Droughts occur in places all over the world. However, in a couple of months, Cape Town in South Africa could become the first city to turn off the water supply to its four million residents in modern history.
According to a website monitoring Cape Town’s water crisis, the water supply will be turned off in 93 days but the number will vary depending on water consumption over the coming weeks. 15% of the normal capacity of dams is still available but with the wet season not beginning until May, that remaining capacity needs to go a long way.
How did it get to this point?
The amount of water in reservoirs around Cape Town has dropped dramatically since 2012. The graph in Figure 1 shows the dam water levels in the Cape Region and how much the maximum of each has dropped in recent years. Whilst city planners have been well aware of Cape Town’s limited water supplies, the city hasn’t been able to develop at the same rate that population has increased. Combine that with what climatologists are calling a ‘once a millennium’ event, you get the current situation in Cape Town.
What Happens When The Water Stops?
Cape Town has already made plans for when the taps must be turned off. Under the watchful eye of armed guards, residents will have to visit one of two hundred municipal water points dotted around the city to collect no more than 25 litres of water per day. If you’re rich enough, there are plenty of offers from companies to truck water in for usage, but it’ll certainly cost you.
Cape Town Water Conservation
Residents of Cape Town have been restricted to using no more than 87 litres of water per day in an attempt to extend the estimated day when the water will run out, however, people are being encouraged to limit that to 50 litres per day. To put that into perspective, residents of Perth uses approximately 300-350 litres per person per day (Water Corporation, 2018).
There are drastic measures being advised in order to save water resources. In a recent blog post, I talked about how limiting to showering for only 4 minutes would save water. Due to the water crisis, however, Cape Town residents are being advised to reducing shower times to 90 seconds. They’re also advocating the ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow’ phrase so that water can be saved by reducing the number of toilet flushes per day.
Looking for Silver Linings
There are positives to the worst water crisis currently going on in Cape Town, surprisingly. The international media coverage of the crisis is shining a light on climate change and the challenges we could face in the future. Even in at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a place where typical discussion focuses solely on business and the economy, climate change was discussed at length by a number of world leaders. The week started with India’s Prime Minister telling thousands of visitors that climate change is the greatest threat to civilisation.
Education in water management and usage has also massively increased because of the crisis. At a local level, people are becoming more aware of the water they use and ways in that they can make their own savings in and around the home. Regionally and nationally, cities and governments are developing plans that will allow water to be recycled and reused, further reducing city water consumption.
Cape Town is the first of many cities that will experience droughts on this scale. Climate change impacts include varying rainfall that will affect not just but whole countries. In many places, rainfall is predicted to reduce, which combined with a rising global population means that water will need to be managed much tighter. The threat of cutting the water supply from a whole city has finally made people sit up and take notice of our changing climate, which can be managed. This isn’t a doom and gloom scenario but the future threat is very real and we must adapt soon before it’s too late.