Editorial Letter: Postponing the Shutoff

March 26, 2018
WQP Managing Editor Amy McIntosh discusses Cape Town's water crisis in her April editorial letter

About the author: Amy McIntosh is former managing editor of WQP. For more information, email [email protected].

In Cape Town, South Africa, the threat that seemed imminent just a few months ago may now be only a hypothetical, if Mother Nature cooperates. In a March 6 statement, the city said it could push back Day Zero to Aug. 27, 2018. However, there is a caveat.

“As this date falls deep within the normal rainfall period, it is no longer appropriate to project the date without any consideration of rainfall,” Ian Neilson, Cape Town’s executive deputy mayor, said in a statement. “Thus, provided we continue our current water savings efforts, Day Zero can be avoided completely this year.”

Residents currently are required to limit their daily water consumption to 50 liters, or approximately 13 gal. Among the government’s list of resources on its website is a “50 Litre Life” poster designed to help individuals ration their allotted 50 liters. The poster offers some zero-water-use suggestions, such as using waterless hand sanitizer to clean hands and reusing greywater to flush toilets.

Another example of Cape Town’s willingness to provide residents with resources is the city’s water map, available at www.capetown.gov.za/ watermap. The interactive map is updated the third week of every month and aggregates data from the city’s municipal water billing system. The more the map is zoomed in, the more localized data is available, down to individual households.

This level of transparency helps residents take ownership of their own water use, see how they compare to their neighbors, and see how their neighborhood contributes to the larger water savings picture. Residents are encouraged to spark respectful conversations with neighbors who appear to be exceeding the water use limits and coordinate water saving strategies with local community groups.

All the resources, data, tips and tricks appear to be helping. At press time, the city measured an overall average water usage of 511 million liters per day (approximately 135 million gal), still above the goal of 450 million liters per day (approximately 119 million gal), but down significantly from mid-January usage of 618 million liters per day (approximately 163 million gal). The dam is at 23.6% capacity. Day Zero will occur when the dam reaches 13.5%, which officials think may now be unlikely.

The Day Zero delay is good news—for now. The postponed date should not be an excuse for Capetonians to ease up on their water saving efforts. The threat is by no means over, and the city pointed out that if next winter has similar rainfall conditions, the risk of Day Zero could re-emerge by early 2019.

About the Author

Amy McIntosh

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