8.7 Evaluation and Way Forward

Despite an intensive internet search, no information could be found on implementation of the MAR proposal of 2007. Information on the roll-out of water supply augmentation since 2007 has been gathered from the last scientific study and various local news sources as shown on Table 12 (News24, 2009; Murray and Ravenscroft, 2010; EMG, 2011; Holloway et al., 2012; Bitou Municipality, 2017 and 2019).

Table 12  Lack of groundwater resource planning and implementation focus by municipalities.

2007 MAR: pre-feasibility study undertaken. Borehole injection capacity was assessed in 2010.
2009 In January the Karatara River runs dry, leaving Sedgefield without water in peak holiday season. By April, Mossel Bay, George, Knysna and Bitou local municipalities introduce water restrictions; major dams at 60 percent; rainfall lowest in 132 years. By June, situational reports on water availability and storage capacity to Eden District Municipality reveal that municipalities are on the brink of crisis, as no municipalities have sufficient stored water, and there is no rainfall predicted for the near future; major dams at 45 percent. By August, first disaster management meeting, called by Eden District Municipality; major dams at 30 percent. By September the national Department of Water Affairs sets a consumption reduction target of 40 percent for affected municipalities. By November district and local municipalities are declared disaster areas and receive disaster relief money and begin to implement emergency water supply projects.
2009 ‑ 2011 A total of US$ 70 million of the government drought response was directed to improving urban water supply infrastructure, of which National Treasury provided 58 percent, complemented by other sources and municipal co-funding. The majority of additional water supply projects did not come on-line until late 2010-2011, after the drought had broken. For the Bitou municipality, this included a 2 million liters/day desalination plant (Figure 46).
2017 The Western Cape Province was declared a national drought area. Bitou municipality again received drought disaster relief funding from the National Disaster Management Centre of US$ 1.6 million and a further US$ 0.25 million from Western Cape Provincial Government.
Out of this money, groundwater also received a small portion for 2 boreholes drilled and equipped in KwaNokuthula for Plettenberg Bay supply. This must be seen against the estimated capital cost of US$ 0.8 million for the whole MAR scheme, which had still not been financed. Bitou commissioned further studies towards water resilience and less dependence on surface water; Wadrift Dam, an off-channel dam, filled from the Keurbooms River in times of high flow, is foreseen for 2022.
Photo of Plettenberg Bay Desalination Plant

Figure 46  Plettenberg Bay Desalination Plant – next to the town’s iconic Beacon Isle Hotel (Veolia, 2019).

A similar neglect of groundwater and MAR occurred from 2009 onwards in the neighboring Knysna municipality (Figure 39) in its water supply to Sedgefield. Recharge technology of dune infiltration had been proposed and a desk study undertaken. MAR would have provided a natural polishing of the seaside village wastewater that was creating a problem by partially discharging into the environmentally-sensitive Groenvlei area as shown on Figure 47 (Murray and Ravenscroft, 2010). Like at Bitou, drought relief funding was spent on a desalination plant. And, instead of implementing key elements of the 2009 MAR proposals, new plans emerged for constructing a second desalination plant. Because of problems with brine disposal, a second plant would likely have to be sited a few kilometers away. As a highly unlikely solution, a very costly, large-scale inter-basin water transfer from the Keurbooms River, which is the main water source for Plettenberg Bay, also came under discussion (Raynor, 2014).

Image of Sedgefield waste treatment works in the sand dunes, with Groenvlei in the foreground

Figure 47  Sedgefield waste treatment works in the sand dunes, with Groenvlei in the foreground (Murray and Ravenscroft, 2010).

This situation is concerning, because the Sedgefield MAR project was seen as the forerunner in conjunctive water use in the southern Cape, paving the way for Mossel Bay, George, Knynsa and Plettenberg Bay to re-assess their available water sources. “New Water is now mandatory in the water portfolios of the municipalities to limit the risk of complete water supply failure, should rivers run dry” (IMESA, 2010).

Both Knysna and Bitou municipalities are known for excellent services. They were praised for having saved the day through impressive reductions in municipal water demand (41 percent) during the critical drought period. The efforts of municipal engineers were also praised for ensuring a remarkably rapid temporary expansion of local water supplies. On the other hand, an evaluation of the drought response during the 2009 through 2011 period highlighted serious gaps (Holloway et al., 2012) including:

  • limited discernment of drought onset and impending water scarcity;
  • lack of contingency plans for managing urban water shortages in areas exposed to erratic rainfall; and,
  • serious shortcomings in the water sector, including aging municipal water distribution infrastructure, unaccounted-for water losses, and limited water management capability.

Above all, municipalities are political and not scientific institutions. They are able to distribute water, but not plan, finance, develop and operate water resources, let alone do it for poorly understood groundwater resources. This is not expected to change without detailed regulation of local water resource management by national government along with guidance and oversight from the CMAs, which are still not functional.


Managed Aquifer Recharge: Southern Africa Copyright © 2021 by Eberhard Braune and Sumaya Israel. All Rights Reserved.