Development

Dreading 'Day Zero' when the taps run dry in Cape Town

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Sand blows across a normally submerged area at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town, South Africa, January 20, 2018.

Sand blows across a normally submerged area at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town, South Africa, January 20, 2018. The dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water, is currently dangerously low.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

A tough water-saving regime and the generosity of farmers have given South Africa's main tourist hub welcome respite from a severe drought and helped push back a dreaded "Day Zero" when Cape Town's taps are expected to run dry.

On Tuesday, the city of four million moved its estimate for "Day Zero" to July 9 from June 4 due to a decline in water usage, and after the Groenland farmers association also released about 2.6 billion gallons of water from their private reservoirs into the Steenbras storage dam.

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The Theewaterskloof dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water is seen from above near Villiersdorp, South Africa, Feb. 20, 2018.

The Theewaterskloof dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water is seen from above near Villiersdorp, South Africa, Feb. 20, 2018.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

South Africa has declared a national disaster over the drought afflicted southern and western regions, including Cape Town, which means the government could spend more money and resources to deal with the crisis.

Cape Town, which attracts about two million visitors each year, wants to become more resilient as the effects of climate change are felt, similar to other dry cities in Australia including Melbourne and in California in the US.

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A man carries a bucket used to collect water from a small roadside spring in Cape Town, South Africa.

A man carries a bucket used to collect water from a small roadside spring in Cape Town, South Africa.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

"We know that while we are going through a challenging time, we are building a world-class green economy that will be a beacon of hope for many places around," said Tim Harris, chief executive for Wesgro, a regional trade and tourism agency.

The chronic drought is hurting visitor numbers and knocking a rare economic bright spot, officials said previously.

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Vineyards are seen near Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 3, 2018.

Vineyards are seen near Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 3, 2018.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

According to the South African Weather Service, two of the driest seasons ever recorded for the city since observations started in 1921 happened in the last three years: In 2015 when 21 inches fell and last year — the driest year on record — when annual rainfall totaled 19.6 inches.

But, faced with severe water restrictions and punitive levies, residents of Cape Town have cut collective consumption by more than half in the last three years, as the city targets a daily consumption rate of no more than about 118 million gallons.

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A plant grows between cracked mud in a normally submerged area at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town.

A plant grows between cracked mud in a normally submerged area at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

At the moment, restrictions make it compulsory for residents to use no more than about 13 gallons per person per day, as city officials look to see out the hot summer months into winter, when Cape Town usually gets rain.

"We must all keep doing absolutely everything in our power to reach the target set by the national department to reduce our urban usage by 45 percent," said Ian Neilson, the deputy mayor.

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Newlands swimming pool lies empty in Cape Town.

Newlands swimming pool lies empty in Cape Town.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Already hundreds of Cape Town residents are being forced to line up overnight to stock up on water in South Africa's second largest economic hub and tourism attraction.

However, several desalination plants are planned and together with underground water reserves, are expected to help augment water sources well into the future.

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A family negotiates their way through caked mud around a dried up section of the Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town.

A family negotiates their way through caked mud around a dried up section of the Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

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Clothing hangs above a communal tap in Khayelitsha township, near Cape Town.

Clothing hangs above a communal tap in Khayelitsha township, near Cape Town.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

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The children's section of Trafalgar swimming pool lies empty in Cape Town.

The children's section of Trafalgar swimming pool lies empty in Cape Town. The city has closed many of its public swimming pools and has imposed severe water restrictions in an attempt to avert a major water crisis.

Credit:

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Photos: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia, William Maclean.

In Development & EducationDevelopmentScience, Tech & EnvironmentEnvironment.

Tagged: Cape TownSouth AfricaSouth Africa.