No Day Zero for 2019 if appropriate water restrictions are maintained
- At this early stage of the winter season, our dam levels are already in a much stronger position than we were at the end of winter last year
- Provided that adequate water restrictions are maintained, the City is confident that there will be no prospect of reaching Day Zeroin 2019
- While we hope to reduce the current water restrictions in the near future, and the tariffs associated with them, this decision is dependent on National Government relaxing restrictions on releases from the water supply system
The levels of the dams supplying water to Cape Town have been rising consistently and significantly over the past six weeks. As at today, total dam storage capacity is at just over 43%, and we still have more than two months of expected winter rainfall ahead of us. Over the last few months, our collective water usage has been around 520 million litres per day.
This may be compared to the situation at the end of winter last year, when dam levels were at 38% and consumption was over 600 million litres a day.
Having analysed this new data, we are now in a position to state that not only have we managed to avoid Day Zero this year, but we will also safely get through summer in 2019. This is due to the amount of water already in the dams, our intense water demand management programmes, our unrelenting communication, awareness and the behavioural change it has effected over the past two years, as well as the continued support and sacrifice of Team Cape Town.
We have shown what we can achieve if we all pull together and work towards a common goal. I would again like to thank all Capetonians for their enormous water conservation effort this past summer. It was our combined effort that ensured that we got through the summer without running out of water.
I know that it has been very difficult for both private residents and businesses to operate under the current stringent restrictions and that many sacrifices have been made by millions of residents. We hope that continued rains will enable a progressive reduction in the stress felt by all.
While we hope to reduce the current restrictions in the near future, and the tariffs associated with them, that decision is dependent on National Government relaxing restrictions on releases from the water supply system. If the National Department of Water and Sanitation agrees to relax restrictions, we expect to be in a position to proceed with a stepped reduction of water restrictions and the associated tariffs.
Until then, let us all please keep up the good work and keep saving water for a little while longer. We have to ensure that we make a permanent change to our approach to water usage.
What has changed since January 2018
At the beginning of the year, we were in the extended stages of a devastating, deepening and unprecedented drought. For three years in a row, our rainfall had been significantly lower than in previous years. The 2017 rainfall was the lowest in recorded history at only 40% of the long-term average. This resulted in a substantial decline in the levels of the six large dams that supply water to Cape Town, the surrounding municipalities and agriculture.
In January, projections of the rate at which the dam levels were falling indicated that we could reach a level where emergency measures would have to be implemented in April 2018. This became known as Day Zero. This projection was made despite the fact that the City had already halved its summer consumption rate, from 1 200 million litres per day to 600 million litres per day.
We did, however, have three things in our favour to ensure a rapid drought response: our pre-existing water demand management programme; our highly skilled engineers and professional staff; and the residents of Cape Town.
These combined elements allowed us to reach the start of our winter rainfall season without running out of water. The reason we never reached that projection of Day Zero was due to the enormous effort and sacrifice of both urban and agricultural consumers to cut consumption levels even further throughout the summer.
Due to the incredible water conservation efforts of our residents, and the ground-breaking interventions instituted by the City to reduce consumption, our dam levels bottomed out at 20% by the end of the summer. This was just 7% above the level at which we would have had to start restricting consumption to 25 litres per person per day. We still had capacity to spare at that time should the winter rainfall come late and be inadequate.
Fortunately, the rains started early in our winter (May) and fell at rates closer to the average than in the previous years. It was only then that we could see that circumstances had changed. After some six weeks of good rain, we are now in a more favourable position that enables us to recalibrate our future projections and to make a much more accurate forecast for 2019.
In short, almost half-way through our winter, we are already in a much stronger position than we were at the end of winter last year.
Based on this information, and provided that adequate water restrictions are maintained, we are now confident that there will be no prospect of reaching Day Zero in 2019.
How Cape Town did it
We are now in a much better position, not only due to the encouraging rainfall we have seen so far, but also because of the incredible cooperation of our residents and due to the various technological and human interventions initiated by this municipality to drive down consumption.
- the success of an extensive and dedicated communication, awareness and behavioural change campaign to encourage a behavioural shift among residents
- the continuing roll-out of pressure management across the City, which is currently achieving savings of more than 62 million litres of water a day and climbing, as more pressure zones are created across the metro
- the installation of water demand management devices for those who contravene water restrictions
- a leak repair programme to minimise water losses, especially among indigent residents
- steep tariff hikes
- the City also took a holistic approach to managing the crisis and attempted to maximise all alternative water resources in a very short period of time. Thus, for instance, we looked at temporary desalination and increased extraction from springs, among others
While we hope at some point in the next few months to be in a position to relax the current restrictions, and the tariffs associated with them, this decision will have to wait until National Government relaxes restrictions on releases from the water supply system.
I have requested a meeting with the National Minister of Water and Sanitation, Gugile Nkwinti, to discuss this and other matters pertaining to our future water resilience as a matter of urgency.
Urban water resilience implies the capacity to anticipate, absorb, adapt, respond to and learn from shocks and stresses, to protect public health and well-being and the natural environment, and to minimise economic disruption.
The experience of the past three years and the reality of greater rainfall variability than in the past has meant that we have had to adjust our approach towards what needs to be done to ensure our future resilience. Now that we have navigated our way through the immediate drought crisis, it is necessary that we review our water supply strategy and augmentation plans to ensure that what was devised in a period of crisis is appropriate for longer-term sustainability and resilience. We are in the process of reassessing our New Water Programme; in particular, our future water mix and the role of permanent desalination in the supply mix.
In this recalibration, we are working closely with a number of local and international partners like the World Bank, the Stockholm International Water Institute, and the 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, to ensure that our revised programme provides the best possible response to our reality.
We need to think very carefully about our long-term capital programme, particularly regarding permanent desalination, groundwater and water reuse and how this will impact on our budget and our water tariffs.
In partnership with the custodian of water resources, the National Department of Water and Sanitation, we also need to address critical issues such as resource allocation and inter-basin transfers to ensure the sustainability of our water resources. Many operational challenges and deficiencies came to light during this drought.
The City and National Government will need to sit down and work through these issues thoroughly to ensure that future drought management is effective and has minimal impact on economic activity and public well-being.
At the same time, we need to ensure that our focus on behavioural change and attitudes towards water and demand management does not let up. As demand for water grows, it is not only diversification of supply that is required to address future risk, but also a sustained campaign to entrench the behaviour changes we have seen over the past months.
Until such time as we are able to reassess our situation, let us all therefore continue to implement these changes and keep saving water.
Please visit www.capetown.gov.za/thinkwater for all water-related information.
Statement issued by Alderman Ian Neilson, Executive Deputy Mayor, City of Cape Town, 28 June 2018