Cape Town: Better Management Prevents Water Stress

Faced with looming water scarcity due to changing environmental conditions and population growth, South Africa’s second-largest city has committed itself to a comprehensive program of water conservation and water demand management aimed at minimizing water waste and promoting efficient water use.

The extensive program targets both technical and behavioral changes, including public awareness campaigns about water use efficiency, the introduction of a water tariff designed to encourage water savings, the promotion of the use of recycled water for irrigation, as well as a range of technical interventions to minimize water losses.

58,000 tons of CO2 saved each year


Particularly vital and socially inclusive elements include offering free plumbing repairs for low-income households and training “community plumbers.” More than 4,000 households have been visited for leak detections and repairs, and 258 km of water pipes have been replaced in order to reduce pipe bursts and water leaks. So far, the program has been a success, as water demand has grown at an average of 1.78% compared to an average growth of more than 4% before implementation. This is despite population growth of more than 30% between 2001 and 2011.

The challenge

Cape Town is facing the dual challenge of increased water demand, due to population growth, urbanization, and economic development, along with increased water scarcity, a consequence of climate change. This wide-ranging water management program consists of technical adjustments as well as social and behavior changes to limit water losses while helping low-income residents.

2015_AdaptationI_CapeTownThe program lowers Cape Town’s climate risk by reducing dependency on surface water sources (such as the Steenbrass Dam, pictured here) which are more susceptible to drought than ground water and recycled water sources.


Economic This project has postponed and possibly eliminated the need for expensive capital infrastructure projects, including an additional water supply scheme, which would have cost $85 million – five times more than this project.

Environmental Recycled water is used to irrigate public parks and green areas and 6% of all potable water is now recycled.

Health This program enables the city to provide safe, high-quality drinking water by ensuring that treatment plants are able to meet the water needs of residents.

Social 10,500 liters of free water are provided each month to impoverished households in the city.

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