Water Saving Through Subsidy Housing Construction

image April, 2017 Housing

Opinion piece by Christine Botha on behalf of People’s Environmental Planning

Days of water left:100

Last month of water supply: June

Current useable water in our dams in the Western Cape: 17,3%

In the light of the current drought The City of Cape Town has urged residents to reduce their water consumption and tightened up water restrictions. In January EWN reported drone footage of the Theewaterskloof dam that highlighted the severity of the problem. View here


Low dam levels as posted by the City of Cape Town

Compared to previous years, Cape Town has, to date, reduced overall water use by a third. In the event that the dam levels drop even further, the City has tabled various solutions including:

  • Emergency drilling of boreholes into the Table Mountain Group Aquifer (TMGA) with a yield of approximately 2 million litres per day,
  • A small-scale desalination package plant, located along Cape Town’s north-western coastline with a yield of approximately 2 million litres per day
  • Intensifying the City’s Pressure Management and Water Demand Management programmes to further reduce water demand

The upfront investment for these interventions are very costly and is merely projected to meet our current consumption rate.

Given the dire situation it makes sense to ask who exactly consumes the most water in Cape Town and if informal housing and upgrading interventions can play a role in long term water sustainability?

According to the Residential Water Consumption Trend Analysis of 2014/2015, the highest residential water users in Cape Town fall within the middle to high-income bracket – 0,665kl on average per day. A single middle-high income household uses the same amount of water as 16 informal households (0,041kl per day). It is hence clear that an investment into water saving interventions should target retrofitting middle class households to make a meaningful impact on overall residential consumption. Interventions could include water saving taps, low-flow showerheads, grey water systems and rainwater harvesting.

A large percentage of formal housing in the City of Cape Town has been constructed through the state capital subsidy programme. While the onus for water saving should be placed on middle and upper class users, opportunities exist to make significant long-term savings through investments to new subsidy, social and GAP housing products (an example of these investments is the use of grey-water recycling systems in many such developments). If we consider that it is in this portion of the market that the true demand for housing in South Africa exists and that the goal of the developmental state is to meet this demand, while building sustainable communities, then we need to take water saving opportunities very seriously in the design and implementation of these housing projects.

To this affect PEP, using the Ruo Emoh Housing Development as a pilot, has developed documentation and costings for possible “Green Value Adds” for low-income housing developments. The documentation (below) outlines a variety of options (and costs) for fitting or retrofitting households with both water, and energy saving “value-adds”. In the long-term, we believe that implementing even just a portion of these interventions will save both water and electricity, and enable a more environmentally sustainable housing product.

The key questions that frame this discussion are whether investing in water saving interventions (as opposed to building more houses) is a better, and a more sustainable long-term option – both financially and environmentally? Do the savings justify the investment? Does foregrounding an environmental prerogative undermine a social prerogative (i.e. housing more people amidst limited budgets)? Given their usage, should the wealthy not bear the brunt of water savings, as a form of environmental “cross-subsidy”? And do low-income households really want alternative technologies that they may deem inferior to traditional infrastructure?

While there are no clear-cut answers to these debates, it is vital that pilot’s are implemented to gather data and better understand the complexities and financial implications of such housing typologies. PEP hopes that this piece serves as a starting point for such discussions and we welcome all input and advice.