Understanding water use in Cape Town

Water is a fundamental element of human life. Many cities, including Cape Town, were founded as a result of the availability of water resources. The city was established as a halfway station to provide fresh water, vegetables, fruit and meat for trading ships. The remnants of these activities are preserved within the Company’s Garden and the Stadsfontein Vault houses, one of Cape Town’s original water springs. Today, Cape Town has a population of about four million people. In the current severe drought water supply is stretched to the limits, highlighting the city’s position in a water-scarce region.  Changing weather patterns due to climate change have contributed to the drought, with increasingly long, hot and dry summer months.

The city’s supply of water is a collaboration between the City’s Water and Sanitation Department and the national Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). The DWS supplies Cape Town with water from three major dams, Voëlvlei, Theewaterskloof and Berg River.

The City also manages the following infrastructure for water supply: 

  • Three major dams – Wemmershoek, Steenbras Upper and Steenbras Lower
  • Eight smaller dams – Hely-Hutchinson, Woodhead, Victoria, Alexandra, De Villiers, Kleinplaats, Land-en-Zeezicht and Lewis Gay
  • 12 water treatment works
  • 25 large (bulk) reservoirs
  • Over 450 pump stations
  • 26 wastewater treatment facilities 

To get more information on how the City delivers water to you, watch this video from the City’s website.

The City strives to deliver high-quality water supply, and has won numerous awards, including:

  • Multiple Blue Drop awards, indicating Cape Town has some of the best drinking water in the country. 
  • A Platinum award for excellence in the Blue Drop award system over a number of years.
  • Multiple Green Drop awards for a high-quality standard of waste water treatment operations.
  • Excellent operating systems, recognised at the 2013 Water Sector Awards on Water Conservation and Water Demand Management. 
  • Winning the Adaptation Implementation category at the 2015 C40 Cities Awards in Paris, France, ahead of more than 200 applications from 94 cities across the world.

Guidelines for water use

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 7,5 litres per capita per day to meet essential requirements of health and hygiene. A larger quantity of about 20 litres per capita per day is required to take care of drinking, basic hygiene needs and basic food hygiene, with more needed for activities such as laundry, bathing and showering. In South Africa, the Water Services Act, Act 108 of 1997, stipulates a daily minimum per capita supply of 25 litres. The WHO estimates that households with optimal access (piped water within the home) use between 100 and 300 litres per capita daily, while households with intermediate access (a single tap within the house or yard) would use approximately 50 litres per capita daily. The City’s 2009-2014 IMEP Environmental Agenda envisioned a target of providing 180 litres of water daily per capita. This was based on a history of high water demand. The aim was to reduce the amount of water used in wealthy households and to ensure that poorer households are given increased access to water. 

In the current drought conditions, the daily water consumption target per person has been drastically reduced. At the time of writing, in accordance with level 6b water restrictions, the City urges residential water users to use a maximum of 50 litres of water per person daily, with an overall total water demand target of less than 450 megalitres per day. These water restrictions can be found on the City’s website.

The City’s aim is to supply all residents with water, and to educate users about conservation techniques and the need to use water sustainably. With effect from 1 July 2017, the City provides indigent households with a monthly minimum free allocation of 6 000 litres of water, and informal settlements with free water. Previously, all households received 6 000 litres free. The tariff for residential customers for the 2017/18 financial year is outlined in Table 7.