The drought crisis messages to Capetonians changed dramatically this week. From the pacifying coasting along on ‘we are a well run city – please comply with restrictions and we will get through’ – to ‘Day Zero is likely – get ready to queue for water’. As schools and businesses started this week and people settled into back into their routines, somehow we collectively lost the plot. Only 39% of households used less than the prescribed 87ltrs per person per day. At this rate of water consumption, not only is Day Zero likely, but it will also shift closer.
Day Zero cannot be a conscious or informed choice while we still have the option of reducing consumption to slow the rate of extraction from our dams. Many households have shown that by limiting your water consumption to washing, flushing, eating and drinking it is not even especially onerous to use less than 50ltr per person per day. If you don’t believe me – take a look at the City’s water tracking map. It marks residential properties that use less than 6000ltrs per month with dark green dots.
Consider the alternative of Day Zero and going to fetch 25ltrs of water per person from one of 200 collection points in Cape Town. During elections there are about 700 voting stations throughout Cape Town. How long did you stand in that queue? Then think about how far you can carry or trolley 25kilograms of water. Do you even have a 25ltr water drum or enough containers for the people in your home? Where will you get a trolley? What about Aunty Agnes who is too frail to fetch her own water? And when you finally get home you need to watch your back as you distribute this precious water into buckets for washing and bottles for drinking and cooking. Then you start all over again tomorrow. What about the toilet? How long will the neighbourhood sewerage system cope before becoming blocked? Then your family will be in the proverbial too.
If we seriously stop and think about Day Zero – we just can’t let it happen. The focus is on WE. Saving enough water to keep the taps and toilets working is an all-in exercise in co-operative citizenship. It’s the three musketeers – all for one and one for all – at City scale.
Cape Town has enjoyed so many celebratory awards: World Design Capital, home to Table Mountain one of the 7 Natural World Wonders, a Top 10 Cities travel destination etc. Now it’s up to us to make sure that we don’t become the first global metropolis to be famous for running out of drinking water. Money can’t buy water or make rain. The blame game won’t quench a thirst. The City’s new water projects are not going to be enough or on time. Our best chance is to save as much of the water we have while we still have it.
We are not on track right now. After all the messages about how critical the situation is, the best score for water saving has only been in the order of 50% of households. The City is finally forcing change by proposing Level 6B restrictions limiting consumption to 50ltrs per person per day or 6000ltrs per 4 person household per month. Water tariffs will be punitive for consumption above this.
In the interest of transparency and increasing awareness around residential water consumption, the City has made its water consumption tracking map available on its website. Now households can see their previous month’s water consumption and that of their neighbours. Consumption above 10,500ltrs per month, the Level 6 limit is not shown.
It is simplistic to assume that all properties without a green dot are excessive consumers. Some may have problems with their meters, account issues, large households or have multiple dwelling on one property. It is the City’s responsibility to deal with the households that are not compliant – and the new punitive tariffs and restrictions introduced with Level 6B aim to do just that. Our responsibility is to show that we can reduce our consumption individually and collectively so that Day Zero does not happen.
No buts – Just do it – SAVE WATER!