Capetown’s “Day Zero” is a Glimpse of an Altered Earth

February 2, 2018


New York Times:

CAPE TOWN — It sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. “Day Zero” is coming to Cape Town this April. Everyone, be warned.

The government cautions that the Day Zero threat will surpass anything a major city has faced since World War II or the Sept. 11 attacks. Talks are underway with South Africa’s police because “normal policing will be entirely inadequate.” Residents, their nerves increasingly frayed, speak in whispers of impending chaos.

The reason for the alarm is simple: The city’s water supply is dangerously close to running dry.

If water levels keep falling, Cape Town will declare Day Zero in less than three months. Taps in homes and businesses will be turned off until the rains come. The city’s four million residents will have to line up for water rations at 200 collection points. The city is bracing for the impact on public health and social order.

“When Day Zero comes, they’ll have to call in the army,” said Phaldie Ranqueste, who was filling his white S.U.V. with big containers of water at a natural spring where people waited in a long, anxious line.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Cape Town. This city is known for its strong environmental policies, including its careful management of water in an increasingly dry corner of the world.

But after a three-year drought, considered the worst in over a century, South African officials say Cape Town is now at serious risk of becoming one of the few major cities in the world to lose piped water to homes and most businesses.

Hospitals, schools and other vital institutions will still get water, officials say, but the scale of the shut-off will be severe.

Cape Town’s problems embody one of the big dangers of climate change: the growing risk of powerful, recurrent droughts. In Africa, a continent particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, those problems serve as a potent warning to other governments, which typically don’t have this city’s resources and have done little to adapt.

For now, political leaders here talk of coming together to “defeat Day Zero.” As water levels in the dams supplying the city continue to drop, the city is scrambling to finish desalination plants and increase groundwater production. Starting in February, residents will face harsher fines if they exceed their new daily limit, which will go down to 50 liters (13.2 gallons) a day per person from 87 liters now.

The Verge:

Cape Town’s water shortage isn’t just because of climate change — although that certainly could be making the drought worse, experts say. Poor management of the city’s water system, which relies almost entirely on rainfall, also contributed to the growing crisis. But as fossil fuel emissions continue to drive up global temperatures, drought risk is expected rise in places like southwestern Africa and California. The recent five-year drought in California also depleted reservoirs and led to official bans on wasteful water use.

Cape Town relies on six main reservoirs for its drinking water; together these reservoirs can store 230 billion gallons (about 870,000 megaliters) of water. After back-to-back years of severe drought, these reservoirs hold just 26 percent of that total — a level that is likely to continue dropping until the rainy season starts in May. The time lapse, captured by the Landsat-8 satellite and published by NASA’s Earth Observatory, shows Cape Town’s largest reservoir, Theewaterskloof Dam, drying to just 13 percent capacity.

Residents have been urged to limit their water use, and today, Cape Town officials issued even more stringent restrictions, limiting each person to just 13 gallons (50 liters) of water per day. (For scale, the average person in the US uses 80 to 100 gallons, roughly 300–380 liters, of water daily.) Water guzzlers who go over that limit might have to pay for a device that limits the water that comes out their taps, and could also be on the hook for fines of up to about $850.

NASA Earth Observatory:

The animated image at the top of the page shows how dramatically Theewaterskloof has been depleted between January 2014 and January 2018. The extent of the reservoir is shown with blue; non-water areas have been masked with gray in order to make it easier to distinguish how the reservoir has changed. Theewaterskloof was near full capacity in 2014. During the preceding year, the weather station at Cape Town airport tallied 682 millimeters (27 inches) of rain (515 mm is normal), making it one of the wettest years in decades. However, rains faltered in 2015, with just 325 mm falling. The next year, with 221 mm, was even worse. In 2017, the station recorded just 157 mm of rain.


2 Responses to “Capetown’s “Day Zero” is a Glimpse of an Altered Earth”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    ZZZZZzzzzzz…….move on folks, nothing to see here. EXCEPT……..!!!!

    This is BIG news! Capetown may be the first major city on the planet to run dry, and how well they fight it may be a clue to how well the rest of the world will deal with it when the SHTF. Right now, they want to drill wells (that’s working so well in CA) and build desalination plants (which will be powered by fossil fuel generated electricity.of course)—–all just more kick the can down the road.

    In other news, the CA snow pack is way down, as is the snow pack in much of the central and southern Rockies. So, some are now talking about cloud seeding in the Colorado River basin. That will be the beginning of the second great climate experiment—-geoengineering to overcome the burning of fossil fuels.

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