Cape Town - Cape Town, the crown jewel of South Africa’s
tourism industry, has 100 days before it runs out of water.
After two years of the least rainfall on record, the
average level of the six main dams that supply the city of 3.7
million people has dropped below 30 percent, one of the lowest levels on
record. The last 10 percent of the reservoir water is unusable, and the risk is
mounting that taps and pipes will stop flowing before the onset of the winter
rainy season that normally starts in May or June.
Even if the supply stretches until then, heavy downpours
may be needed to avert outages over the next two years in South
Africa’s second-biggest city. Each year more than 850 000 people from the
region and abroad fly through the international airport in Cape Town, which the
UK’s Telegraph newspaper has rated as the top city destination for the past
“We are in a real crisis,” Cape Town Mayor Patricia de
Lille said in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the Women4Climate
conference in New York on March 8. “People will have to change the way they are
doing things. You can only save water while you have water.”
The city council has imposed water restrictions,
including bans on using hosepipes to irrigate gardens and fill swimming
pools, and fined those who violate them. It’s also lowered the water pressure
and stepped up efforts to combat leaks. While those measures have helped reduce
average daily summer consumption to 751 million litres a day, from 1.1 billion litres
a year ago, that’s still shy of the city’s 700-million-liter target.
The Cape Town authorities should have done more to
diversify its water supply and implemented projects to use treated sewage and
effluent, said Kevin Winter, a lecturer and water expert at the University
of Cape Town’s Environmental and Geographical Science Department.
“Ninety-eight percent of water comes from dams and that
is crazy,” he said. “We use untreated, high quality water for everything we can
The lack of water and efforts to conserve it are evident
from the city’s withered gardens and parks and closure of most municipal
swimming pools. Many of the city’s more than 3.7 million people have taken
to using water from their baths and showers to flush toilets and try and
keep their plants alive. Providers of wells and equipment that captures runoff
from washing machines and bathrooms, known as gray water, are doing a roaring
The city and national governments are implementing and
considering several projects to augment the water supply, according to De
Lille. These include:
* Pumping surplus water from the Berg River to the
Voelvlei Dam, east of Cape Town, which will cost R274 million and yield an
extra 60 million litres of water a day.
* Implementing a 4.5 billion-rand plan to reuse water,
which will supply an additional 220 million litres a day.
Building a R15
billion desalination plant that will yield an average of 450 million litres of
water a day.
* Tapping aquifers from the city’s landmark Table
Mountain, which could yield 50 million litres to 100 million litres a day. That
project, which would be implemented in several phases, is still being costed.
“The city will probably squeak through this season, but
it may not in coming years,” Winter said. “It has been on the cards that water
would run out by 2019. This drought has been a wake-up call for the city.”