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FRACTAL Learning – Adaptation Inspiration Theme Module 3

This case forms part of the FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration cases: Applying an Integrated Catchment Management System to Cape Town
Multiple Authors
Debbie Rosen

Please note this case is part of the FRACTAL training theme on Adaptation Inspiration conducted in 2018. The training was informed by cases collated from FRACTAL project partners as examples of good practice in urban adaptation in Africa. The cases cover a range of approaches to adaptation and urban challenges to a range of climate hazards and other stressors. Solutions also address several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The case is one of 17 reported on in the Inspiring Adaptation in African Cities Working paper – a product of the FRACTAL project. Use the article to find further inspiring cases.

Applying an Integrated Approach to Catchment Management in Cape Town

Key points:

  • Many stakeholders represent different social, political, environmental and economic interests within the catchment area, and aligning their interests is crucial to the ability to restore healthy ecosystems, create jobs, build climate resilience and offer substantial recreational and mobility benefits.
  • Co-ordinating the networks of stakeholders and partners to provide an integrated catchment approach management plan is vital in order to consider all social, ecological and economic factors that contribute to clean water systems, intact biodiversity, reduced flood risk and a more prosperous socio-economic future for all.
  • A central, driving force which coordinates multiple stakeholders is required in order for an integrated project to be successful.


Integrated adaptation definition: Integrated adaptation is intended to be more effective—through unified handling of measures that would otherwise be handled separately, sector-by-sector. This approach includes coordination between adaptation measures in different sectors, cross-sectoral initiatives, and the establishment of collaborative arrangements among the relevant stakeholders, societal groups and government departments.

This project is currently being implemented by the City of Cape Town, and aims to coordinate the growing network of partners and stakeholders in Cape Town that are working towards the overarching goal of restoring river corridors in the region. The project partners manage river water quality and quantity to support the region’s wealth of biodiversity, and to ensure optimal utilisation of river corridors for the sustained benefit of all users.

Source to Sea is a pilot project within the broader management of the Zandvlei catchment. Zandvlei is one of the most important catchments within the city of Cape Town from a biodiversity perspective. Local authorities, the national park and civil society organisations have done a significant amount of work to develop a cohesive management strategy that aims to rehabilitate and maintain the catchment. Source to Sea aims to coordinate all the various projects occurring within the Zandvlei catchment to ensure an integrated approach to catchment management.

The pilot project connects Table Mountain National Park, a nationally protected area, to Zandvlei, an important estuary and municipally protected area, via two primary river courses along the Diep and Prinskasteel / Keyers rivers. These corridors meander through high-, middle- and low-income areas, connecting residents, businesses, schools, sports clubs and faith institutions. As a result, the mission challenges many stakeholders to be part of the transformative vision of restoring healthy ecosystems, creating jobs, building climate resilience, and offering substantial recreational and mobility benefits.

The other modules in this Adaptation Inspiration theme training can be accessed here:

Climate risks and other stressors

One of the most important natural hazards in the region is the risk of river flooding. Additionally, river courses are often prone to becoming negative ‘open spaces’ facing many issues, among them concerns about high levels of pollution, the presence of invasive aquatic vegetation, and the adverse impact on values of nearby property as the result of potential flooding. Rivers face the constant threat of deteriorating water quality due to pressures of urbanisation and the exploitative use of river corridors in the case of mismanagement in such regions (Source to Sea, 2016).

Adaptation approach

Urban wetlands. Photo: City of Capetown

Source to Sea takes an integrated adaptation approach to ensure that everybody involved with or affected by the project’s activities benefits in the long term. Firstly, through buffering zones (such as wetlands), the city is addressing its vulnerability to natural hazards (or consequences thereof) such as flooding and storm-water infrastructure damage.

Secondly, the management and cleaning up of riverine environments ensure that catchment areas remain free of waste, and that infrastructure issues related to sanitation and waste are addressed. Biodiversity and waterways are protected within the area of Cape Town to make sure that these natural assets do not deteriorate as the result of, for example, invasive, non-native species or pollution.

Finally, the investment into ecological infrastructure promotes tourism and recreation. This in turn leads to the creation of jobs connected to activities and services along the multi-use trails, and connects high- and low-income areas along the course of the rivers. It also leads to increased property values for those living alongside the protected areas. In this way, economic and ecologic value is added to the entire Zandvlei catchment.

Link to SDGs

This project aligns strongly with SDG 6 as it ensures sustainable water management across a wide range of stakeholders. By investing in ecological infrastructure, which promotes tourism and related opportunities, Source to Sea creates sustainable economic growth for all (SDG 8). Furthermore, the integrated approach to catchment management promotes a sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, in alignment with SDG 15. The core of the project however aligns with SDG 11 as the Source to Sea vision is aimed at making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.


Photo: City of Capetown

The lack of coordination between different stakeholders due to the absence of a central, driving force behind initial river restoration was one of the major issues during the implementation of the project. The initial absence of an integrated approach to catchment management led to a lack of prioritisation of various catchment activities. Another major challenge was the lack of budget for on-the-ground implementation.

In response to these challenges, the development and framing of the Source to Sea project have allowed for the development of a business-case model for this project. A business-case document outlines the need for a project manager, prioritises interventions, and outlines a budget. This document serves as a coordinating mechanism as well as a means to leverage additional funding/partnerships to overcome presented issues.


As a result of the project’s activities in the region, riverine environments are improving, and urban biodiversity is better protected. Through its management of water quality and quantity, Source to Sea takes measures that are beneficial in various ways. The project’s measures confront climate hazards such as floods, but also create a safer, more inclusive and healthier environment for all parts of society.

Lessons Learnt

Urban rivers are incredibly important and essential to the aim of building resilience to climate change at the local level. An integrated catchment management plan is vital in order to consider all social, ecological and economic factors that can contribute to clean water systems, intact biodiversity, and a prosperous socio-economic future for all.

One way to ensure an integrated approach is to develop coordinating mechanisms such as a project website and coordinated branding. The project website displays all work currently occurring in the catchment. It offers a vehicle to share lessons, and to begin to establish strategic partnership.

In addition, it is essential to appoint a project manager/co-ordinator to ensure all activities are aligned and work towards a common goal. Multi-disciplinary teams ensure that knowledge from differing perspectives is incorporated into Source to Sea strategies. The development of stakeholder platforms (such as forums meeting quarterly) ensures that activities, resources, data and knowledge are disseminated properly.

Questions for module assignment

Although the course has finished for refrence the following questions were set for students:

  • No climate analysis was used in this case, but it was driven by the threat of climate change and the visible effects it is having through more flooding. Do you think the project would have benefited from additional climate information? How could this have been incorporated in the activities?
  • Are there examples (from your city) of riverine protection or restoration efforts and how are these coordinated?

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