What Will Happen If The Water Runs Out?

With the water crisis intensifying in Cape Town, will we reach Day Zero? Will CT be left without water and what is the government doing?
Melissa Cohen
Cape Town has recently experienced the implementation of level five water restrictions in the city. With many fears that Day Zero will become a reality, the City of Cape Town is desperately fumbling for solutions. If Day Zero hits the Western Cape, the entire city will suffer disastrous effects. But what will really happen if the water runs out?
Are you aware of how much water you use a day? We found some stats here.

Implementation Measures

According to Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services and Energy, Councillor, Xanthea Limberg, the city is now a disaster zone.
"The City may now invoke emergency procurement procedures if required to expedite the emergency and accelerated water resource schemes."
Just last month, Cape Town mayor, Patricia De Lille, announced that even harsher measures will be put in place. The aim is to limit the city's water usage to 500 million litres per day.
"The City is confident that we can bring emergency schemes online in time for this to be avoided, however this will depend on residents’ response to the water restrictions and usage targets," explains Limberg.
The dams are currently only 27% full, and this is on a steady decrease.

What About Desalination Plants? 

There has been much talk about the the building of desalination plants in order to treat sea water. There are many countries abroad, such as Israel, that uses this technology. It is, however, really pricey and will take a while to build. Limberg, however, is confident that the city is investing in desalination alternatives. This is to ensure that Cape Town doesn't see Day Zero. In the meantime the city has the following plans underway in order to ensure that there is enough water available:
  • The city is planning to perform water extractions from rock formations.  The Table Mountain Group Aquifer at Steenbras and Wemmershoek Dams will see extraction. The shallow sandy Cape Flats Aquifer will be another extraction point;
  • The City also intends on developing capacity to treat municipal effluent to drinking water standards;
  • Although the different water interventions start at different times, the city aims to increase the water availability by 2018. The city expects to produce approximately 250 million litres per day via emergency schemes by February 2018. This will rise to approximately 450 million litres per day by April 2018.

But What If The Water Runs Out? 

Well according to the city, they are confident that the water won't run out.
"It is hoped that through a combination of responsible water usage by residents and the accelerated implementation of emergency supply schemes, this can be avoided."
If the city should come closer to Day Zero, however, authorities have promised to advise the public with the next steps. The Water Research Commission believes that the city has left the water crisis too late. The Commission believes that if there was proper planning, we might not be in the situation that we are currently in.
"If there was a proactive plan in place, the impact of the water crisis would have been minimal compared to the situation we’re in now. The community of practice warned both the Agriculture and Water sectors about these looming disasters through climate advisory information from various knowledge generation organisations but it looks like the information was not taken seriously."
These are the words of the Water Research Commission's Research Manager, Sylvester Mpandeli.

Who Is Responsible?

It seems that no one is taking responsibility for the drought that we are currently facing. The City of Cape Town has blamed the Department of Water and Sanitation.
"It is the National Department of Water and Sanitation that is responsible for deciding when new schemes need to come online.This being said, it is not possible for anyone predict drought reliably enough to ringfence billions of rand for new water supply schemes. "
The City claims that they have done everything to ensure that the right water restrictions were implemented. The first set of water restrictions that the city saw was in late 2015 when there were already signs of a drought. In the past 18 -24 months, there has been abnormal rainfall in the Western Cape and that has contributed to the current situation. The Water Research Commission is also trying to do their part to ensure that the country doesn't face serious danger.
"The Water Research Commission (WRC) is looking at various water technologies that can assist the water sector to tackle water issues,but the WRC cannot solve the water challenges alone. It needs strategic partners to tackle the water issues including community of practice, scientists, policy makers etc."

How Has The Water Crisis Affected Other Sectors? 

The agricultural industry is one of the main industries that is suffering as a result of the water crisis. The implications on the industry are dire as farmers have lost out on livestock and income. This has also threatened job opportunities and the country's economy.
"Food security and jobs will always be affected if there’s water crisis, however these two issues are interlinked, therefore there’s a need for government to come up with strategic interventions in order to minimized the impact and the threats posed by water crisis," explains Mpandeli.

What Can Citizens Expect? 

With water restrictions in full swing, there has been speculation of a water price increase. According to Limberg however, there will be no tariff adjustments this year.
"New infrastructure to increase our drought resilience does come with a cost, and as such there is likely to be an impact on water prices in the future. We will continue to explore alternative funding mechanisms to minimize the impact on consumers, but the days of very cheap water are, in all likelihood, behind us."
The city also intends to fine those who exceed more than 20 000 litres of water a month. Fines could vary between R5 000 - R10 000.

What About The Poor? 

The City claims that they have set aside extra money in the January 2017 budget for the poor. This is to ensure that they won't feel the pinch of the water tariff increase.
"Indigent households, despite increased tariffs, are still able to access 10,5 kl/month for free," adds Limberg.
We can only hold our breath now and watch the water crisis unfold. In the meantime, best you stock up on some water just in case the water really does run out!
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