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Climate Bellwether? With Cape Town Almost Out of Water, "Day Zero" Looms

Climate Bellwether? With Cape Town Almost Out of Water, "Day Zero" Looms

Published on
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Edit News Climate Bellwether? Cape Town's Looming "Day Zero"—When City Is Out of Water—Looms

In less than three months, residents in South African city could be lining up for rationed water under armed guards. "Is this the new normal?"

Tree trunks stand in the critically low Theewaterskloof Dam in Villiersdorp, South Africa, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

Tree trunks stand in the critically low Theewaterskloof Dam in Villiersdorp, South Africa, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

For residents of Cape Town, "Day Zero" is getting closer.

That's the day when taps in the drought-stricken coastal South African city are projected run dry, and its residents would be forced to head to police-guarded distribution sites to obtain their daily ration of water.

"Anyone who works in climate change knows that we've given lots of quite doomsday-esque scenarios in the last two decades. This is the first one which I've really seen come true."
—climatologist Simon Gear
The city warned last week that the day was "now likely to happen." And on Monday, the city, citing a drop in dam levels, moved the projected day up from April 22 to April 12.

"We have reached a point of no return," Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said last week announcing tightened water restrictions for the city's 4 million residents. Starting Feb. 1, residents face a 50 liter per day limit (13.2 gallons). [For comparison, Americans' daily home use is 88 gallons of water, the EPA says.]

When Day Zero hits, the limit will be 25 liters per day, to be collected at one of 200 water collection points. Agence France-Presse reports: "With about 5,000 families for each water collection point, the police and army are ready to be deployed to prevent unrest in the lines."

USA Today, however, reported that "Each collection point will accommodate around 20,000 people per day."

Cape Town is being described as the first major city in the developed world that would run out of water.

Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), tweeted Wednesday of the looming day, "Is this the new normal?"

In a Bloomberg op-ed subtitled "Cape Town offers a grim preview for the rest of the world," columnist Mihir Sharma suggests that it is. "Cape Town's battle to keep its water taps running," Sharma writes, "should also serve as a warning."

Environmental scientist and climatologist Simon Gear told CBC Radio's Anna Maria Tremonti, "Anyone who works in climate change knows that we've given lots of quite doomsday-esque scenarios in the last two decades. This is the first one which I've really seen come true."

"Eventually," writes meteorologist Bob Henson,

the winter rains will arrive, and the reservoirs will most likely be up and running for at least another few months—thus buying some much-needed time to develop other water supply options. The region's water crisis may be far from over, though, especially if the winter rains are once again lackluster.

That's in part because, as climate scientist Peter Johnston told CBS News, Cape Town is forecast to become warmer, and "That increase in temperature is going to increase evaporation. Increased evaporation is going to mean that there is less water that's available for our use."

Henson adds:

Increased development and rising temperatures are going to add to the impacts when drought does occur, regardless of how rainfall evolves in a warming world. If nothing else, Cape Town's predicament reminds us that we ought to bolster our urban water supplies with extra buffers—from beefed-up conservation to back-up sources—as much as possible, and as soon as possible. In a nonstationary climate, past weather performance is no guarantee of future results.

As Cape Town resident Mohammed Allie of the BBC notes, "Without water there cannot be life."

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I have been reading about this for some time now. And Sanaa is suffering the same problem but from war induced activity. Where I live in Spain too we are experiencing water shortages with restrictions to agriculture. Some villages have been abandoned due to lack of water. Many articles about this in the local and national papers.


Easter Island should have been our first warning.


Either new desalinization technology is invented, or water wars are on the horizon.

And judging by the way technology got us into this mess in the first place, color me a pessimist.

A word to anyone in the desert southwest who wants to build a pipeline from Chicago to Phoenix: Hell naw.


The way warnings are being ignored now it will probably be the last.

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Yes, Like I have said many times unfortunately, until some major climate devastation that kills millions of people world wide, that is caused undeniably, by climate change I cannot see much hope unless we get rid of fossil fuels…NOW!

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Here is the desert southwest we still are not paying attention. I moved from Phx a year ago, while I was there I watched a charter school across the street from me wash down their sidewalks every so often to keep them clean. I always what to go over and ask if they expected the concrete to grow but never did. Someday they will wish they had that water to drink. Stupid is as stupid does.

Dustbowl time, party down while you can cuz your gonna die.


Both Arizona and New Mexico have over used the water for over a hundred years and the bill is coming due. Same in Southern California that has been stealing everyone’s water. People in Porterville have the most dry wells in the state which is saying something.


Of Water and Hope

Soon enough
the lines for water
will subside

Soon enough the sand
will seep
into the kitchen

Soon enough no martial
law will be needed
to keep peace

in the water lines
the thirsty
will stay home

until they are gone
and dark birds

shadows over the towns
like plague villages

by ravens
and buzzards
and that oven smell

sweet and sick.
we want hope

a song
with little lakes
and just

the sound of wind
but the leaves
are fallen

and refugees
are not counted
between wells

between rain
between Anasazi
and Maya.

around the shrinking ponds
we snort

and put aside

too late.


Music for the sadness beyond words, for the death of this our one sweet earth:


Hhhmmm — Again, as usual, no mention at all of the root cause of the problem:  GROSS Overpopulation.  In this particular case, way too many people have been using way too much water for way too long – and it’s only going to get worse (see https://www.commondreams.org/further/2018/01/23/both-cruel-and-stupid-againstill ).


I am going to watch Al Gore’s DVD “An Inconvenient Sequel” - again tonight !

His humanity and decency are front and center, and I am beginning to understand that it was always a mistake to try and explain the science.

And I am also coming round to thinking that the economy - a real economy - is the solution to all of our woes, and that includes the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis.

We do not have a real economy - what we have is “chase the money - zero sum game - winner take all”.

A real economy - as outlined by Herman Daly and Wendell Berry (“What Matters”), is what we need and have never had.

I am not sure what this new economy would look like.

Right now everything seems to be financialization - basically a racket for the rich and the wanna be rich.

Mostly we need honest people in charge.

If we had that, even small c conservatism would work.

Without honest leaders, there is no hope whatsoever, no matter what we say or do.

This is a hard nut to crack - getting honesty on board this train.

Just as it seems to have been a mistake to think complex science could be explained - so it may be that pinning one’s hopes on a steady state economy, or some variation, is equally foolish without a way to get responsible leadership in politics.

What do you think of these ideas Giovanna ?

I have invented better solar-based desalinization technology.

To be accurate, I have a good number of separate innovations that, as near as I can calculate, are all cost-efficient. It’s possible that one or even two of my innovations don’t work, in which case just keep the ten that work. At least one of the innovations is patented, U.S. Patent #8823197. If you send a stream of moisture-laden air up a diagonal air tube on the side of a mountain, you’re going to see some natural condensation within the air tube, and you’re going to be able to generate electricity with the latent heat in the water vapor. At the top of the tube you can wring out the rest of the water from the airstream, but elevation change is really productive in this engineering work.

The problem is, 0.00000% of the world’s available development money is available to solve the problem. In contrast, the U.S. has no trouble spending half a trillion dollars a year solving the war problem in the Mideast to its satisfaction. “Are we there yet?”

I guess we’ll all just have to hide at the bottom of our dry wells and whimper. Actually doing stuff and succeeding at keeping our great-grandchildren alive and not starving to death is just not done, is unfashionable, is unhip, just doesn’t stack up to a day of binge-watching Game of Thrones.

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I’m not ready for a requiem for our species or our planet, even a lovely one such as this which is way to passive for me and that has cheezy accompanying photos.

If you just got to have a requiem, try Verdi’s. Nothing resigned about it not even in the 'Pie Jesus."

Have you been talking with the South Africans, with the NGOs working on water and poverty issues? Is this technology something that local people can get a low price and assemble themselves? I wish you the best of success with that. It would be a great boon to beautiful Cape Town and the rest of the world.

The recent cold wave that hit the US was found not to be related to climate change but this might be. Weather it is or not it would be smart to heed the forecasts that longer droughts are ahead as the global warming increases. We are only at about 1.1C now and we are seeing many effects, particularly in the polar regions. And there was just a report that avalanches from glaciers are becoming more dangerous because of climate change. We need action on the global level but all of can work in our local communities to move things along. All the tons of avoided emissions can add up. Just one car using 100 gallons of gasoline emits a ton of carbon dioxide. There is a lot we can do.

In the LA area water is still wasted by the gallons every day just in my neighborhood. And two weeks ago when we had a good rain millions of gallons ran into the ocean. Some of it could be captured. Lie Ditton said “stupid is as stupid does”.

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I think most of the effort is conservation but there are efforts for rainwater harvesting.

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Capetown is SURROUNDED by the sea. Why not build several desalinization plants? Maybe they can’t afford it?

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For those optimistic about the future of the earth, give me one, just one, trend that gives hope that life on earth isn’t dying. Just one.

Tell me soil is being regenerated
Tell me forests are growing back
Tell me water tables are recovering
Tell me krill are increasing in numbers
Tell me coral is growing back
Tell me fish numbers are increasing
Tell me regenerative agriculture is overtaking pesticide agriculture
Tell me ocean dead zones are diminishing in size
Tell me insect numbers are increasing
Tell me soil microorganisms are recovering their number
Tell me the number of wild animals is increasing
Tell me that species are no longer going extinct at the rate of 200 species a day

These are the indications that life on earth in its myriad irreplaceable iterations is dying.

Optimism is an opiate. There is nothing to be optimistic about regarding the survival of life on earth. Graham Greene has a quote something like this:

“Optimism is like a leper that’s wandered into your village, except he’s forgotten to wear his bell, and all he wants to do is love you”.