Only 19.7% of usable water left in Cape dams as Day Zero looms

Dam levels in Cape Town have dropped and with many Capetonians still using more than the restricted limit of water, Mayor Patricia de Lille announced on Tuesday that Day Zero had been brought forward by seven days to April 22.

The city’s dam levels are now at 29.7%, from 32% in December, with just under 20% being usable water. Despite the crisis, 46% of the city’s population are still exceeding a water restriction of 87 litres per person per day.

De Lille held a press briefing on Tuesday to announce updates on the water crisis currently affecting the city. During an interview on Radio 702 on Monday, De Lille said that the drought is “permanent” in Cape Town, but Day Zero could be avoided if citizens abide by the 87-litre limit and if households do not use more than 10 500 litres of water per month. The latter limit was implemented at the start of the year under the city’s Level 6 restrictions.

Day Zero refers to the day when Cape Town’s dam levels reach 13.5% or less. In that event, the city will close taps and set up 200 sites where people will queue to collect water. Taps in townships and informal settlements would still be left open to help avert a crisis in poorer communities. The water limit would drop to 25 litres per person per day.

The cost of a drought
The drought has become a fixture in the daily lives of Capetonians with posters urging people to avoid flushing toilets and to take two-minute showers. In December, the influx of tourists raised some concern, but De Lille said that water usage remained the same due to the movement of people in and out of the city.

With 2018 now here, and fears of a looming Day Zero, the city is facing pressure to deliver on its promises to make Cape Town as resistant to the drought as possible.

So far, the city has promised at least seven water projects to combat the water crisis. The projects include desalination plants (in Strandfontein, the V&A Waterfront, the Cape Town Harbour, and Monwabisi), extracting groundwater from aquifers in the Cape Flats and Atlantis, and a water recycling plant in Zandvliet.

Plans have now been made for drilling companies to help access more groundwater at a cheaper cost to provide millions of extra litres to the city. Currently, Cape Town is using 578-million litres of water per day. It can only afford 500-million litres or less if it to avoid Day Zero.

The drought has cost the city around R1.6-billion in revenue because of the drop in water usage.

To the dismay of residents, the city announced last year that it would introduce a drought levy that residents will pay based on the size of their property. De Lille said that so far the city had received 45 000 public comments on the levy and had extended the public participation deadline to January 15.

Despite public outrage at the levy proposal, De Lille defended the city’s position on Tuesday.

“I want to take this opportunity to explain to Capetonians what we are proposing to fund these initial projects and our water services. It is really vital in our efforts to beat the drought and to afford protection to our most vulnerable residents,” she said.

There are 464 216 households out of a total of 707 814 households set to be affected by the charge, with 52 510 proposed to pay more than R150 per month. The majority will pay R47 or less.

Water consumption ‘too high’ among Cape residents
While Capetonians are doing better to conserve water than in December, it’s still not enough. In the weeks of December, just 37% of residents abided by city water limits. Now, 54% are sticking to the 87 litres per day limit – but it’s still not enough.

“But consumption remains too high with half of Cape Town’s residents still not keeping to the 87 litres of water per person per day,” De Lille said.

There are also around 100 000 customers who are exceeding Level 6 restrictions.

De Lille told Radio 702 on Monday that residents who continued to violate restrictions would face penalties. Already, citizens could be forced to pay a fine if they are found to exceed water limits and the city is considering a “red dot map” which will publicly expose all households that are using more water than what they are allowed. If a household does not abide by Level 6 restrictions, then the city will also install a water meter on the property that will limit the house to 350 litres per day, she said.

The water crisis has deeply affected farmers, local businesses and residents, but with Day Zero brought forward the city remains in a crisis of tough restrictions and the looming threat of dry taps. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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