usually do not realise that the catchment areas of our dams are on the semi-desert side of the mountain ranges skirting the Cape Peninsula. Rain in Cape Town simply does nit replenish our dams, with the exception of tiny ones behind Table Mountain or above Simon’s Town.

Recently, a chorus of idiotic voices went up, announcing that “the drought has been broken” after just a token rainfall occurred. It just shows how little understanding people have of water.

A mechanical engineer, a civil one and a dentist had to be educated that paying the fines imposed for water abuse still did not fill our dams, also it had to be explained to them that one cannot drink a garden or a clean car when dams run dry.

Civil rights organisation Afriforum charted freight trains to take water to the 150,000 or more residents of Kroonstad, when their water ran out in late 2016. It would be impossible to procure water and distribute it to the four million people of Greater Cape Town, though.

Grey water only saves water when replacing the use of fresh water for secondary use. Real water savings happen when we keep taps closed, it is that simple.

We need to learn to live like so many just outside of Cape Town do. Wash with minuscule quantities of water, using a jug and a bowl. I use much less than half a litre per day to wash my body with. And I do not smell.

Gardens in so many arid areas consist of barren land. That’s it. If you go on holiday to some destinations on the Cape West Coast, you take your own water supply. They have none to share.

In these regions, cars are seldom washed, if ever. A feather duster does the job.

Piping water from the Gariep is a ridiculous idea, as not much will be left for downstream human settlements and agriculture. We cannot take their precious water because we do not respect our own. The infrastructure will be costly and take many years to complete. To the very clever, ill-informed, there cannot be any foreseeable problem, of course. In the same way, water cannot be channeled from areas experiencing flash floods. The floods occur randomly in different places, impossible to predict. Laying costly pipelines that may only be used once in a decade, if at all, would be sheer stupidity. Too many people have opinions but don’t understand what they are talking about. No real understanding of the distances involved and unpredictability of such floods. They seem to want to play Russian roulette with pipelines or canals.

Dams can only be built in certain places. Soil types and topography dictate that. Already, some dams lose much water to seepage. We already have utilised almost all places where dams can be built.

Dredging sand from the now empty dams is another hotly debated topic. Firstly, that “dry” sand is an aquifer preventing too fast evaporation. Removing it will expose even more water to the sun and, worse still, to the wind. Secondly, due to the sheer magnitude as well as the wet nature thereof, even starting out is almost impossible. Earthmoving equipment will most likely get stuck, filling the dams with machinery by the time the rains come. Also, it may take a few years to move all that sand and silt, yet the dams will most likely fill up well before that can happen.

As for grey water – the municipality treats all sewage water, recycle it and uses it on the city’s gardens, golf courses, etc. It isn’t wasted BUT real water savings start by closing taps.

Given the witch hunt comments on social media, it becomes evident why it is predicted that WWIII will be fought over water.

Too many have opinions, too many are vindictive, too few know even the basics of hydrology or water supply.

Finally, it uses lots of water to generate electricity. Reducing the use of energy will save water. Switch off appliances when not in use. This also applies to unoccupied rooms. I grew up in a home where we never left a light burning when we left a room. And we had electricity for free when we did that.

Become water wise. Close taps. It never fails.

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