Quantcast

How Cape Town Avoided a Water Crisis at the Eleventh Hour

Climate

A view of Clifton Beach on Oct. 4, 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa.

zol m / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Charlotte Edmond

Cape Town's water crisis got so bad last year that there were competitions to see who could wash their shirts the least. Restaurants and businesses were encouraging people not to flush after going to the toilet. The city was just 90 days away from turning off the taps.


A year on, the South African city's parched dams are now more than 80 percent full. Water use restrictions have been relaxed. And Day Zero —the point at which Cape Town's municipal water supply would be shut off — never came to pass.

Having been threatened by one of the worst-ever drought-induced municipal water crises, residents became water-wise.

WWF - SA

A city united

In a dry climate, with rapid urbanization and relatively high per capita water consumption, Cape Town had all the makings of a water crisis. In 2018, after three years of poor rainfall, the city announced drastic action was needed to avoid running out.

Reducing demand was a key priority. The City of Cape Town worked to get residents and businesses on board with a host of water-saving initiatives. People were instructed to shower for no longer than two minutes. A campaign with the slogan "If it's yellow, let it mellow" promoted flushing the toilet only when necessary. And the use of recycled water — so-called grey water — was also pushed.

At the most extreme, residents were restricted to a maximum of 50 liters a day – not easy when showers alone can use up to 15 liters a minute. Backed up with data on each household's water use, people pulled together, sharing tips on social media.

WWF - SA

Restricted supply

The City of Cape Town introduced increasingly strict restrictions, which as well as limiting the volumes allowed, also restricted what the water was used for. Filling swimming pools, washing cars, and fountains were all banned.

Households using high volumes of water faced big fines. The city also significantly hiked tariffs as well as rolling out management devices, which set a daily limit on the water supply to properties.

Another method of curbing use saw the city reduce the water pressure, which both cut overall consumption as well as decreased the loss through leaks.

Alongside measures targeted at domestic use, Cape Town also called on the agricultural and commercial sectors. Hard limits on agricultural water quotas were introduced.

Crisis averted … for now

By changing a city's habits, along with the welcome return of some rain, Cape Town managed to avert the worst of the water scarcity crisis. However, the risk of future shortages remain. South Africa is one of the world's driest countries and demand for water continues to climb.

WWF - SA

According to the World Wildlife Fund, demand is set to reach 17.7 billion cubic meters by 2030 — up from 13.4 billion cubic meters in 2016 — outstripping what the country is able to allocate.

Reposted with permission from our media associate World Economic Forum.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

In this view from an airplane rivers of meltwater carve into the Greenland ice sheet near Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier on Aug. 4 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland, where over the last several decades summers have become longer and the rate that glaciers and the Greenland ice cap are retreating has accelerated. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The rate that Greenland's ice sheet is melting surpassed scientists' expectations and has raised concerns that their worst-case scenario predictions are coming true, Business Insider reported.

Read More Show Less
An Alagoas curassow in captivity. Luís Fábio Silveira / Agência Alagoas / Mongabay

By Pedro Biondi

Extinct in its habitat for at least three decades, the Alagoas curassow (Pauxi mitu) is now back in the jungle and facing a test of survival, thanks to the joint efforts of more than a dozen institutions to pull this pheasant-like bird back from the brink.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Elizabeth Warren's Blue New Deal aims to expand offshore renewable energy projects, like the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island. Luke H. Gordon / Flickr

By Julia Conley

Sen. Elizabeth Warren expanded her vision for combating the climate crisis on Tuesday with the release of her Blue New Deal — a new component of the Green New Deal focusing on protecting and restoring the world's oceans after decades of pollution and industry-caused warming.

Read More Show Less
Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves the courthouse after testifying in the Exxon Mobil trial on Oct. 30, 2019 in New York. DON EMMERT / AFP via Getty Images

A judge in New York's Supreme Court sided with Exxon in a case that accused the fossil fuel giant of lying to investors about the true cost of the climate crisis. The judge did not absolve Exxon from its contribution to the climate crisis, but insisted that New York State failed to prove that the company intentionally defrauded investors, as NPR reported.

Read More Show Less

By Sharon Elber

You may have heard that giving a pet for Christmas is just a bad idea. Although many people believe this myth, according to the ASPCA, 86 percent of adopted pets given as gifts stay in their new homes. These success rates are actually slightly higher than average adoption/rehoming rates. So, if done well, giving an adopted pet as a Christmas gift can work out.

Read More Show Less