Guiding consumers since 2009

Is Cape Town’s water safe to drink?

By Danielle van Wyk

The short answer is yes. Much has been said in recent times around the drinkability of Cape Town’s water. With Western Cape dam levels below 20% and still dropping, Cape Town residents have been on high alert. However, complaints have been reported about the taste, colour and odour of the water, which begs the question of whether Cape Town’s water is still safe to drink.

City of Cape Town responds

Residents are advised that changes to the bulk water distribution system could intermittently impact on clarity or taste within some areas of the northern and central suburbs of the city. These changes are required to conserve water in the Theewaterskloof Dam. In addition, water pressure will be reduced in the water distribution system in order to limit water leaks from underground pipes and faulty plumbing fittings. Residents are requested to please exercise patience as taps may flow more slowly,” explained mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, councillor Xanthea Limberg.

These resultant flow changes may further cause cloudiness or slight discolouration of the water. “Residents with sensitive palates may also notice a slight change in the taste of their water, as it will now be coming from a mix of sources,” Limberg added.

Complaints have also centred around the taste and odour of the water, which naturally sparked great concern. Limberg responded: “Water consumers in several parts of the city may also have experienced an earthy taste and odour to their drinking water caused by low levels of Geosmin in dam waters. The City would like to reassure residents that this is a naturally occurring compound and is neither toxic nor harmful to health. Water quality is monitored continuously and all water supplied will be entirely safe for human consumption.”

When asked about the standard of the water, Limberg added: “We fully support and comply with strict water quality checks as prescribed by the National Government’s Department of Water and Sanitation. This rigorous process means that water quality is closely monitored via a large number of water samples analysed according to the stringent South African National Standards (SANS  requirements. To ensure the excellent quality of our water, our laboratory tests over 5 700 samples of water each year. We draw water from sampling points throughout the water system, and we test these samples on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. All water remains safe to drink.”

While there is no health risk at present, we are dangerously closing to the 10% dam level threshold. “The last 10% (approximately) of a dam’s volume is very difficult to extract and treat to acceptable standards,” added Limberg, making this water essentially undrinkable.

Residents and visitors are assured that the City is working proactively to manage available water resources and reduce the effects of Geosmin (an organic compound) in the source waters, concentrations of which are anticipated to increase with lower dam levels and hot, windy conditions,” the City assured.

Where to buy bottled water in bulk

Still, many are choosing to err on side of caution and have taken to buying bottled water in bulk. This, however, can prove an expensive exercise, which is why some supermarkets have gotten on board to save you money.

Pick n Pay are selling five litre bottles of water for between R20 and R23, while certain Checkers branches are offering theirs for as little as R15 – R18.  If this still seems steep to you, Spar, at R1 per litre have come out with their refill option. This, however, is specific to certain Spar stores. Contact your local Spar for more information. 

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