Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ pushed back amid decline in agricultural water use

Updated 1:51 PM EST, Mon February 5, 2018
Residents fill containers with water at a source for natural spring water in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. South Africa's drought-hit city of Cape Town plans to introduce new water restrictions on Thursday in an attempt to avoid what it calls "Day Zero," the day in mid-April when it might have to turn off most taps. Residents will be asked to use no more than 50 liters of water daily, down from the current limit of 87 liters. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)
Halden Krog/AP
Residents fill containers with water at a source for natural spring water in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. South Africa's drought-hit city of Cape Town plans to introduce new water restrictions on Thursday in an attempt to avoid what it calls "Day Zero," the day in mid-April when it might have to turn off most taps. Residents will be asked to use no more than 50 liters of water daily, down from the current limit of 87 liters. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)
Now playing
01:16
This major city is running out of water
CNN
Now playing
02:12
'Too dangerous to do anymore': Sacha Baron Cohen on Borat
John Avlon 0413 Wallace
CNN
John Avlon 0413 Wallace
Now playing
03:31
Avlon compares Tucker Carlson's comments to George Wallace
screengrab hong kong oscars
IMDB / Field of Vision
screengrab hong kong oscars
Now playing
02:50
Hong Kong won't air Oscars for the first time since 1968
Now playing
01:27
See the first community of 3D-printed homes
Now playing
05:18
Anderson Cooper explains how he overcomes being shy
Burlington, MA Headquarters
Nuance
Burlington, MA Headquarters
Now playing
01:34
Microsoft to buy AI company Nuance
Now playing
02:50
Sleep doctor tells Anderson Cooper how long a power nap should be
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing about the quarterly CARES Act report on Capitol Hill December 1, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also testified at the hearing. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)
Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing about the quarterly CARES Act report on Capitol Hill December 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also testified at the hearing. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:06
Fed chief: The economy is about to grow more quickly
Christopher Hamilton
Now playing
01:01
Volcanologist shares what he prefers to cook on lava flows
"Saturday Night Live" / NBC
Now playing
01:47
'SNL' sees Minnesota news anchors take on the Derek Chauvin trial
Now playing
02:23
Pubs in England reopen after months of lockdown
DORAL, FLORIDA - AUGUST 27:  A Trump National Doral sign is seen at the golf resort owned by U.S. President Donald Trump's company on August 27, 2019 in Doral, Florida. President Trump said the United States may host the next G7 gathering at the golf resort. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
DORAL, FLORIDA - AUGUST 27: A Trump National Doral sign is seen at the golf resort owned by U.S. President Donald Trump's company on August 27, 2019 in Doral, Florida. President Trump said the United States may host the next G7 gathering at the golf resort. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:46
'That is obviously false': CNN reporter on Trump supporter's attempt to rewrite history
Now playing
03:35
Why CrossFit CEO wants gyms included in infrastructure bill
Now playing
03:25
Camerota gives advice to Blackwell before they start new anchor roles
Fox News/Twitter
Now playing
01:33
ADL wants Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson over racist comments
(CNN) —  

Cape Town officials pushed back their projections for “Day Zero” – the day the South African city’s taps are expected to run dry – from April 16 to May 11, citing a decline in agricultural water use.

Executive Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson said in a statement on Monday that the agricultural sector, which uses the same supply system the city draws its water from, has used its allotment, resulting in a drop over the coming weeks.

Neilson added that the fall did not signal an end to restrictions for residents of the nation’s second most-populous city.

“Capetonians must continue reducing consumption if we are to avoid Day Zero. There has not been any significant decline in urban usage. All Capetonians must therefore continue to use no more than 50 liters (around 13 gallons) per person per day to help stretch our dwindling supplies,” the executive deputy mayor added.

New emergency water restrictions went into effect last week for the city that once was considered to be at the forefront of Africa’s green movement. Only a month ago, level six restrictions had placed residents on a daily allowance of 87 liters (about 23 gallons), illustrating the severity of the crisis.

Defeat Day Zero

Experts are keeping a close eye on daily consumption in a desperate bid to avoid the disaster, warning residents tempted to ignore measures that they face fines and the installation of water-management meters if they do not comply.

The movement of Day Zero to mid-May offers Capetonians some hope as historically, the rainy season should have arrived by then.

“This is a welcome decline in water usage and gives Cape Town and some of the other municipalities hope but importantly, we need to get our consumption down to 450 million litres per day to prevent the remaining water supplies running out before the arrival of winter rains. We cannot accurately predict the volume of rainfall still to come, or when it will come,” Neilson said.

A slow-burning catastrophe

Typically, winter cold fronts driven by strong westerly winds bring replenishing rains to Cape Town. But the past few years have been anything but typical.

“An expansive area of high pressure situated in the Atlantic Ocean is acting as a barrier to these weather systems,” CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam says. “As this high-pressure system strengthens and expands, it pushes rainfall away from the Western Cape.”

Judson Jones/CNN

This area of high pressure has been unusually strong over the past three years and the result has been three years of drought, including their two driest years on record in 2015 and 2017. This increase in drought frequency and severity is an expected consequence of a warming planet.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report, long-term climate models indicate a significant drying trend will continue across western portions of South Africa, possibly reducing annual rainfall by up to 40%.

Residents queue to fill water containers in Cape Town on Friday.
Bram Janssen/AP
Residents queue to fill water containers in Cape Town on Friday.

The city is now working to upgrade its water systems – rushing to build desalination, aquifer and water-recycling projects – and help stretch the current supply. But officials say residents also need to step up. Only an estimated 55% of the city’s residents are actually sticking to their allotted water per day, according to last week’s figures.

But residents say they are already struggling to keep with existing restrictions. Photographer Melissa Delport, who lives in Seapoint, Cape Town, is one of those who has been queuing at a local natural spring to collect water.

“We have reduced showers to twice a week and we shower in buckets with a face cloth,” she told CNN. “We are reusing water where we can and using gray water to flush the toilet.”

“I am privileged enough to have a car and drive to natural springs coming off the mountain to go and catch water in drums,” Delport said.

“Although there are queues it could be worse. Many of the poorer communities have it much worse and have for a long time.”

What happens if ‘Day Zero’ comes?

Last week, satellite images showed Theewaterskloof Dam, Cape Town’s largest reservoir, at dangerously low levels. Accounting for over half of all water in the region’s dam system, it offered a glimpse into the extent of the deepening problem.

Should the government declare “Day Zero” has arrived, faucets will cease to deliver water until the skies open and rain falls.

On this day, residents will be further rationed to just 25 liters (6.6 gallons), which they will be able to collect only from one of 200 stations. To put that into perspective, each collection point will have to accommodate the water needs of 20,000 Capetonians.

Key institutions – such as schools and hospitals – are expected to continue receiving water, according to officials, who have said contingency plans have been made.

But questions dominate everyday conversation around the city’s wider strategy for the general population, which authorities are yet to publicly outline. Given this stark outlook, there are concerns neighbors could turn on each other and fears of unrest erupting the longer the crisis continues.

CNN’s Judson Jones contributed to this report.