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Water Today Title November 27, 2020

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Update 2018/3/9


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By Stuart Smith

The Executive Deputy Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Ian Neilson, reported on Tuesday that Day 0 had successfully been avoided for 2018. This, he said, was due to Capetonians managing to decrease their water use to nearly 50 litres per person per day.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa's Democratic Alliance, confirmed the news with a celebratory tweet: "Fellow South Africans, it is now official. If we stick to our current water consumption and receive decent winter rainfall in Cape Town, we will #DefeatDayZero in 2018!"

"Decent rainfall" and "current water consumption" are two very big and very important 'ifs'.

With regard to the rainfall, Alderman Neilson says, "The City now projects that, if there was to be no rainfall, Day Zero would arrive on 27 August 2018. As this date falls deep within the normal rainfall period, it is no longer appropriate to project the date without any consideration of rainfall."

But the whole problem with Cape Town's climate is there has been no 'normal rainfall period' for the last four years. And no one yet knows whether this year will be any different. In fact, right now the dams supplying Cape Town are at 23.5% (with the last 10% extremely difficult to recover) and still decreasing by 0.4% a week. This is even with the strictest water restrictions having been in place for two months. If winter rains have not arrived by 27 August 2018, Cape Town will still need to cut off the municipal water, even at 50L per person a day.

And to return to a place of relative water security they will need some serious rainfall. A look at dam levels for the same week during the previous four years shows that in 2017 the dams were at 31%. In 2016 - 37%, in 2015 - 65%, and in 2014 - 85%.

Then there is Mr Maimane's second big 'if', which may be even more uncertain.

Day 0 responds to water use - it can (and in late January, did) go both ways. Day 0 may be predicted at 27 August right now, but if Capetonians do not stick to their newly formed water habits, Day 0 will start creeping forwards again. That is why the level 6B restrictions, which limit water use to 50L a day, are still in place. And until rain starts falling, they will have to remain so.

A few hours later, DA leader Mmusi Maimane tweeted again: "Consumption now sits at between 510 and 520 million litres per day - down from almost 1.2 billion litres in February 2015!".

Indeed, this is a great achievement, but it hides the fact that the target is 450 million litres a day, 60 million less than Mr Maimane's figure. Even worse, the figures he used are off by a week - a week when the trend changed. Alderman Neilson reported, "overall consumption as at 5 March 2018 was measured at 537 million litres per day (MLD) which is up from 516 MLD consumption recorded in the previous week." So between last week and this week water use went up by 3.8%.

This forced Alderman Neilson to end his release with the following warning: "I would therefore like to urge all Capetonians not to relax their savings efforts. While we are feeling more confident of avoiding Day Zero this year, we cannot predict the volume of rainfall still to come. If winter rainfall this year is as low as last year, or even lower, we are still in danger of reaching Day Zero early next year."

Capetonians have reached their target but reaching it was just the first step - they now have to maintain it.


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