Capetonians still flock to collect free water from the city's springs
The rain was pelting down and the wind blowing icy off the snow-capped mountains, but that did not stop people trekking to collect the free water at Cape Town's springs in this week's rain.
What started as a panic reaction earlier this year when Day Zero hung over their heads – and even led to fisticuffs at times - appears to have become part of many people's daily or weekly routines – and they are not put off by bad weather. Some say it's the best time to fill bottles as the queues are shorter.
Some spring water collectors say they collect the water because they have come to like the taste, others because they find it hard to come out on the City's water restrictions of 50 litres a person a day. Many say it is to shave a few rands off their water bills that have increased substantially with the increase in water tariffs and the new water surcharge.
The City of Cape Town hiked up tariffs when the water restrictions caused a drop in water consumption that lost the City R2bn in revenue from radically-reduced water sales.
Whatever the reason, what is apparent is that many Capetonians, faced with the threat of the taps running dry earlier this year in the worst drought on record, seem to have undergone behaviour changes with regards to water use. For many, collecting free spring water is one of them.
Behaviour change in water use is what many people in the water sector, from government and civil society, have been calling for over the years.
At St James spring in Main Road, St James, Peter Christian from Mitchells Plain crouched down and put a funnel in his water bottle, using a scoop to fill it from the small overflow gutter while he waited for people filling bottles from the two spring pipes to finish.
He makes the trip in his bakkie once a week and collects around 1 250 litres of free water a month.
Christian started collecting at the St James spring three months ago – after the threat of Day Zero was over, but after the new water tariff hikes had been announced.
"What I collect covers the water for the washing machine and for the toilet. It takes me about an hour 20 minutes. I do it to save money. You don't save a lot, but it's worthwhile, it makes a difference," Christian said.
Rafiek Salie, a bus driver from Mitchells Plain, has been collecting from the spring since February 2017 when there were water restrictions but not as severe as they are now.
He makes the trip weekly, collecting on average 330 litres a week. He uses this to wash the family's two cars and for the washing machine, and says it has saved him quite a bit of money.
"We never use it for drinking. Some people have been drinking it for a long time and nothing happens to them, but the wife doesn't like this water for drinking, so I have to go to Newlands spring for that. Here there are no restrictions, but at Newlands you can only fill up one 25 litre bottle at a time."
On self-appointed duty at the spring is Mikey Mettler from Steenberg, who helps people carry full water containers to their cars for tips. He also washes cars with the spring water.
He used to wash taxis at the Wynberg taxi rank, but says the money is better at the spring, where he earns about R200 a day.
"Some people I know, like this guy Sam, he stops here and leaves his bottles with me and goes to the shops and then comes back when they are full," Mettler said.
Rodney and Carol Andrews of Muizenberg collect about 100 litres every month.
"We use it in the kettle mainly, and sometimes we drink it as is. We don't delve into what's in it too much, we just say 'thanks' for the water," Carol said.
In May, the spring at Newlands was closed and rerouted further down Main Road because of congestion around the old spring and complaints from the surrounding community about noise.
A city council banner tells users they are allowed to collect a maximum of 25 litres a time and warns them it is not treated water and that they use it at their own risk.
Scores of people in plastic jackets and umbrellas were filling bottles in the rain this week.
Linda Morris of Kenilworth, wet hair plastered to her head, has been collecting Newlands spring water for drinking since long before the drought.
"Just because it tastes so good."
She was party to the congestion at the first spring point after the Day Zero announcement.
"People got quite heated in the queues and it was a bit hectic. The road was narrow and there were traffic jams and the residents were up in arms from the noise of the trolleys and the vehicle fumes," Morris said.
She says her water behaviour has changed since the drought and although she knows Cape Town's storage dams are filling up, she believes the City should not lift water restrictions yet.
"Now I always use a bucket to shower in and use that for the toilet, and the washing machine water I put in the swimming pool.
"The garden I gave up on long ago, but I still worry about the pool."
Adam Witbooi and Nadine Josias from Strandfontein travel together twice a month to collect water at the Newlands spring, which they use for drinking.
Stephen Burke of Newlands collects 100 litres a week for drinking, doing the dishes, and "putting on the flowers".
He says his water consumption behaviour has changed and he will be sticking to his water-saving regime. He has fitted low-flow shower heads which he says saves up to 80% of shower water.
"The water crisis is both a global crisis and an immediate one," Burke said.
There are several people in hi-viz vests who act as water carriers.
Solomon Robertson, 19, is one of them and carries a name tag with the designation "Informal Water Helper" on it.
It is the only job he has ever had.
"I carry water for the people and I get tips, maybe R20 or R30, maybe less."
On an average day, he makes R300.
The City of Cape Town has warned the public not to drink water from the springs because it is not part of the City's reticulation network.
The City tested water from the Newlands and St James springs, and found high levels of E. coli in two of the three samples taken from the St James spring – "an indication of unacceptable microbial water quality".
No E. coli was detected in samples from the Newlands spring.
The St James spring is not pure spring water as it contains stormwater run-off.
Councillor Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste, points out that spring water is regulated by the national Department of Water and Sanitation. The City works with the department on how best to manage the spring water.
The public is allowed to take spring water to use, but is not allowed to sell the water without applying for authorisation to the national department.
The City abstracts 3.2 million litres of water a day from the Albion spring in Newlands and 1.6 million litres a day from the Oranjezicht Main Springs Chamber.
• Cape Town's storage dam level rose to 64.4% on Wednesday, up from 62% on Monday. This time last year, the level was 34%.