Thursday, May 28, 2020

Cape Town water situation

Stanley - Thursday

Given the near disaster that befell Cape Town in the first quarter of 2018, I'm frequently asked by friends in the USA and Europe what the current water situation is in Cape Town.

You may remember in January 2018, the city of Cape Town announced that it had 90 days of water left, that it would run out of water on April 12 - Day Zero. The announcement shocked the world - how could a major city run out of water? 

What had led to the situation was several years of insipid rainfall, leaving the feeder dams much lower than usual. In addition, the population of Cape Town was growing well beyond the existing infrastructure.

Theewaterskloof Dam - Cape Town's largest - in March 2018

Capetonians queue for spring water in 2018.
The city put in place severe restrictions on water use, both personal and commercial. It also hiked the price of water, and unleashed a huge conservation publicity drive. All of this helped push Day Zero back into the rainy season. And fortunately it did rain, avoiding a disaster.

I can't speak for other Capetonians, but I know I still practice many of the conservation measures of those dire times. I wet myself in the shower, turn the water off, soap, and then rinse. In and out in less than ninety seconds. I never let the water run while brushing my teeth and still have a small bucket in the kitchen sink to catch water that I later use to water the plants. However, I have given up my practice of standing in a bucket in the shower to catch water to use to flush the toilet.

So what is the current status?

The two lowest points in the graph above show that Cape Town's dams dropped to 20% capacity in 2017 and 2018. There was very little rain in winter 2017. Today we are a little below average capacity.

This graph shows that, relative to the past 5 years, we are in better shape (black dotted line). Vertical axis is volume; horizontal axis is week number. 

The prognosis for next summer - the dry season - depends a lot on what June, July, and August bring, as these are the three rainiest months. If we have average rain, next year should be fine. If we have no rain, we will be in trouble again.

The good news is that it is raining quite heavily in the Cape Town area right now and there has been snow on the mountains - not on Table Mountain, however. That will definitely help the dam levels. 

Beautiful sight

This could be the first time she's seen snow!

This could be the first time it's seen snow!
So I am feeling cautiously optimistic about 2021. Cross fingers.

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