Cape Town on Thursday drastically cut water restrictions from 87 litres per person per day to 50 litres — about two-and-a-half standard buckets — as South Africa’s mother city continues to struggle with a three-year-long drought that could see it become the first major modern city in the world to run dry.

Cape Town has “reached a point of no return”, said mayor Patricia de Lille, warning that Day Zero on April 21 was now very likely and that the city council will vote on Friday whether to fine residents for wasting water. The new regulations come into effect on February 1 and will last for a period of 150 days, following which the situation will be reviewed.

“We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them. We have listened to the comments of thousands of residents asking for fairness. Council will on Friday be voting on a punitive tariff that will charge residents exponentially higher rates for water usage above 6,000 litres per month,” she said.

De Lille also sketched the Day Zero scenario which is likely to have a severe impact on the daily livelihoods of Capetonians, warning that schools and businesses will likely be affected once the municipality cut off water supply to taps and residents would be forced to queue daily for water rations.

De Lille also said a decision had been taken to drop the controversial proposed Drought Charge “after a massive outcry from Capetonians that it was unfair”.

The new restrictions are set at Level 6B and comes after months of the city of around four million people missing the 500 million litre per day collective consumption target. 

De Lille said: “Despite our urging for months, 60% of Capetonians are callously using more than 87 litres per day. It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero. At this point, we must assume that they will not change their behaviour.”

The new daily collective consumption target is now 450 million litres per day. This will be in place for 150 days after which the City will reassess the situation. Level 6B restrictions will also limit irrigation using boreholes and wellpoints.

At the media briefing held at the Cape Town Civic Centre, the City moved to assure residents that Day Zero does not mean the region will completely run out of water, but simply that the City will have almost total control over water usage.

De Lille added that the City has advanced its planning for Day Zero, with approximately 200 public sites having been assessed. “The City will be announcing everyone’s local collection points from next week so that communities can begin preparing for that eventuality,” she said. “We will also be making detailed Day Zero contingency plans available soon to answer all questions that residents and businesses might have.

“In terms of the City’s work, we have been working hard to reduce demand through advanced pressure management, massively ramping up the installation of water management devices at high consumption households. Our teams are also significantly intensifying the leak detection and repair programme, and we are rolling out education and awareness campaigns and extending our use of the treated effluent system which offsets the use of the drinking water for non-potable purposes. 

“Teams are working around the clock to deliver the emergency plan for desalination, groundwater and water reuse. But, as I have already said, this alone will simply not be enough to avoid Day Zero without savings from all residents.”

She said that on Day Zero, the city will move into full-scale emergency stage 3. This means that water to households and businesses will be cut off. There will not be enough water in the system to maintain normal services and the taps (and toilets) will run dry.  Only vital services will still receive water. These are hospitals and clinics, stand-pipes in informal settlements and the 200 points of distribution (PoDs) where people can collect their allocated 25 litres per person. 

All other mains water supplied by the city will be cut off.  Most schools will have to close if they don’t have their own safe supply from boreholes or rainwater tanks. Many businesses will not be able to operate unless they can provide temporary (off-mains) toilets and drinking water.

The City further said that once the taps are switched off, “we don’t know how long it will be until they are switched back on again for different neighbourhoods”.  

“The amount in the dams will take months to recover. It is likely that if we have the same amount of winter rainfall as last year we will not see an increase in the dams until August. It could be that re-establishment of basic water services will only happen deep into the winter months.  

“We should be prepared to live with very little water for at least three months and possibly up to six months after Day Zero, but it all depends on when rain falls in the water source areas that feed the dams.”

Day Zero is calculated based on knowing how much water is in the six major dams that feed Cape Town and the Western Cape Water Supply System, and knowing how much water is being used by the city’s residents, by agriculture and what is evaporating out of the dam.

– African News Agency (ANA)