Cape hotel’s desalination plant brings relief from dire drought

Cape hotel’s desalination plant

A little boy was on the beach preparing to build a castle. He dug deep enough to encounter water below. This water, however, posed a threat to his potential masterpiece. So he stuck a bucket in the hole he had dug. The Westin Hotel is that bucket.

Built 15 years ago where the Old Harbor once was, the Westin Cape Town would be flooded if it wasn’t for nature-defying technology, which allowed contractors to suspend seawater around a huge, makeshift dry pool to build in.

Today the presence of that seawater has proven to be beneficial in staving off a potential Day Zero in drought-stricken Cape Town, as the Tsogo Sun Hotels, which owns the Westin, invested in a desalination plant to keep water running to three of its Cape hotels should the city’s taps run dry.

Housed four floors underground in the hotel’s parking basement, is a space lined with multiple pumps that keep out the territorial groundwater and seawater. The pumps have been upgraded over time so much so that they are now fully automatic machines. They work 24 hours a day, discharging close to a million litres of water.

This mixture, that is filtered through the natural bedrock surrounding the hotel, means the water being pumped out has considerably less salt content than seawater.

“We only need to do a slight desalination because we must take that [remaining] salt out,” said the project’s chief engineer Andrew Gartshore.

The water is run through a filter in the desalination cylinder at very high pressure, removing the salt. Before purification minerals and contaminants are extracted. After desalination the water must be re-mineralised for consumption.

Long, thorough tests must be done for the water to be deemed drinkable according to the South African national standards.

“There’s water testing that needs to be done in relevance to its volume. There’s water testing that needs to ensure the water is potable,” said Gartshore.

After some months its sibling hotels, the Cullinan and Southern Sun at the Waterfront, will also receive some of the 350 000 litres of desalinated water to be pumped daily.

The city’s level 6 water restrictions will remain in place in these hotels to encourage occupants to keep saving water.