Where’s All the Water?
The day they turn off the taps in Cape Town.
The photo shows Sparky the squirrel looking in my pool, wondering where all the water has gone. The top white line shows where the water used to be and the bottom line where it is now.
You might have heard about Day Zero in the international news lately.
Actually, our drought has been going on for the last three years, caused by below average rainfall in our winter months of June and July.
People cite bad planning and foresight and an increased population. However, although the population of CT has increased over the years, the water consumption has not. The main reason for the drought is hotter temperatures than usual and three bad winter rainfalls.
Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall. Normally enough rain falls over those winter months to fill our many large dams and supply the whole of the Cape Town area with plenty of drinking water to last right through the long dry summer months.
Dam Levels over the Years
This has not happened for the last three years. The dams have not filled after the winter rains. In fact, last year, 2017, our dam levels got as low as 19% before we finally got some rain. It just wasn’t enough rain.
The dams are currently at a total capacity of 24.6%. When the level reaches 13.5% they turn off the taps.
The last 10% of water in the dams is very difficult to use. Basically it’s just sludge. So before they reach this, they turn off the taps at 13.5 %.
They won’t turn off the taps for essential services, such as hospitals, or for the townships and the CBD.
This leaves a few % left in the dams for the above uses and also for manual distribution where you queue for your own personal ration.
So you, and the other 4 million Capetonians, will have to queue every day, at one of the 200 odd distribution points that will be set up around the city, for your 25 litre ration of drinking water
This is Day Zero.
Day Zero is a prediction that changes depending on how much water is used each week and whether it rains. It was as close as 12 April at one point.
It has very recently been pushed back by a few weeks because farmers at Grabouw released 10 billion litres of water stored in their own private dams to the CT dam system.
The estimate I most trust is currently at 30 April.
Most Capetonians are doing their very best to try to avoid Day Zero. Our daily allowance of water was 87 litres per person per day. This has been further reduced to 50 litres per person per day. When the taps are turned off you will be allowed just 25 litres per person per day, which you will have to go and queue for. Any pets you may have will have to share your ration.
You are not allowed to water your garden, wash your car, top up your swimming pool, or waste water in any way. There are serious fines for doing so. This is why my pool is so empty in the squirrel photo.
It is up to each individual to reduce their water consumption as much as possible right now and the majority of us are doing just that.
By re-using water as much as possible.
This is water previously used, for washing etc and then re-used to flush toilets or water plants. Bore hole water is also Grey Water. It is not clean enough to drink.
How to reduce water consumption.
Take a 90 second shower, fitted with a special shower head, and with a bucket in the shower to catch water. Or take a bath in only a bucket or two of water and keep the plug in. Then you can scoop out every last drop of bath water. This Grey Water can be used to flush the toilet.
Wash dishes once a day in a small amount of water.
Wash clothes once or twice a week on the shortest cycle. I have a sink that my washing machine empties into. I put the plug in and scoop all that Grey Water out to re-use too.
If the water is not too soapy you can put it on your plants. Otherwise, you can pour it down your loos and never have to actually flush again.
In toilets in shopping centres they have turned off the water in the taps and replaced the soap in the dispenser with hand sanitiser.
At many restaurants they also have hand sanitiser out for use instead of soap and water. They also limit the amount of water they bring to you. This is a hot country and many posher restaurants would serve you a tall glass of ice water when you sat down.
There are signs up at the airport when you arrive in Cape Town, alerting you to the drought and asking you to save water.
Most hotels also encourage you to save water by taking a short shower.
What is CT doing about the drought?
The Cape Town government website has a lot of information and other links to click on. This is where I got the above graphs from.
There are several projects being developed, such as desalination plants, recycling, finding ground water, but none of these is finished yet.
The following clips are about 5 minutes long and will give you an idea of what is really going on here and not just the news stories.
CT water crisis.
What’s the government doing?
Watch a little for the CT accent if nothing else!
What do I think of Day Zero?
I think we’ll run out of water towards the end of April; maybe mid-May if we’re lucky. I think we’ll have at least a month with no water in the taps, before it rains and the dams start to fill up. Sometime after this, like next year, I think the desalination plants will start to come on line. So hopefully we won’t go through all this again next summer.
I think Capetonians will rise to the challenge and adapt, with a sense of humour. If there’s nothing you can do about it, then just make the most of it. Here is your chance to learn a new language, or finally start that book you’ve always been meaning to read (War and Peace?), while you stand for hours on end every day in the water queue!
Or if there is no water, drink your vodka neat – no ice cubes! (Every bit helps!)
post script: This post took me many, many hours to write, with 27 revisions. Several of my readers have been asking about the drought, so I hope I have answered most questions.