Two Cape Town desalination plants go offline

Two of the Mother City’s desalination plants, which were built to help Cape Town avert the once-looming Day Zero and cost the City millions in the process, have been out of order.

A naturally-occurring algal bloom in False Bay has led to the Strandfontein and Monwabisi temporary desalination plants being unable to produce water without being damaged by the high number of algal cells.

The plants are expected to produce roughly 14-million litres of water a day combined.

Members of the civil society STOP COCT visited the sites last week after noticing inconsistencies in the City’s water reports that showed water augmentation had dropped. The group found the Strandfontein plant silent and not operating.

The group noted that the plant was in perfect working order but was not functioning due to the filters it was fitted with. Now, the group is claiming that the City has not fitted the plants with filters that can handle the filtration needed.

The founder of STOP COCT, Sandra Dickson, is concerned by the fact that the desalination plants are unable to produce water under certain conditions, because of the chance that this could happen during a drought when the plants are most needed.

Along with having these concerns, STOP COCT as well as many Cape Town residents feel cheated by the higher tariffs being charged to them due to the City’s augmented water schemes, which are not paying off— not only are the desalination plants not always functioning but the City has continuously been missing its water augmentation targets.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, says the halt of operations at the plants is a precaution to monitor the current conditions in the ocean and ensure the plants weren’t damaged by high turbidity.

The Strandfontein plant produced little to no water from November 1-7 2018 due to the high turbidity of the seawater; the Monwabisi plant was out of operation for four days during the same period. After resuming production, both plants again stopped producing drinking water on November 16 2018 due to the algal bloom, but are otherwise fully-functional.

The algal bloom has dissipated in the False Bay area and the Strandfontein plant is back in operation, while the Monwabisi plant will be operating again soon.

The City only pays for water that is actually injected into the reticulation system, hence the temporary suspension is not for the City’s account, as claimed.

Although there has been speculation around the algal bloom in False Bay, with some wondering if the algae is harmful, it is in fact non-toxic and poses no danger to visitors to the area.