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Will Cape Town Become the First Major City to Run Out of Water?

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Molteno Dam Reservoir in Cape Town. Wikimedia Commons

Cape Town is on track to become the first major city in the world to run out of water.

The world-renowned tourist destination—and the second-most populous urban area in South Africa after Johannesburg—could approach "Day Zero," when most taps run dry, by April 21, Mayor Patricia de Lille said Tuesday.


"Day Zero" may sound ominous, but it is an actual date based on current reservoir capacity and the current rate of consumption. The original projection was April 29, but the date has unfortunately been moved forward.

"Dam levels have dipped to 28.7 percent this past week—down by one percentage point," de Lille said. "The city has ramped up pressure management to drive down consumption—aiming to stretch our water supply past the winter rainy season."

As TIME reported, once the dams reach 13.5 percent capacity, the municipal water supply shuts off for all but essential services, such as hospitals.

De Lille further lamented that only 39 percent of Cape Town's 4 million residents used less than the 87 liters of water a day the city council has set as the individual limit.

According to de Lille, total water consumption has increased to 618 million liters per day‚ up from 578 million liters per day. The target is to cut water use to 500 million liters a day.

"Cape Town's average daily collective consumption is still too high," the mayor said.

To reduce water usage, the local government has banned residents from watering their gardens and washing their cars, shut most public swimming pools and cut the water pressure, according to Bloomberg. A cricket team was even advised not to shower for more than two minutes.

The city's water woes comes after three years of unprecedented drought and the growing population's increased water consumption.

However, as Bloomberg reported, even in a time of climate extremes, the severity of the Cape Town's water crisis is highly unusual.

"Running out of water in places that have a highly developed water infrastructure is not that common," Bob Scholes, a professor of systems ecology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. "I know of no example of a city the size of Cape Town running out of water. It would be quite catastrophic."

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