Cape Town, South Africa is less than 90 days away from running out of drinking water, after three years of unprecedented drought that have brought its reservoirs down to records lows.
Mayor Patricia De Lille has identified April 22 as Day Zero, based on current reservoir capacity and the city’s daily capacity, and TIME Magazine says the date is not just a scare tactic. The announcement puts the seaside city of four million “on track to be the first major city in the world to run out of water,” unless residents make drastic cuts to their daily consumption.
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“The city won’t literally run dry,” TIME reports. “In most cases, reservoirs can’t be drained to the last drop, as silt and debris make the last 10% of a dam’s water unusable.” With that in mind, “city authorities have decided that once the dams reach 13.5% capacity, municipal water supply will be turned off for all but essential services, like hospitals.”
The city has already “capped household water usage at 87 litres (23 gallons) per person, per day,” the magazine notes. “For most homes, that means keeping showers under two minutes, no watering the garden or washing the car, refraining from flushing the toilet unless absolutely necessary, recycling bathing water where possible, and severely limiting dishwasher and washing machine use.”
But the limits aren’t really working—with only 54% of Cape Town residents meeting the target, the city had to move Day Zero forward by a week. “But the city has few options for punishing individual water abusers and ensuring compliance,” TIME notes, “so everyone pays the price.”
If the taps are actually turned off three months from now, “Cape Town enters Mad Max territory (well, almost),” writes Africa Bureau Chief Aryn Baker. “Residents will have to go to one of some 200 municipal water points throughout the city where they can collect a maximum of 25 litres (6.6 gallons) a day. Armed guards will be standing by to keep the peace and prevent anyone from taking more than their share.”
Even then, Baker adds, “the truly wealthy will be protected. The local version of Craigslist is already full of listings for companies willing to truck in tankers full of water from less drought-prone parts of the country, for a price.”
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