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Fears of water’s 'day zero' spur Cape Town to consider rainless day fund

Feb 26 2020 10:42
Antony Sguazzin

Scarred by a water shortage that almost saw Cape Town become the first major world city to run out of water, local authorities are planning measures ranging from cutting down alien trees to establishing a "rainless day fund" to cushion its more than 4 million people from the next dry spell.

Cape Town was hit by the worst drought on record between 2015 and 2018, forcing South Africa’s second-biggest city to clamp down on usage by boosting water tariffs and advising residents to spend no more than 90 seconds in the shower. The municipality repeatedly warned of "Day Zero" - when taps would run dry. While that day came close, it never arrived.

The city plans to spend R5.8 billion over the next decade augmenting supply, because it fears the drought may have been due to climate change and dry spells will become more frequent. It’s also considering setting aside excess revenue to cushion consumers from higher costs when reservoirs run low.

"It is wise to consider the possibility of a step-change in rainfall for Cape Town," the city said in a strategy document. "Although the impact of climate change is uncertain it is prudent for Cape Town to develop plans that take this uncertainty into account."

The city plans to spend R1.65 billion on desalination plants and R1.36 billion boosting water reuse over the next 10 years, it said. Increased use of aquifers on Table Mountain is planned and more alien vegetation, which uses more water than indigenous plants, will be cleared. In total 347 million litres of new daily supply will be added, while current usage will be cut by 70 million litres by eliminating waste. Most of the water currently comes from rain-fed reservoirs.

To a certain extent the city is already tackling the problem. Water use currently stands at 743 million litres a day, down from from 1 billion litres in 2015.

While consumption has crept up as the drought eased, the city has observed a change in consumer behaviour: Showers are shorter, gardens are populated with plants suited to more arid conditions and equipment such as low-flow shower heads have been fitted.

The city conceded that the restrictions and the boosting of water costs sixfold for even minimal usage in 2018 imposed hardships on its residents.

"Looking forward, it may be more reasonable for the city, instead of its residents, to manage the financial risk of future drought-imposed restrictions," it said. "The city could do this by designing a rainless day fund, in which reserves are set aside for city use in rainless years so that the entire burden does not need to be passed on to customers."

day zero  |  drought
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