‘We have reached a point of no return’: Cape Town set to run out of water despite contingency plans

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather staff writer
January 24, 2018, 9:16:53 AM EST

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As drought continues and water levels plummet in Cape Town’s dams, residents are facing a slew of new emergency measures.

Messages of conservation have fallen on deaf ears, the city said, necessitating a crackdown on usage.

“We have reached a point of no return. Despite our urging for months, 60 percent of Capetonians are callously using more than 87 litres per day,” Mayor Patricia de Lille said.

This week, the government is set to vote on the introduction of a punitive tariff, which will charge residents using above 6,000 liters per month exponentially higher rates for their water.

south africa cape town dam

Water continues to recede at South Africa's Theewaterskloof dam. (Instagram photo/Zan3_pharmer)


As of Feb. 1, usage will be restricted to 50 liters per person per day to make up for months of overuse.

Though desalination plants are set to go online in February and drilling into the aquifer will also take place, officials say the additional resources are too little too late.

“The people who are still wasting water seem to believe that Day Zero just can't happen or that the city’s seven augmentation projects - set to produce around 200 million litres per day – will be enough to save us,” de Lille said.

“This is not the case and, while our water augmentation programme will make Cape Town more water resilient in the future, it was never going to be enough to stop Day Zero,” she said.

The city has announced water collection points, which will become the only way to obtain water for personal use if dam levels continue to drop.

Taps will be shut off and residents will be able to retrieve 25 liters per person each day from one of 200 collection points across the city.

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With Cape Town boasting a population of 4 million, many residents say it’s not a practical solution.

Residents have accused the government of insufficient planning and water mismanagement among other things, but experts say this situation was largely unpredictable and not one officials at a city level would typically plan for.

“Whilst the city may have been a bit slow to enforce stronger restrictions once the severity of the drought became obvious, I don’t think they had any way of predicting just how bad it was,” Kristy Carden, researcher for the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, told AccuWeather.

“Climate scientists have suggested that the cumulative effect of the three below-average rainfall years equates to something approaching a once-in-1,000-years drought occurrence, not something that would be planned for at city level,” Carden said.

With the rainy season still months away, it’s likely the situation will worsen before it gets better.

"The dry season typically continues into early April, so the likelihood for significant rainfall the next two months is low," AccuWeather Meteorologist Eric Leister said.

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