Schools will not close if Cape Town reaches Day Zero, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said on Wednesday.
"Whatever happens, we intend to keep schools open," Zille said at a mass meeting of school principals and education officials in Kuils River, Cape Town.
"And we intend to keep schools open with water because obviously we can't keep schools open without water," she said.
However, with a "60% chance" that Day Zero will be declared, a complex plan is being activated, which involves using swimming pools as dams, fixing boreholes, the dropping of water "bladders" and a real-time school water security map.
'Keeping school water secure'
Hygiene and sanitation, disease prevention, and fire safety are top priorities for keeping schools "water secure", she said, answering some of the points raised by the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) on Tuesday.
Provincial Sadtu secretary Jonovan Rustin had said they were "extremely disappointed" in the Western Cape government, adding that the government had known for a long time that Cape Town is a drought-stricken area.
"They [the Western Cape Government] have done absolutely nothing to make sure that we are safe from this disaster, and now we are sitting at this particular point where our young children who have no voice, are vulnerable in this drought area," Rustin said.
Rustin added that the government must get "their act together to ensure that our schools are saved and our education is saved in the province".
He was speaking at a briefing in Parow in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Zille also told officials on Wednesday: "The first thing that schools can do for us is make sure everybody understands that this is real. It is dead serious. If we do avoid Day Zero it will be because of behaviour change."
The city's water consumption had dropped from 1.2 billion litres a day, to around 600 million, and then to around 500 million.
"To avoid Day Zero entirely we have to get down to 450Ml (megalitres) per day and then Day Zero has a zero chance of happening," said Zille.
"Use 50 litres of water per day for 150 days and we will be through this."
However, Zille said she is resigned for now to the national government repeatedly turning down requests for help on the grounds there is no money and "will not have that fight now".
It also has reduced revenue as a result of the reduced water use that would usually cross-subside the poor.
She said the desalination plants and aquifers would not bring water into the system on time and, if they did, they would only put just over 100Ml into the system.
The only thing left to avoid Day Zero was to reduce usage and waste, particularly with toilet flushing which consumes vast amounts of water, and to manage a disaster.
Independent schools will be met next to establish what will happen with them, but this is what the province is planning in conjunction with the provincial education department for government schools if Day Zero is declared:
- Schools will stay open so that pupils are not in danger "out on the streets" and that education continues.
- School officials will receive an emailed update every morning on the water situation and the arrangements pertaining to their school's water security.
- School officials must set up WhatsApp groups to communicate with each other, with "clearly delineated" communication permissions and must not circulate unsubstantiated rumours that can cause panic.
- School swimming pools will be used as storage dams for non-potable water so there will be no more galas;
- There are 811 schools in the Cape metro with 712 111 pupils, 695 in rural areas with 404 405 pupils, and more than 30 000 teachers that will be affected by the crisis. The Western Cape Education Department will need to secure a total of 23Ml per day for schools to keep them open.
- Schools in the metro will be kept online on the water network, but must stay part of the plan in case this changes.
- It takes two weeks to switch off piped water to the whole city, so shut offs will be in zones and these will be communicated;
- Teachers will be able to get their allocated 50 litres a day - the maximum allowed when Level 6B restrictions start on Thursday.
- A total of 407 schools in the metro and 103 in rural areas have their own boreholes but 24% are not functioning, so they will be repaired. - Only a few boreholes have drinking quality water, so the water will be used for flushing toilets and to keep in case of a fire.
- Smart metering will be installed and the possibility of installing a system that switches off water automatically when a tap is not in use (such as night time office lighting) is being explored.
- Thirteen waste water treatment plans are producing 161Ml a day from recycled water. A total of 31 schools, such as Milnerton Primary School and Goodwood Primary School are already connected to this grid for toilet flushing, and others will be added to this network. None of that water will go into the drinking water system;
- Schools with no boreholes will have water tankers deliver water to them and that water will be stored in "bladders" which schools are expected to keep secure from vandals, possibly with the help of private security companies.
- Farmers in the Palmiet area have agreed to put a "significant" amount of water into the Steenbras dam to help the City of Cape Town's supply system.
- Donations of water have been flooding in and the logistics of storing this has become a "challenge in its own right".
- Schools have been divided into categories based on whether they have a borehole or not, and whether they are part of the recycled water system and whether they have a water storage tank. They will be colour coded and their water security status will be updated in real time.
- Principals must tell their district managers by no later than February 21 if they have not been told where they will get their water or do not know.
- Schools have also been divided into "high risk" and "less high risk" schools, with schools without tanks or boreholes a priority.
- Some schools will use sea water to flush their toilets.
- Desalination is expected to kick in around May or June but it will not be enough to cover the city's needs.
- Special schools will not run out of water, "even if I have to drive it in my own car," said Zille.
'Province is limited'
Zille said she had "regret" that the water crisis had happened, but the province was limited to what it could do in terms of the Constitutional boundaries.
The province was currently working within an "unfunded mandate", taking money from other projects to cover costs.
She hoped the water crisis would do what the energy crisis of 2013 did in terms of giving innovators space to produce and sell a range of new energy systems.
People had already come up with innovative devices and ways of using water sparingly, and this was bound to carry on after the crisis.
"It's called snatching victory from the jaws of defeat," said Zille.