In my city of Cape Town, there is only one topic of conversation: water

Updated 2:37 PM EDT, Sun March 11, 2018
People queue to collect water from a natural spring in Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, Jan 22, 2018 as the city suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history. Officials are looking to combat the drought, saying it was looking more likely that it will have to turn off most taps on "Day Zero," or April 21 stating that 60 percent of residents are "callously" using more than the current limit and that the city will fine households that use too much water. (AP Photo/Anwa Essop)
Anwa Essop/AP
People queue to collect water from a natural spring in Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, Jan 22, 2018 as the city suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history. Officials are looking to combat the drought, saying it was looking more likely that it will have to turn off most taps on "Day Zero," or April 21 stating that 60 percent of residents are "callously" using more than the current limit and that the city will fine households that use too much water. (AP Photo/Anwa Essop)
Now playing
01:16
This major city is running out of water
CNN
Now playing
03:29
Meet teen climate activist Greta Thunberg
Shutterstock
Now playing
01:13
What you can actually do to slow the climate crisis
Now playing
02:30
The Road to Change: America's Climate Crisis
Now playing
03:18
Climate crisis in Alaska is impacting the entire world
faces of climate change orig nws_00005521.jpg
faces of climate change orig nws_00005521.jpg
Now playing
01:46
How climate change is changing lives
climate change 97 percent consensus orig_00005513.jpg
climate change 97 percent consensus orig_00005513.jpg
Now playing
02:29
Scientists agree: Climate change is man-made
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Now playing
03:28
See how candidates stood out in 7 hours of climate talk
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in a climate crisis town hall hosted by CNN in New York on September 4, 2019.
Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in a climate crisis town hall hosted by CNN in New York on September 4, 2019.
Now playing
01:51
Warren: Where Trump is right now is a nightmare
CNN
Now playing
02:41
Biden: Military warned us of climate crisis danger
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Now playing
01:46
Sanders: Trump's stance on climate change is idiotic
CNN
Now playing
02:03
Harris on Trump: Lead or get out of the way
CNN
Now playing
00:56
Yang: You know what's expensive? Poisoning our kids
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Now playing
01:54
O'Rourke: We need to support the people of Puerto Rico
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
Now playing
01:25
Pete Buttigieg: I would ask Trump to step aside
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in a climate crisis town hall hosted by CNN in New York on September 4, 2019.
Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in a climate crisis town hall hosted by CNN in New York on September 4, 2019.
Now playing
02:25
Warren: This is what fossil fuel wants us talking about
julian castro 9.4
CNN
julian castro 9.4
Now playing
03:23
Student calls out Julian Castro's record on fracking

Editor’s Note: Cape Town is enduring the worst water crisis to face a modern city, and its officials project it may run out of water next year, if not sooner. This is the first installment in Cape Town Diary, a series exploring how Cape Town’s water crisis is affecting the daily life of its residents. Raymond Joseph is a freelance journalist living and working in Cape Town. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

CNN —  

Popping into my local supermarket in Cape Town a few days ago, I noticed something I’d never seen before – a long line of people queuing out the door. A woman in the queue told me they were waiting for a delivery of bottled water, as the store had run out of it earlier in the day.

A few minutes later, I watched as workers wheeled out pallets stacked high with five-liter bottles of water. Suddenly, pandemonium broke out as people pushed, shoved and argued in their rush to pack shopping trolleys with as many bottles as possible.

Sadly, this is nothing new. On Wednesday, a fight broke out on a quiet suburban road where one of several natural springs bubbles to the surface.

Those in the know have collected free water from these springs for years, but now these once-quiet spots are overrun with people converging from all over the city throughout the day and night. Tempers are frayed and arguments regularly ensue, forcing the city to post metro police at the various springs to keep the peace.

Raymond Joseph
Kim Harrisberg
Raymond Joseph

Welcome to Cape Town 2018, where the dams that feed the city are at an all-time low after three successive years of far below-average rainfall. Cape Town is a winter rainfall area, and the earliest we can expect heavy rain is late April – assuming, and this is a big assumption, that normal rainfall returns after several years without.

Not surprisingly, everywhere you go in the city, there is just one topic of conversation: water. With authorities estimating that Cape Town could be just 75 days away from becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water, websites and Facebook pages like this one have mushroomed. A common theme is tips and hints on saving water and posts by MacGyver-types with innovative ideas and inventions.

And the ante has just been upped: Beginning February 1, the local authority introduced the most severe water restrictions yet in Cape Town’s long history. Households are now restricted to 13.2 gallons (50 liters) per person, down from the previous limit of just under 23 gallons (87 liters) a day. With a total ban on watering of gardens and washing of cars, the daily ration must cover bathing or showering, clothes washing, flushing toilets, brushing teeth, washing hair, cooking, as well as drinking water for people and their pets.