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Water governance and justice in Cape Town: An overview

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Abstract The drought that drew the world's attention to Cape Town in early 2018 was the worst on record, threatening to cut off household taps for 4 million people. Even before the drought, the city's relation to water was complex; South Africa still struggles with the legacy of racial inequality including its implications for water justice. Spatial and economic segregation of people initiated when Europeans first settled in the Cape culminated during the apartheid era 1948–1994. It forcibly moved hundreds of thousands of “colored” and “black” Capetonians to inferior housing in low‐lying areas prone to flooding and with limited access to water, sanitation, and other services. Post‐1994 policies have aimed to promote water justice for all citizens, but municipalities have struggled with implementation especially in rapidly growing informal settlements. During the recent drought, the City of Cape Town ramped up its program for water demand management, including pressure reduction, leak repairs, and public awareness‐raising campaigns. However, poor communication and a lack of trust contributed to a near‐panic situation at the threat of “Day Zero” as dams almost ran dry in the first half of 2018. Saved by winter rains, Cape Town is now exploring additional water sources and developing a new Water Strategy. Taken together, the City's experiences demonstrate that sustainable water governance needs to acknowledge the interrelated threats of drought and flooding, and the range of impacts these threats as well as the City's responses have on a population still defined by extreme inequality. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water Governance Science of Water > Water Extremes
Location of the six main dams in the WCWSS. The largest dam, Theewaterskloof, is located outside the main catchment and supplies water to WCWSS through an inter‐basin transfer. (Reprinted with permission from Atkins et al. (Submitted), Copyright 2019 Ffion Atkins)
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The “big six” dams in WCWSS contain 900 Mm3 when full, 10% of which is considered unusable. Over 50% was used during the dry 2015 summer (top‐left shaded area). If the same amount had been used in 2018, Cape Town would have run out of water two times over (bottom‐right shaded area, with the dashed line representing 2015's dam level drop). (Adapted from CSAG, )
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Key agencies and organizations involved at different levels of water governance in South Africa. (Adapted from Beck et al., and Pengelly et al., )
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Engineering Water > Planning Water
Human Water > Water Governance
Science of Water > Water Extremes

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