Future Water’s Dam Fixing Initiative

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By Zarmeen Ghoor

To many students, the slopes overlooking the UCT dam are simply another of Upper Campus’s many picturesque picnic spots. Usually at this time of the year, when the grass is green and the dam full, it’s one of the best spots for epiphanies, DMCs and pondering life.

Until recently, though, the only thing one could ponder when looking at the dam is why on earth it was so empty despite our sporadic showers. More importantly with our rainy season at its end, the dam could be UCT’s very own water source when the municipal supply runs out.

The dam technically belongs to the City of Cape Town, and is only looked after by UCT. This makes the issue of maintenance somewhat complicated. Despite that, the Future Water Institute managed to formulate a temporary plan to help raise the dam level, involving the help of UCT sport!

On a sunny Monday at the end of August, an eager group of almost 30 volunteers kitted up to put the plan into action. Our mission? To temporarily fix the stormwater channel that allows the rainwater that collects on Madiba Circle to flow into the dam below.

We began with an explanation of our battle strategy by Prof. Kevin Winter from the EGS department, a member of Future Water and the recently-established UCT Water Task Team. The Properties and Services department has already removed most of the weeds, lessening our task. Armed with spades and saws, we descended into the sloped wilderness that surrounds the dam along its western edge.

As we waded through the shrubs it became clear why water wasn’t finding its way into the dam – we could barely see the original concrete bottom of the channel, for all the weeds and fallen tree trunks were covering it. Where the concrete peeked out, it was mostly broken – revealing holes in the channel.

We split into three groups, each tasked with clearing a third of the channel.  Prof. Winter completed multiple marathons in supervising us while helping out with the heavy lifting. A few scratches and some embarrassing tripping-on-tree-stumps moments later, the path was cleared and the ditches filled. We then hunted high and low for logs and began placing them along the sides of the channel. This was to create little walls, forming an outline for the path of water to flow down. We were then ready for the main event – placing a HDPE liner (basically a thick plastic sheet, usually used to line ponds) above the channel and nailing it into the logs to keep it in place. The liner runs all the way from the top of the channel (near Madiba Circle) to the bottom and provides a smooth, obstacle-free path for water to flow into the dam.

As the plan was only meant to be temporary, the plastic sheets will most likely be removed by the end of November when all the rains have passed.

To stay informed about other Future Water events and for the full conversation leading to the Fix the Dam initiative (found in the forum archives), subscribe to the mailing list at futurewater.uct.ac.za!

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