Come late spring to early summer, Cape Town is set to run out of water. Cape Town will be the first major metropolitan city to ever run out of water, but they won’t be the last.
“Day Zero” is what it is being called, a dystopian term for the date where the city is expected to run out of water. There have been cities in the past that have almost reached this point; Barcelona came close in 2008, Sao Paulo is teetering on the brink, and the Indonesian government has seen Jakarta coming close to running out of potable water.
One of the biggest reasons as to why Cape Town will run dry is because the usual vast amounts of winter rain that would come through have not come in three years. Small amounts of rain have, but not enough to refill the reservoir, dams and more, all due to climate change. Theewaterskloof Dam, the biggest and most vital dam for the city has been inching towards desertification, the process of running dry, for at least a decade. Already, close to 12.5% of it has become unusable.
There is speculation that Cape Town’s government could have foreseen this disaster coming because back in 1990, a group of scientists, meteorologists, engineers and lay-folk came out with reams of data studies that claimed the city would run out of water at some point. But, there is really no use trying to point fingers decades back. The important thing to do is to find a solution, not build a time machine.
While it would be far too easy to point to only climate change as the reasoning behind Cape Town running out of water, it is not the only reason. Overdevelopment and population growth are also to blame. In a city that has grown exponentially and has a majority white population, there are vast disparities in wealth, those that are able to, have access to infinite amounts of water. Including farmers who have to water their fields and animals. There has never been a capped amount on how much is allowed.
Desalination plants were originally deemed to be too expensive and too cumbersome to solve the problem. One that was created in 2011 would produce a kiloliter of water for a little less than a dollar, which at the time was much too expensive.
Now, much like many cities to come, they are paying the price.
Come Day Zero, residents in Cape Town will have access to 200 municipal water locations where they can collect a maximum of 25 liters of water a day. This is beyond the bare minimum of water needed to function. The average American uses 150 gallons of water a day. Currently households have already cut back on their daily usage of water. Each home is capped at 50 liters per person, per day. This means that showers are kept under 2 minutes, no watering of the grass or garden or washing a car. Households are even asked to refrain from flushing the toilet and using dishwashers and washers; or at least recycling the water that is used.
The deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, encourages residents, “[We are continuing doing] absolutely everything in our power to reach the target set by the national department to reduce our urban usage [of water] by 45%.”
While a few years back, desalination plants were deemed too expensive, there are several planned and combining them with the underground water reserves, are expected to help water sources well into the future. The city of Cape Town is optimistic that eventually the city will be able to no longer limit the consumption of water. But in the meantime, it’s a wake up call for other major metropolitan cities; after all, water is not an unlimited resource.