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Cape Town’s reduced water supply and the threat of even more stringent water restrictions has sent the City Parks Department back to the drawing board to rethink how they can conserve this scarce resource. Although all eyes are on mother nature for some much-needed rain, the Department is quite literally turning off the taps to save this valuable resource. In addition, water-wise trees were planted today to celebrate Arbor Week.

The City Parks Department has committed to conserving water and is implementing plans to become less dependent on potable (drinking) water. The Department has a tough time balancing the importance of sustaining the beauty of neighbourhoods and recreational places with the conservation of a scarce resource.

Given the extent of the Department’s responsibility, it is going to be a huge challenge indeed. City Parks is tasked with the upkeep of the following green spaces: 3 526 community parks, 12 district parks, 1 996 hectares of road reserves and amenities, 10 biodiversity areas, 364 greenbelts, 40 cemeteries and a nursery.In the past, little or no thought was given to water conservation when soft landscaping projects were planned and undertaken. The selection of suitable plants was also not necessarily based on water-wise principles. This led to grass being the obvious choice for vast areas, with no thought given to an alternative means of surfacing. These vast tracts of grass require extensive watering, especially during the dry summer months, in order to maintain their greenness.

But the very dry winter that we have experienced has led to water restrictions for the city and province. With even stricter water restrictions on the cards, the City Parks Department has had to rethink their water strategy.

‘I am pleased that the City Parks Department is taking the lead in water conservation. The aim of the new water strategy is not only to save water, but also to ensure a sustainable green environment. Previously, the use of alternative water resources was seldom considered when soft landscaping projects were undertaken, as potable water was cheap and readily available on tap. Furthermore, managers responsible for the maintenance of parks have seldom been subject to water restrictions and therefore initially found it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services, Councillor Anda Ntsodo.

Water conservation can be more costly as it requires more management and is labour-intensive. The conservation of water is being addressed in the short- and long-term with each landscaping situation being assessed to ensure water savings.

The City Parks amended water strategy is based, among others, on the following water-saving principles:
The design of new developments must enhance water conservation and alternative water resources must be investigated, such as local dams, rivers, streams, springs, grey water and treated effluent
Plant selection must be based on water-wise principles. Wherever possible, other water-retaining methods must be made use of, by adding compost and stable manure to sandy soil
Unplanted areas should be hardened with surfaces that would enhance the layout and not distract from or compromise it
Areas around shrubs and trees should be mulched to prevent evaporation (all open soil should be mulched)
Grassed surfaces must be limited and species that are drought-resistant must be planted. The replacement of grassed surfaces with hard surfacing will be considered
The replacement of existing plants with drought-resistant species will also be considered

‘We are calling on residents who have access to non-potable water to share the responsibility with us and help with the watering of plants and trees in the parks that are in their immediate vicinity. We also suggest watering at night to reduce evaporation. If we all work together, we can achieve the water savings that are needed to carry us through to the next rainy season,’ said Councillor Ntsodo.

The City Parks Department has done an extensive education drive to raise awareness among its employees who are responsible for watering a municipal asset to raise further awareness of the current water restrictions. Staff responsible for watering should be armed with a basic knowledge of conserving water, water application, and the detection of water leaks.

‘As we celebrate Arbor Week, we have decided to lead by example. Today we planted 10 Ficus Rubiginosa trees which are commonly known as the rusty- or Port Jackson fig that falls into the category of a water-wise tree. I have been informed that this species grows well in sandy and windy conditions and will not require extensive watering to survive. It will grow to about 30 metres and is excellent to be used for shade in parks and public spaces,’ added Councillor Ntsodo.

The trees were planted in the Mossie Street Park in Seawinds, Muizenberg at a tree-planting ceremony held earlier today.

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