Gisela Kaiser, executive director of utility services, addressed delegates at Africa Utility Week, saying additional water supply schemes for the region had been deferred before the drought took hold and that it had not been practical to set aside billions for a need that might not come while there were more pressing humanitarian needs.

“The decision to defer plans for supply schemes was followed by exceptionally low rainfall,” she said.

This week the city’s mayoral committee recommended Level 4 water restrictions as dam levels in the region continued to drop.

The restrictions will ban all use of municipal water for outside and non-essential use.

Kaiser said that despite the restrictions, they were now essentially “waiting on a miracle”.

“We know that modelling the past to predict the future is not foolproof, but there is no way we could reasonably have anticipated the severity of the drought at the time. Whenever water strategy is created, it is informed by historical water patterns,” she said.

Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy Xanthea Limberg said that as early as 2000, the City realised that projected demand was in danger of exceeding projected supply, and applied its water conservation and water demand management strategy.

Due to the success of this initiative, the need for additional water resources had been significantly deferred, she said.

“Strategic water resource planning by the national Department of Water and Sanitation, the city and other stakeholders, indicated the city’s network of dams still had enough capacity to meet unrestricted needs provided we received normal rainfall, and that the next water supply scheme for the region would only be required by 2021.

“The Berg River to Voëlvlei augmentation scheme phase 1 was selected as the next augmentation scheme to be implemented, and the City therefore aligned its water planning appropriately and pushed back the implementation of other projects such as the Table Mountain group aquifer scheme to beyond 2022,” said Limberg.

“Given development and infrastructure requirements throughout the city, it was not possible (to) implement this sooner as the government cannot ring-fence billions of rand to shield against a drought that might not happen, and as such we rather rely on restrictions to drive down demand during times of low rainfall.”

The City’s disaster risk management section is developing a plan for drought relief, if necessary