The Five Reservoir Geo-Heritage Hiking Trail: the importance of reflecting on our heritage for the future

This Heritage Day we celebrate the abundant overflowing of our dams, as the rainfall appears to have returned to what Capetonians refer to as the “normal cold and wet winter of the past”, leaving many of us puzzled about the riddle of climate change.  However, the 2015/17 drought and the consequent shortage of water, which almost closed our taps, has focused the minds and manners of citizens towards water conservation.  We are aware that while we are currently in a rainy period, the drought cycle will come around again and this time we want to be prepared and ready.

The Umvoto Foundation promotes the heritage of our natural environment, celebrating the 24th of September by drawing attention to the history of the development of the dams and reservoirs that supply the cities drinking water and irrigate the Western Cape’s orchards and vinelands.  But heritage is more than the preservation of monuments and objects, it has a cultural relevance and serves to sustain traditions and keep alive the stories of the early years of the development of the city.  The five reservoirs, built on the top of Table Mountain (itself a World Heritage Site), between 1890 and 1907 are a fine example of our heritage.

Working in collaboration with App Developer Forge and funded by the 35IGC Legacy Fund, The Umvoto Foundation has embarked on its “Five Reservoir hike”, bringing to life, with an interactive App and Guidebook, the story of repeated water shortages throughout the history of the city.  Our recent “Day Zero” was by no means the first!  Droughts, water shortage and a growing population have challenged the city since the building of the first, Wagenaar Reservoir under the Golden Acre Concourse today preserved as a national heritage site.  Even our flagship Theewaterskloof dam, storing millions of litres, was seen as dry as 10 % by late 2017. The Umvoto Foundation’s account of the Five Reservoirs unravels the incredible skills of our past engineers; the early cable car used to transport material and people to the construction site, a Scottish steam train along the mountain top, tunnels deep under the 12 Apostles and the marvelous masonry skills of those who created the stone walls of the Reservoirs, sculpted from an even older geological heritage, the formations of the Cape Fold Mountains.

The Umvoto Foundation are now partnering with the Overberg Geoscientist Group in Hermanus to develop a similar narrative describing the formative years and development of this southern cape town and its quest for an abundant resource of groundwater.  The Hermanus Water Trail will form the next in the series of geoheritage anecdotes.