It is no myth that South Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts it has in years. This represents the most significant threat to our everyday livelihoods. During the panic, there have been reports from both the government and the media, that the City of Cape Town may not make it to the end of the summer and hefty water restrictions are already being implemented. With these developments, several ‘manufactures of doubt’ have jumped on the bandwagon to stress out the local population with false reports of water being cut off in the Western Cape. Luckily, the government has doused yet another wildfire and the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services, and Energy, Councillor Xanthea Limberg, has debunked any rumours of water cuts.
As an MSc Earth Science Student focused on water research, I am often asked by family and friends to explain the situation that is unfolding here in the Western Cape.
The 100 days of water left is based on the time we have left, at the current rate of water depletion, until our dam levels drop below 15-20%. If this happens, not only will the levels be dangerously low but also the extraction of this water is increasingly difficult. In a situation like this, the government has contingencies that will be put in place to tap water from other resources that are more expensive and often not potable. New and more aggressive planning has had to be undertaken due to a spike in consumer usage in the third week of January, where dam levels dropped 2% from 44.5% to 42.5%. In an effort to reduce the chance of this happening again, the Western Cape government has identified 20 000 of the top end water users and majority of them are formal residential customers. Hence, the implementation of level 3 water restrictions, in December 2016, which in theory should reduce the usage of these households.
The problem lies with the ignorant mentality of many households that are fully aware of the drought and restrictions, but when they turn their taps and sprinklers on, water still comes and so they feel they are unaffected by these realities. In a second effort, the government will tighten up on these restrictions, labelled level 3b, by restricting the watering of gardens and fields with municipal drinking water except for Tuesdays and Saturdays as well as no washing of automobiles. Additionally, the city has planned to implement fines and water restriction devices in cases where the restrictions are being abused.
Households that have access to borehole water and other non-potable water resources are encouraged to use them instead of their tap water in order to relieve further stress on the municipal system. Although groundwater is not an endless resource of water, in the current climate it is imperative that citizens take action in water conservation and adhere to the restrictions that are being put in place.
By Jared van Rooyen, MSc Earth Science Student