Cape Town’s looming “Day Zero” – the day when the water is to be shut off – has been postponed thanks to a combination of government regulation, police enforcement and citizen compliance. The Cape Town government has put strong water-saving measures in place, and police are diligent in their enforcement. Simultaneously, Cape Town citizens have embraced the measures and comply dutifully. In this article, we will discuss the Cape Town water crisis and explore the ways in which strict water conservation has made a difference. Read on to learn more.
Cape Town is the victim of an unprecedented three-year drought, the result of which is alarmingly fallen water levels in reservoirs and a dire shortage of water for residents’ use.
Water levels in the dams and reservoirs have been dropping steadily for the past three years. Even when it rains during the winter, the water levels remain at less than 20% of dam capacity.
In fact, Theewaterskloof, Cape Town’s largest dam and source of most of the city’s drinkable water, stands at about 11% of its capacity. The western banks of the dam are completely dry and resemble a desert.
PBS News Hour: Cape Town Drought
How Do Cape Town Residents Save Water?
Although it is a coastal city, fresh water is in short supply in Cape Town, so the drought has caused the city’s four-million residents to adopt some extreme water conservation measures. To begin with, residents are limited to about 13 gallons (50 liters) of water per person, daily. Since a typical shower uses about 20 gallons of water, and a typical toilet flush uses about 5, it’s easy to see that people could run out of water very quickly unless they take extreme care.
Here are just a few of the many ways residents make the most of their limited water supply:
- One-minute showers: You may have heard of the famous 90 second, Navy shower. In Cape Town, residents must shower even faster than a sailor in a submarine.
- Bird-baths: One very good way of limiting water used for bathing is to bathe with a bucket and a sponge. With a little practice, this can be done quite well with just a couple of gallons of water. The upside of this method is you don’t have to hurry.
- Don’t flush! Flushing the toilet once a day saves water.
- Reuse water: Water saved from hand-washing and from the rinse cycle of the washing machine can be used to flush the toilet, mop floors and (if you use an organic laundry soap) water your garden.
- Keep a rain barrel: Saved rain water is good for watering plants.
- Don’t use a hose: Use of a garden hose is outlawed, so gardens must be watered with a watering can or bucket.
- Drive a dirty car: Washing your car is a forbidden luxury.
- Don’t rinse dishes: Wash dishes rarely and all at once.
How Cape Town’s Residents Are Surviving the Water Crisis—For Now | National Geographic
The Water Police Keep Everyone In Compliance
Water conservation is a priority for Cape Town citizens and police. The officers patrol on foot and keep a sharp eye out for people using hoses to water gardens or wash cars. They also monitor construction sites to be sure city water is not being used for projects such as cement mixing.
Local officials say that these patrols are very beneficial and that they will continue, even during the winter when some rain is expected. Cape Town government officials and residents realize the importance of consistent vigilance in water conservation.
The Government Publishes Local Water Use
The Cape Town city website displays a street-by-street, house-by-house water use map. If you are using too much water, everyone will know! If your home location is marked with a dark green dot, it means that you are using the right amount of water. A light green dot means you are cutting it close.
Although we might consider this to be public shaming, Cape Town residents understand that conserving water is a community effort. They are all too aware that they must work together to conserve water and prevent the dreaded Day Zero when the public water supply will be shut off because there simply is no more water.
The concerted efforts of the community to reduce water consumption by more than 50% since 2015 have worked to delay Day Zero. In addition to water conservation in the city, local farmers have helped by releasing some irrigation water from their own private dams to bolster the water supply.
Is There No Solution?
Quite a few solutions have been put forth, and the city is currently building desalination plants to convert salt water into fresh water; however, this is a costly process from start to finish and will not completely solve the problem.
Creative solutions, such as roping an iceberg in Antarctica and towing it to South Africa have also been proposed; however, these sorts of solutions are impractical and would only be a one-off.
In the final analysis, the city will have to come up with a way to diversify its water sources. At this point, most water comes from reservoirs and dams. Clearly, this is not a viable solution with the current world climate.
How Will Lack Of Water Affect Cape Town Residents Going Forward?
Of course, being without water will affect all of Cape Town in a very dire manner; however, even some of the solutions to the problem could have a negative impact on many segments of the population. According to the grassroots organization, Water Crisis Coalition, costly projects, such as water desalination, will disproportionately impact low-income citizens. The resulting high water prices could easily cause them hardship because people in South Africa do not typically have disposable or flexible income. Any change or increase in expenses can have catastrophic results.
As an example of this, in many areas of the city water-management devices have been installed on homes that exceed the monthly water limit. This means that when the limit is reached, the water is turned off and will not be turned on again until a fine and pre-payment is made. For very poor people, this could easily mean simply going without water.
Can It Happen Here?
Water is a finite resource. In today’s overpopulated, polluted, warming world, there is no location that is safe from a potential Day Zero. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), based in Washington D.C., areas like Cape Town that rely on reservoirs and dams as a source of water will surely face a Day Zero of their own. Prime examples include Iraq, India and Morocco.
The WRI also reports that water stress is becoming more and more of a problem across the United States. At this moment, there are no states in the USA facing an imminent Day Zero, but California is getting close because of extensive, unregulated agricultural water use.
The director or WRIs Water Initiatives team, Charles Iceland, warns that average rainfall in the southwestern US is predicted to decrease by about 30% over the next decade. Clearly, Americans and others around the world will need to begin adjusting water use habits to compensate.
To that end, we close with Water Saving Tips from the city of San Diego, California: