Drought: Rise, Cape Town, rise!
Day Zero has moved from a possibility to a probability. But it is not yet inevitable. The Cape drought crisis has triggered heated emotions and a lot of disagreement about who is to blame. But one thing we can agree on: we have to avoid Day Zero. And another thing we must accept: the only way to defeat Day Zero is to use less water.
When descending too rapidly with a faulty parachute, the sense of looming disaster is not pleasant, but it is nothing when compared to the actual experience of hitting the ground. The inconvenience of getting by on 50 litres a day is nothing compared to a water system switched off altogether.
So everyone affected has to make the changes necessary to get down to 50 litres per day. If we achieve 50 litres per day from 1 February (but don’t wait, start now) then we can push out Day Zero far enough that our water augmentation projects (which should start supplying 120 million litres additional water by May 2018) and (hopefully) some winter rainfall will offer some relief. If we cannot achieve this, then the taps will be turned off on Day Zero, currently calculated to be 12 April – just 76 days from now
We can still avoid this massive systemic disruption to our lives, but it means each one of us accepting that there is no way around this tough but doable water restriction. We can choose to be defeated, or we can choose to show the world that we are up to the challenge.
Living on 50 litres per person per day isn’t ideal but it is entirely doable. I know because I’m doing it myself right now and there has been no significant impact on my personal wellbeing. In fact, my family has now set our own target of 40 litres per person per day – I’ll keep you posted! The fact is, the difference to our lives between 50 versus 25 litres per day will still be much less than the difference between 25 litres out of our home taps versus 25 litres that we must queue for and collect from a designated point.
Water restrictions aren’t a failure to plan. They are part of a plan. Every City faces highs and lows in water supply, and every City lays out water restrictions to ease temporary lows in supply. In our case, the water restrictions are extremely severe, because this drought is extremely severe. This is an unprecedented situation. It demands an unprecedented response.
What is being done to “help” people achieve this target? The City is reducing water pressure and at times, switching water off altogether to some parts of the city, for up to 12 hours at a time. A Water Inspectorate team is tasked with responding to water restriction contraventions. Each week, the City is installing 2000-2500 water demand devices in the worst offending households. And there will be steep penalties for over-use, which is mainly a problem in formal housing areas. (Informal settlements constitute one third of Cape Town’s population and use only 4% of Cape Town’s water allocation.)
But please don’t let this stop you from policing people in your neighbourhood. Peer pressure is powerful. And thank you to everyone who has risen to the challenge of defeating Day Zero.
Although no additional water will be produced this summer to help us avoid Day Zero, much has been and is being done to boost supply. Seven projects are expected to produce an additional 120 million litres per day from May 2018. These include groundwater extraction from Atlantis, Cape Flats and Table Mountain Group aquifers, three small-scale desalination at Strandfontein, Monwabisi and the Waterfront and waste water treatment at Zandvliet. I’ll give more detail about our medium and long term plans for boosting supply in next week’s newsletter.
If we don’t rise to the challenge of defeating Day Zero, then I want to reassure you that a massive amount of preparation is going into ensuring that residents will have safe access to 25 litres per person per day once the water supply system is shut down. The city and province are working on a plan to make distribution as safe and convenient as possible, details of which will be communicated well in advance. Informal settlements, hospitals, essential services, CBD areas and schools will continue to be supplied with water as far as possible.
But no matter how good our Day Zero plan is, our Defeat Day Zero plan involves a whole lot less effort and inconvenience for everyone concerned. So become a Day Zero Hero today – all you need is determination and buckets.