This paper describes a 2-year pilot project undertaken in an urban catchment in Cape Town, South Africa. The impermeable area of the Lotus River catchment has doubled over 15 years, from 17% in 1983 to 34% in 1997. Following the abolition of urban influx control in 1990, informal settlements in the catchment grew rapidly and now house about 90,000 out of the catchment's total population of 380,000 people. The informal areas are still largely unserviced, despite a commitment from local government to speed up service delivery to the poorest areas of the city.
Within the Lotus River project, hydrological and ecological assessments of the urban watercourses were undertaken, through physico-chemical and microbiological sampling programmes, macro-invertebrate counts, and vegetation sampling. All available information regarding the catchment was integrated within a GIS platform, including demographic and socio-economic data on the various communities, and hydrogeological information on the underlying aquifer obtained from earlier studies. The integrated nature of the project allows a number of conclusions and recommendations to be drawn, regarding the management of this particular catchment. However, important general lessons have also been learned which can be applied by local authorities responsible for urban catchments in developing countries. The necessity of providing the required institutional structures cannot be overemphasised.