Cape Town is running out of water


Cape Town is a port city in South Africa. It is home to about 4 million residents. The city has been hit by a severe drought and experts predict that the city will run out of water by June 4, 2018. They are calling this Day Zero.

How did this crisis come about?

Theewaterskloof dam in Cape Town is running dry. Photo Credit: ALLNETAFRICA

The city has had very low rainfall since 2015, leading to a drought. This, along with climate change and a growing population has led to this water crisis.

But Cape Town is on the water, by the sea. Where does it get its water supply from? Cities in the world draw their water supplies from various sources like dams, ground water or through desalination plants (these take the salt out of water, to make it suitable for humans to use).

Cape Town gets more than 99 percent of its water supply from six dams in the area that rely on rain. The dams had not stored enough water to deal with such a long drought!

Why can’t Cape Town use the sea water that lies all around it?

Though there is water all around Cape Town very little of it is drinkable as it is too salty. Humans need fresh water.

The city would have to invest in an expensive desalination facility to convert sea water to drinking water.

Ok, Now what is desalination?

The process of using machinery to remove salt from seawater. Desalination is very expensive, because it takes so much electricity. 

What is the current situation?

This month, Cape Town’s government has called for residents limit their water use even more than they have been. Starting February 1, 2018, residents are only be allowed to use 50 liters, or a little over 13 gallons of water per person, per day.

Photo Credit: CNN

What happens if you use more than 50 litres? You get fined. 

How are people making do with less water? 

  • recycling bath water to help flush toilets.
  • limiting showers to 90 seconds.
  • car washing and filling up swimming pools has been banned

The city has lowered the water pressure in its mains to help stretch the water supply.

Photo Credit: Voice of the Cape

This has helped to reduce the amount of water used in a day from 290 million gallons to 160 million gallons. 

Cape Town is also developing additional sources of water—four new desalination plants, two groundwater fields, and a new water-recycling facility.

What will happen on Day Zero?

Day Zero is the date when taps are turned off.  Water will be rationed at 200 collection checkpoints. Residents will be rationed just 25 liters of water a day. That’s all the water they’ll have for drinking, bathing, flushing toilets, and washing their hands.

Places like hospitals, clinics, and schools will continue to have access to some running water.

Why didn’t Cape Town see this coming? Cape Town has been  coming up with  ways to conserve water since 2000! It has worked hard  to fix leaks in the pipes that distribute water across the city. And in 2015 — just three years ago — Cape Town even won a prestigious international award for its water conservation policies. So this is a big surprise to them. Nobody anticipated such a long drought!

There is always the hope in the meantime that it might start raining. Cape Town’s rainy season begins in April and could bring welcome relief. Even if rain returns to the Cape, however, the dams will take months to refill.

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