The impact of Level 5 water restrictions on Cape Town’s commercial properties

Hayley October 18, 2017

As we all know, the City of Cape Town will be taking a number of new actions to reduce the current water consumption. This includes the institution of Level 5 restrictions and a further increase in pressure management throughout the city.

The City of Cape Town estimates that the commercial sector currently use 24% of all the water, while 70% of the water is utilised by the residential sector. Although the commercial property sector uses far less water than the residential sector, it still has a role to play during the current water crisis.

Commercial property owners and managers have been informed that they must ensure that the monthly usage of municipal water is reduced by at least 20% in comparison with the billed figure of one year ago. Failing to conform with this requirement could cause the offender to suffer a heavy fine.

Owners and managers of commercial properties are already under pressure to keep the property’s operating costs down to ensure the profitability of the property investment. With the recent increases to water and electricity tariffs, fines are an unnecessary cost which property and building managers will be trying to avoid.

The City acknowledges that there are some commercial properties that have made great strides to reduce consumption of municipal water, and therefore the historical usage of individual commercial properties and their efforts to install improved water management technologies will be taken into account when considering any enforcement measures against the owners of commercial properties in the future.

The commercial property sector has been the leaders in water, electricity and waste disposal savings in new builds as well as redevelopments over the past few years. Many companies which own large commercial property portfolios, have all undertaken large-scale retrofit initiatives, to reduce the potential negative impact commercial properties could potentially have on the environment.

The green property trend has been a strong one with new buildings in South Africa because they are efficient in water and energy usage which provide a significantly higher return than those which are less environmentally friendly. These buildings show a higher capital growth due to the improved occupancy rates, in addition to a better net income growth. With the current restriction and no relief insight, the trend for more green buildings with the city of Cape Town will no doubt increase.

The City of Cape Town has confirmed that they do not want to negatively impact current business operations, but it also seems to accept the key role it has in positively impacting current mind-sets, and stimulating the required behavioural changes in order to adapt to the current water crisis.

One query that has come up is who would be liable for the fine, the tenant or the landlord? A standard lease agreement will usually have a clause whereby a tenant is held liable for the cost incurred as a result of using water on the premises. Any increases in the cost of water usage, or as a result of increased tariffs, will then be passed onto the tenant.

The fines that will be given out by the city, however, is given to the commercial property owner under the Level 5 water restrictions.  Lease agreements need to specifically include additional clauses for fines to be passed on to the tenant, before a tenant can reasonably be held liable for the fine incurred.

How can your business make a difference and reduce water usage in your office?

1.Install low-flow toilets.The largest share of water in office buildings is through bathroom use.

2.Check your tap for leaks and fix them promptly.

3. Install tap aerators. Attach aerators to hand-washing faucets. Aerators mix water with air, creating a more misty spray and using less water than conventional faucets. If your company offers on-site showers, switch to low-flow showerheads.

4.Signage. Put signs up reminding co-workers to turn off the water and try to reduce usage.

5.Conservation education. Make sure that co-workers know that the company is focused on water conservation. Writing policies into the employee handbook sends a message that sustainability is an important concept to management and integral to the company’s mission.

6.Sweep. Don’t use water for cleaning tasks that can be done with other tools: sweep sidewalks and floors instead of pressure washing them.

7.Smart watering. If landscaping is watered, make sure it’s done in the morning, when the cooler temperatures mean more of the water goes into the soil instead of evaporating. Install rain sensors so the system turns off when actual rain takes over the watering duties. Use drip irrigation where possible.

8.Free-range water. Investigate your cooling system to find out if it can use alternative sources of water like captured rainwater and if so, install a rain barrel system for landscaping and cooling needs.

9. Recycle. Determine where your wasted water is going and if or how you can recycle it in other areas of your business