Cape Town: day zero for the water crisis

Cape Town, in South Africa, after three years of drought in 2018, faced an unprecedented hydric crisis. There was an imminent risk of becoming the first large metropolis in the world to be without water. Thus the city implemented various measures to dribble the crisis.

The South African government then established Day Zero on April 16, 2018. On that day, all water distribution would be interrupted to supply houses and businesses, except for hospitals, schools, and a few fundamental institutions for operating the city. After that, the inhabitants would have to get water daily from 200 water distribution points spread out around the city, where they would be able to take a maximum of 25 liters. The date was postponed to July 15th that same year and, it ended up being canceled – or postponed, in case it was not possible to reverse the drought status.

Day Zero: solutions for ending the crisis

The driest winter in history was registered in 2017 in that city, a phenomenon that the local climatologists confirmed that occurred only once every thousand years. After entering a crisis status at the beginning of 2018, in the winter of that same year, it started to rain and guaranteed hydric supply for at least one more year.

But it was not just the rain that contributed to recovering from the crisis. Several measures were implemented to help the city to change that situation. The city hall, jointly with the public, set up a committee to deal with the situation. Two strategies were defined to diversify hydric supply and reduce water consumption demand.

Theewaterskloof Dam at approximately 12% on 10/02/2018 Photo: Wikipedia

“Currently, reservoir dams supply the city, and they are almost 80% full after decent winter rains combined with greatly decreased consumption after the drought. That provides us with a good buffer against short periods of low precipitation on a short-term basis” informed in the interview granted to ATLANTICO, by the city hall of Cape Town. Specific measures were also emphasized that have been implemented, “The city has been working on various projects to supply extra water to Cape Town, including projects to harvest water from underground sources sustainably, projects for reusing residential wastewater (greywater), and on a long-term basis, large scale desalinization.”

In an article published by the University of Cape Town magazine, Kevin Winter, a researcher, from the Future Water Institute that is part of the institution, assessed what was learned during the water-shortage crisis. He emphasized the importance of diversifying water treatment procedures for storage and distribution. Supply diversity would help us to adapt more rapidly in case of climatic changes. Winter also points out the fragility of the dam storage system and the importance of water reuse.

Cape Town, Photo: Wikipedia

Dr. Kevin Winter also emphasizes the necessity for recording data and keeping those data updated. Thus, the government plays a crucial role in creating a network of trust among the public, private network, and the academic community. Thereby, this will promote direct discussion and provide opportunities for cooperative efforts.

Desalinization, water recovery from sewers, and perforation of wells in aquifers were implemented as part of the solutions for overcoming the crisis. Constraints on consumption, such as increased prices on higher consumption, and a pressure management system, have been established. In this manner, the city will reduce its consumption by 50% in 18 months.

The city hall is meanwhile promoting the “Think Water” campaign, an initiative to keep the public informed on water-related subjects. For example, bulletins on the water reservoir level, consumption awareness, and information on regulations and constraints.

“We know, to keep consumption low, continual communication is fundamental.” The city hall emphasizes public announcements, regarding the campaign, publishing posts in all the official social media, and daily informing the public on the water reservoir levels of the city and forecasts for the following days.

Legislation on water conservation continues in effect and a new document that was put into effect on March 1, 2019 was launched. The set of conservation measures is based on an agreement named Water By-laws created in 2010, and it was revised in 2018 after the hydric crisis.

Newlands Spring, Cape Town. Photo: Wikipedia

“Although the city has relaxed its water consumption target to 650 million liters per day, the consumption is around 600. That probably indicates that some of the changes the residents made to reduce their water consumption, and waste have probably persisted.” The city hall stated, regarding the results achieved by the population.

A strategic plan on water consumption has been drafted by the city hall, and it was launched on May 30 this year, and it is accessible to public consultation. The strategies present as a target to establish safe access to water and sewage, conscientious water consumption, assurance of sufficient and safe water supply from diverse sources, and shared benefits of regional resources. The plan intends to create a more conscientious city related to water consumption management by 2040.