Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’re well aware that Cape Town is facing an absolute national disaster. The metro area, which is home to about four million people, is facing a drought so severe that “Day Zero” is looming: a day when there will be no fresh water left. Several weeks ago, Day Zero was going to occur in April, but now with strict water-saving measures, it’s been pushed back to June 4th, 2018. As in, 4 months from now.
What Caused the Cape Town Disaster?
Up until relatively recently, the Cape Town area had consistent Winter rain. The past 3 years has seen little of that rain at all. That’s pretty obvious though. A city with enough rain wouldn’t be in dire straits. There’s more to a drought than not enough water, and often include things like proper water infrastructure and conservation management.
Governments do not want to spend money on water infrastructure when there is no immediate need for it. Why? Because it’s incredibly expensive, and easy to ignore until major problems arise. In an article from The Atlantic, author Richard Poplak states,
“The drought is so severe that planning for it would take genuine governmental prescience. But over the years, the Cape Town government has studiously ignored reams of data and studies readily available in the public domain. One of the first warnings that Cape Town would run dry was published in the Cape Times in 1990. Scientists, meteorologists, engineers and lay-folk have echoed those warnings in the years since. Emergency measures were considered and abandoned, […]: Desalination plants were deemed too expensive and cumbersome for a situation that the city’s bureaucrats believed would resolve itself. A fully completed plant in the nearby Mossel Bay municipality was mothballed in 2011; at slightly less than a dollar a kiloliter, the water it produced was deemed too expensive.”
Is it fair to entirely blame the government? No. Some point the blame at vineyards that continued to expand as the drought began. Others discuss that it is a problem of wealth inequity.
Bottom line is this: It’s an awful situation in which 4 million people are going to be directly affected.
Day Zero: now what?
Residents of Cape Town are being forced to cut back drastically on their water usage until Day Zero. A Cape Town resident is now is allowed to use 50 liters of water per day, or about 13 gallons. Once Day Zero hits, faucets will be completely turned off and residents will be forced to pick up about 25 liters of water from 200 emergency stations across the city. Hospitals and health facilities are expected to stay open and continue receiving water.
There are talks of desalination plants being used, which could initially help provide about 4 million gallons a day. Unfortunately some of these desalination projects are behind schedule, but hopes remain they will be on target to begin using by March or April of this year.
Will the Clean Water really run out?
We often hear of disaster related to climate and weather. Just recently California was in a water crisis, but few people went entirely without water. Irrigation was cut back, residents were asked to abide by measures like doing full loads of laundry, cutting back on baths, making sure to make the most of the water. Then, after several years of drought, heavy rains came. (You probably recall the Oroville Dam disaster.) And suddenly, the state of California was in a much better place.
In Cape Town, though, the water really has a strong chance of running out. It’s a very scary reality that is months away.
I’m not in South Africa, so I don’t care…
You should care. Water conservation can occur anywhere you live – with the world’s population expanding every day, there’s no use in waiting for Day Zero. Aquifers are draining a lot faster than they fill up. So what are some ways you can substantially cut your water usage?
Consider investing in a rain water barrel. You can purchase them, or consider creating your own, like in this article by Mid-state Gutters. You can utilize that saved water throughout the hotter months for your potted plants.
When you’re cleaning up around the house, make sure you’re only running full loads of laundry or dishes. Newer appliances have come a long way in water usage. My washing machine senses the size of the load before running, which is awesome. Our dishwasher allows us to choose whether we want to wash just the upper or lower part of the dishwasher.
Have a yard? Get some cool irrigation tech – there are tons of gadgets on the market that can help you make the most of your climate if you’re not certain how often to water the lawn or your garden.
Ultimately, be conscientious. It’s true that agriculture uses way more water than an individual household, but that’s not a great excuse to not be thoughtful. Agriculture tech is coming a long way too. From Hydroponics, to drip irrigation, to monitoring the moisture level in soil, the Ag industry isn’t staying stagnant.
Doing our part to conserve water now can help result in long-term positive repercussions down the road.