Western Cape Water User Platform: Supporting water resilience in the wider Cape Town city-region

An action-oriented engagement platform for water users in the Western Cape Water Supply System (WCWSS) is building relationships of trust for improved water security

Author: Notiswa Libala

One of the biggest lessons emerging from Cape Town’s severe drought in 2018 was the importance of joined-up governance of the Western Cape’s water supply – namely how water resources are managed and regulated – to effectively respond to water crises. With the different aspects of the Western Cape’s water management – such as catchment management, water supply, infrastructure operation and maintenance, pollution control, and alien invasive clearing – split between national, provincial and local government departments, managing these resources collaboratively for mutual benefit is key to building water resilience in the long term.

This is one of the main conclusions of a multi-year hydro-economic study of the Western Cape Water Supply System, launched in June 2023 by the World Bank, National Treasury and Department of Water and Sanitation, which analysed how different augmentation options proposed by City of Cape Town could avoid future droughts and prevent operational failures.

Panel discussion between representatives from City of Cape Town, Western Cape Government, National Treasury, World Bank and World Resources Institute during the launch of the multistakeholder hydro-economic study of the Western Cape Water Supply System in June 2023.  

The participatory study, convened by the EDP and representing all the main water users in the WCWSS area found that augmentation alone was not enough to catalyse the economic benefits of securing future water supply. Rather, confidence in the system and trust in the process are critical ingredients for public and private investment, for which strong relationships between institutions and people within the water sector are critical. 

Building on these findings, the EDP now convenes a collaborative Western Cape Water Users Platform which brings key water users together to explore issues of common concern and areas for joint action to build resilience in the water system. The participatory platform, which started in early 2023 provides a neutral space for water users – ranging from irrigation boards, local municipalities, and local, provincial and national government officials in the WCWSS region – to openly discuss, express diverse views and reach compromises around specific challenges, including assurance of supply, climate change, alien invasive clearing and infrastructure maintenance. 

Linda Siyengo, Head of the City of Cape Town’s Bulk Water and Resource Infrastructure Planning (left) and James Harvey-Ewusi, Control Technologist, Western Cape Department of Local Government (DLG) (right) with Notiswa Libala, EDP Project Lead for Water Resilience

By enabling free-flowing discussion in a safe and informal space, the platform provides valuable inputs for formal governance decision-making structures convened by government, while building relationships of trust between water users through practical actions. A recent joint-visit by water users to Voëlvlei feeder canal, for example, has resulted in an improvement in maintenance of the canal, spurring discussions around further action to improve water supply to municipalities and agriculture.

The platform is being well received by participants who have testified to the value of the platform in supporting their efforts to build water resilience.

Linda Siyengo, Head of City of Cape Town’s Bulk Water and Resource Infrastructure Planning says:

“The City is committed to wide stakeholder engagement as identified in the City’s Water Strategy. This platform has brought us together, building trust, we listen to each other. From our last joint meeting, it felt like the water users were talking to one another, in one voice. There is a level of trust that has been built, we are sharing and understand each other’s plans, and we are working towards good synergy between users.”

Eurica Scholtz, Chief Executive Officer, Berg River Main Irrigation Board says: 

“It often feels that agriculture has to fight with everyone for their share of water, while we recognize that we need to have the same assurance of supply.  This platform helps us understand the needs of other water users, like the City of Cape Town and hopefully help them understand our challenges. As the Berg River Main Irrigation Board, we are privileged to be on this platform and to have a voice. The platform allows me to feedback to our constituents while showing them the bigger picture.”

For further information, please contact Notiswa Libala notiswa@wcedp.co.za