Cape Town’s Day Zero is Looming

Even though many Capetonians have been saving water for more than a year, as of the start of this month (1st February 2018) Cape Town’s water restrictions have been raised to Level 6b. This means that our water consumption per person per day should not exceed 50 litres in total.

In our house, we have been at this level for a while now and I can vouch that it is very doable. So what can we do with 50 litres of water?

50 l pppd

How did we get here?

Although I don’t want to get into a finger-pointing game, it is important to understand the backdrop of this unprecedented water crisis in a city the size of Cape Town.

Cape Town’s average annual rainfall is around 520 mm with the highest rainfall occurring during our winter period (May-August). For three consecutive years (2015-17), we have experienced severe droughts with a below average rainfall of 327, 221, 154 mm respectively (see graph below).

Rainfall 2015-17 graph

At the same time, the City’s population has grown from about 2.89 million in 2001 to an estimated 4 million in 2016. A massive increase of nearly 40% in just 15 years, putting a huge pressure on our resources and in particular water.

Timely investment in alternative water sources, such as groundwater abstraction, desalination and utilisation of natural springs, did not happen till now. This had major implications for what is often referred to as the Hydraulic Density of Population (HDP), the direct relationship between human population, water availability and social cohesion and a key indicator of sustainability.

Dam levels

The Western Cape relies heavily on six major dams for water storage, supplying the City of Cape Town (55%), smaller urban areas in the region (6%) as well as agriculture (39%).

HDP has led to our dams not refilling to the required 100% after the winter periods of 2015-17. At the start of February 2018, the combined capacity of the six major dams was a measly 25.8%. Remember that the last 10% of the water is considered to be difficult to abstract and will only occur under crisis conditions.

Day Zero

Day Zero will take effect when the dam levels reach 13.5% and this is currently set for the 16th April 2018 (update: Day Zero is pushed back to 9th July 2018). On this day, the taps will be turned off in most of Cape Town’s residential areas. The densely populated informal settlements and the CBD will stay connected.

From Day Zero, Capetonians will need to collect their daily personal ration of 25 litres of potable water at about 200 collection points around the City.

Dam levels

The Day Zero can be pushed back, especially considering that most agricultural boards requested their water allocation early in the year and will be cut off soon (some have already been cut off).

Collectively, we can help by keeping our residential water consumption below 50 l pppd and there are lots of online platforms with hints and tips on how to adjust our habits to save water.

Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town is working hard on the implementation of various augmentation projects, including desalination and groundwater abstraction, to avoid Day Zero.

Tourism Industry

The current water crisis and the looming Day Zero has major implications for the tourism industry, an industry that makes significant contributions to our GDP and job creation. Hence, closing shop is not an option, but business as usual is not feasible either.

To encourage engagement and discussion between the various tourism stakeholders, last Friday (02/02/2018) the first Cape Town JAMMS took place. This brought together representatives from Cape Town Tourism, FEDHASA Cape, SAACI Western Cape, SATSA Western Cape, City of Cape Town, Western Cape Government, and South African Tourism, as well as about 500 people from within the industry.

The meeting provided an excellent platform for the various stakeholders to provide necessary information on the water crisis and many questions were taken from the floor.

“The world is watching while Cape Town is going through this water crisis”, says Sisa Ntshona (CEO SA Tourism). “International media is reporting widely on the topic and some have been rather sensationalist. Doing nothing is not an option.”

We need to take charge of prompt and correct communication to avoid mass panic and cancellations. Wesgro is already in the process of compiling a comprehensive FAQ list for tourists and trade and has also been sending out messages to tourism partners worldwide on what to expect.

Business as usual gets a little harder everyday, but together we can avoid Day Zero.

Day Zero


  • Excellent, objective article Louise! If we pull together as one we will avoid DZ, but cycling round Constantia, there are still people behind their fortresses, with irrigation systems still operating automatically – it may be borehole water, but groundwater is a NATIONAL ASSET……….it is for everyone. People must start gardening for African conditions. Ferndale Nursery is doing a roaring trade still – and what are the dominant plants on offer? Succulents. Well done!

    • I fully agree Carol, people are still irresponsible with the use of borehole water. Interestingly the Director of Water and Sanitation for the City stated at the JAMMS meeting that there are now restrictions on borehole use outside of the house. People can ONLY irrigate their gardens twice a week for 1 hour. Whether the enforcement will work is another question, but we can at least legitimately put civil pressure on these people.

  • In January we did 50L pp pd.
    Now I am aiming at #40ForFood in gratitude for agricultural irrigation diverting to city taps.

    • Good for you Diana ❤ I wish more people thought the same way. We are also trying to now go below the 50 l pppd. It's funny how you realise that it's not so much about water saving tricks, but more about changing personal habits….

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