Saving South Africa: The Real Issues Businesses Face When it Comes to Water Shortages

by | Mar 6, 2018


With Cape Town, South Africa bracing for the day when the city runs out of water, organizations and businesses are wise to invest in water infrastructure to keep business — and life — running in the case of severe drought.

Key among them is smart advance planning, including incentivizing the private sector to be part of water recycling, storage, and capture, and the seeking out of new water resources. Also, diversification of water sources and greater involvement of the private sector are imperative.

According to O’Melveny, a Los Angeles-based international law firm, many well-populated regions, including areas of California and vast swaths of the southwestern US, are paying close attention to how South Africa handles this potential environmental catastrophe and the logistical nightmare of supplying a large, important metropolitan area with essential water. recently reported that wine production, for which the area around Cape Town is world famous, is down by 20%. Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable production – including onions, potatoes and tomatoes – has dropped by 15% year on year as farmers planted less due to water shortages, Paul Makube, agricultural economist at South Africa’s First National Bank told the website recently.

But Cape Town, like parts of Southern California, has taken water conservation seriously. Residents have mostly stuck to the 50 liters of water per day rule, allowing “day zero” to be pushed back to mid-July. As Environmental Leader reported in January, California implemented measures to address the negative results of a four-year drought with a goal of reducing water use by 25% in 2015, ultimately saving 524,000 million gallons, which at 24% fell just short of the goal. But the decrease in water usage actually resulted in a significant decrease in energy use, leading to an electricity savings of 1,830 GWh, according to the report published in Environmental Research Letters (via The savings, in fact, were greater than those achieved by investor-owned electricity utilities’ efficiency programs over the same period, says the report’s lead author, Dr. Edward Sprang.

What can organizations in drought-prone areas do to make sure they are being as water conscious as possible when conducting business? According to Heather Welles, an attorney at O’Melveny, the first step is often awareness.

“Organizations can invest in learning about their own water use and identifying opportunities to save water, such as instituting best practices for employees who use water or incorporating water efficiency into purchasing decisions,” she said during an interview with Environmental Leader.

Much of our water infrastructure is old and in need of significant upgrades,” Welles added. “For instance, the EPA in 2017 estimated that more than $655 billion in investment over the next 20 years will be needed for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure across the United States. And that figure does not even include replacing lead pipes like those implicated in the Flint, Michigan drinking water disaster. The federal government is not prepared to meet these needs, and private investment will likely be critical.”


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