Water restrictions remain but no Day Zero for 2019

In the meantime, there is not yet a date in sight as to when Cape Town will finally be able to declare itself drought-free. (David Harrison/M&G)

In the meantime, there is not yet a date in sight as to when Cape Town will finally be able to declare itself drought-free. (David Harrison/M&G)

Cape Town’s dreaded Day Zero has been pushed back by a year as deputy mayor Ian Neilson announced that city officials expect the taps to keep running well into 2019.

Day Zero — a near apocalyptic day for Capetonians, which would see almost every tap closed off, except those in townships, the city centre and emergency services — had previously remained a risk for the 2019 year. But on Thursday — following continuous days of rain in the Cape — Neilson said that Day Zero was no longer expected in the summer months of 2019 if water restrictions remained in place.

“Provided that adequate water restrictions are maintained, the city is confident that there will be no prospect of reaching Day Zero in 2019,” Neilson said.

Capetonians are currently restricted to 50 litres of water a day to avoid the catastrophe. The restriction is officially known as a Level 6B restriction.

Currently, dam levels are already higher than they were last year in the same period due to rainfall and water conservation efforts. Neilson said that the past six weeks of rain had boosted Cape Town’s dams to the point where they are now at a capacity of 43% full.

In comparison, at this time last year, dam levels were at 38%. The city expects that there will be an additional two months of high rainfall as the winter months continue.

“Having analysed the new data, we are now in a position to state that not only have we managed to avoid Day Zero this year, but we will also get through summer in 2019,” Neilson said.

On the brink of chaos

At the end of summer, dam levels in Cape Town were dire. The dams were at 20% and if they had dropped a further 7%, the City would have restricted residents to 25 litres a day to spare what was left of its strained water resources.

But then the skies opened, residents maintained their water conservation efforts, and city officials found themselves in a better position than they had been since the crisis first alarmed Capetonians.

“Fortunately, the rains started early in our winter (May) and fell at rates closer to the average than in the previous years. It was only then that we could see that circumstances had changed. After some six weeks of good rain, we are now in a more favourable position that enables us to recalibrate our future projections and to make a much more accurate forecast for 2019,” Neilson said.

The city, and the DA caucus in particular, has been accused of mismanaging the crisis, profiteering from it, and being neglectful of the impact of the drought due to political infighting - most notably through its ongoing dispute with Mayor Patricia De Lille, who was removed from the team managing the drought.

Water management devices and desalination plants have also caused some controversy for city officials after residents grew concerned that the devices were inaccurate and the desalination plants were not on track.

Neilson has previously said that the desalination plants will continue to be built and used to augment the city’s existing water supply, but he announced on Thursday that there may be room to relax restrictions in the near future.

“While we hope at some point in the next few months to be in a position to relax the current restrictions, and the tariffs associated with them, this decision will have to wait until National Government relaxes restrictions on releases from the water supply system,” he said.

In the meantime, there is not yet a date in sight as to when Cape Town will finally be able to declare itself drought-free. Capetonians will need to keep saving water, Neilson said, until there is more surety of long-term water resources. 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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