Water supplies in the City of Cape Town, South Africa are now at critical levels. This image of the Theeswaterskloof Dam, the main supplier of water to the city, was taken on Oct. 15, 2017. Photo: Charles HB Mercer

The South African city of Cape Town has been enduring a series of drought situations for the last three years, now amounting to the worst one in their history.

The city has just over 90 days’ worth of water left before the municipal water supply will be forced to turn off for all non-essential services – an event being referred to as “Day Zero.”

As of now, April 21, 2018 will become Day Zero. Unless drastic changes are made to conserve water among residents, Cape Town will become the world’s first major city to run out of water.  

Mayor Patricia de Lille and fellow city officials have been providing weekly updates on the situation, along with revised restrictions on household water usage for the city’s 3.7 million residents.

A Jan. 17 statement noted that the majority of Capetonians (60 percent) aren’t saving enough water to avoid the Day Zero occurrence, causing Mayor de Lille to express frustration and potentially impose penalties against those refusing to adhere to the restrictions.

“It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero. At this point we must assume that they will not change their behavior and that the chance of reaching Day Zero on April 21, 2018 is now very likely,” the statement reads.

Residents were urged to use no more than 87 liters per day, which 54 percent of the population was doing the first week of January. However, the week of Jan. 8, the number dropped to just 39 percent of residents.

Dam levels also dipped to 28.7 percent the week of Jan. 8 – marking a one percent drop from the week prior. Once the dams reach a capacity of 13.5 percent, the city will have officially reached Day Zero.

On Friday, Jan. 19, the city council will vote on a punitive tariff that will charge residents “exponentially higher rates for water usage above 6,000 liters per month.”

For example, if a household uses 10,500 liters of water per month, the current tariff is R109.50. But that will jump to R390.82 under the new proposed tariff (a provision will be made for households larger than four people to ensure that they are not unfairly penalized).

Families must apply to increase their water quota if they feel they can justify needing more than the designated allotment.

Businesses and organizations are required to reduce their water use by 45 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2015 (pre-drought), and agricultural users by 60 percent.

Day Zero is re-calculated each week based on the dam water capacity and residents’ daily water consumption. The Jan. 8 report moved up the Day Zero date from April 29 to April 21 as a result of the increase in daily water usage.

Cape Town has now issued level 6B restrictions to go into effect as of Feb. 1, which include 50 liters or less of water per person per day, for the next 150 days. For reference, an individual uses about 15 liters per minute for an average shower, or when flushing a standard toilet, according to WaterWise.

To ensure they meet these usage restrictions, the city recommends residents take two-minute showers, only flush their toilets when absolutely necessary, recycle bathing water if possible, and refrain from washing vehicles or gardening.

According to one of the official statements, the city has implemented seven augmentation projects that are set to produce about 200 million liters per day. But these projects alone are still not enough to prevent Day Zero.

“These projects, however, will only ensure water security in the long run and we cannot relax our water saving efforts for one day. We must stay committed to saving water. It is the only way Cape Town can avoid Day Zero,” the statement reads.

If Day Zero hits, residents would have to line up at one of 200 locations to receive 25 liters of water per day.

Capetown is part of the Western Cape Water Supply Scheme. The region has experienced a serious lack of rainfall for the last three years. A few factors have received blame for the severe drought conditions, including the 2015 El Niño weather pattern, as well as a growing urban population and climate change.