Miscellaneous / Western Cape

Camissa – Cape Town’s return to a place of sweet water

Updated Friday, 26 May 2017

‘Camissa’ is the ancient Khoi word meaning place of sweet waters, and their word for Cape Town.

It’s been adopted by a project called Reclaim Camissa that aims to reconnect Cape Town and its people to the water that we have available to us, right beneath our feet.

Newlands Liesbeek

According to Caron von Zeil, the woman behind Reclaim Camissa, Cape Town once had four rivers and 36 artesian springs. All of these were channelled and diverted underground, via a storm water system, and out into the ocean.

Over 15 of these still run beneath our feet in the city bowl every day. Five of these – Beltzfontein, Sholzfontein, Kleintuin Klip and Verlatenbosh – are led via culverts into a stormwater system and then into a dam in upper Oranjezicht.

Our drinking water comes from rainfall run off and underground water. These underground streams could be a turn around for the fresh water crisis Cape Town faces from 2013.

One of these springs exists on upper Orange Street, on the mountain. Caron explains that it produces some 3.5 million litres of water a day – enough for every man, woman and child who live in Cape Town to have one litre of water a day.

Reclaim Camissa’s answer to this waste of precious life resource is Civic Hydrology – linking public spaces to the citizens who live in them; turning Cape Town’s back yard structure into an everyday structure – similar to the Seoul City in Korea project that, over four years, hauled out a major highway to make space for a river and a green lung in the heart of their city.

The idea is to bring the water back up, return it to the main system, and use it to link public spaces. Cape Town, if the city chose to use it, has access to a gravity fed dual-water system.

The city had electricity before Londonin 1895, operated by the water that came off our mountain and run from the original Graaff Electric Lighting Works, still in existence today.

Up in Plattekloof Gorge is a derelict slow sand filtration system – low cost, low maintenance and extremely effective. This type of system is used in cities like London today. To reinstate it would cost about R1 million and would save hundreds of millions of litres of water.

The flow of just one river and five springs could help the city churn enough energy to provide sufficient light for all our street lights and public spaces. Cape Town could do this by harnessing the power of storm water via water mills.

This water can be reclaimed and recycled throughout the city to feed green spaces.

There are old underwater ways that run up Adderley and Strand Streets – the underground grachts lie there. The idea is to reclaim these as waterways, and the roads themselves can be reclaimed as public space.

Reclaim Camissa sees the city integrating these waterways so that people will, for example, be able to catch a boat from Monwabisi, Khayelitsha, Table View and go all the way around to the old shoreline where the Golden Acre exists today – by boat.

Cape Town wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for this water. When it was first established, the Varsche River was used to establish a garden, for food production, to replenish ships that came in to the bay, and harnessed for electricity. By reclaiming this civic hydrology system we can reclaim our history.

The aim is that by 2020 a sustainable approach to water use, planning and design will be in place to connect people to water.

Cape Town could evolve into a gorgeous space of pedestrian walkways, parks, public places, and water mills that celebrate the water that links the mountain to the sea.


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