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CAPE TOWN — Bob Dylan certainly wasn’t thinking of Cape Town or drought when he sang A Hard Rain’s A- gonna Fall, though he might well have thrown global warming into that foreboding piece. No, the kind of hard rain Cape Town’s talking about right now is positive precipitation – and if it continues for a mere three winters, Bob’s metaphorical rain ain’t gonna fall and the Mother City will avoid the much-touted Day Zero. Premier Helen Zille used her Dylanesque skills to paint a bleak picture of what Day Zero would look like with traffic jams and long agitated queues at water distribution points. That and a City PR campaign pushing that very real possibility turned Cape Town into one of the world’s leading water saving metropoles, though the citizenry is still consuming 70 million (expensive) litres a day more than their City Fathers’ want. The rising dam levels are cause for celebration but the heavy rain is intermittent and could just as easily become more so, prompting authorities to keep the car-washing and garden-irrigation curbs strongly in place. The roof-water tank and bottled water industry’s record sales are tapering off while plumbers are working their butts off connecting roof tanks to hot water systems and toilets. – Chris Bateman
The six main dams supplying the city are at 38.1 percent of capacity, compared with 31.8 percent a week earlier and just 23 percent a year ago, the city said on its website on Monday. Cape Town’s 4 million residents are using 520 million litres (137 million gallons) a day, above the target of 450 million litres.
City authorities warned earlier this year that they may be forced to switch off the taps and residents would have to collect a daily ration of 25 litres of water from distribution points unless the three-year drought broke and consumption was curtailed.
While water cuts are no longer on the table, the authorities say three years of above-average rainfall are needed to adequately replenish the dams and have maintained strict curbs on usage, including bans on using potable water to irrigate gardens and wash cars. At this point in 2014, the dams were 93 percent full.
“The city of Cape Town urges all of its residents to keep on saving even if it is raining,” Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson said in an emailed statement. “It is too soon to know what supply level is needed in order to safely navigate the summer of 2019. It is therefore critical that we continue to keep our consumption low.”
The rain and cooler temperatures are good for the wine grape and citrus crops and have been a boon for farmers in the Western Cape province, who have been hard hit by the drought, according to Carl Opperman, the chief executive officer of Agri Western Cape, a farmers’ group. Before the drought, the industry employed about 800,000 people in the region.
“Our biggest challenge now is to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the drought, especially the 70,000 to 80,000 jobs that were lost due to the fall in production,” Opperman said by phone from Cape Town, the provincial capital.
Alan Winde, the provincial minister of economic opportunities, said there had been fewer job losses than anticipated this year, as farmers found alternative work for their employees and adapted to having less water by investing in new technology and changing and diversifying their crops.
“Some areas of the province and certain crops also performed better than expected, and millions of rand in government drought aid was distributed to ensure that livestock farmers were able to remain on their farms and continue farming,” he said in an emailed response to questions.
Cape Town scraps desalination barge plan as water crisis eases
South Africa’s second-biggest city will continue implementing other projects to ensure taps don’t run dry, including curtailing usage by reducing the water pressure and tapping underground aquifers, said Xanthea Limberg, the mayoral committee member for water and waste services.
“Although dam levels have improved, we need to be sure that we can safely navigate the summer of 2019 and this will only be possible once we know where we stand at the end of this winter rainfall season,” she said in an emailed response to questions.
The six main dams supplying Cape Town are at 39.1 percent of capacity, compared with 23 percent a year ago, the city said on its website on Tuesday. At this stage in 2014, the dams were more than 90 percent full. While the authorities warned earlier this year that they may be forced to switch off the taps and residents would have to collect a daily ration from distribution points, that risk has abated.
The city has commissioned three temporary small-scale desalination plants, which are nearing completion, to augment the water supply and is weighing whether to build permanent desalination and recycling facilities that will have have much bigger output.
“Much experience has been gained over the past year through the development of the various projects,” Limberg said. “Temporary desalination and re-use should not be pursued further as emergency solutions, as this is not affordable and rarely provides the promised volumes of water. For future resilience, permanent desalination and water re-use are recommended as alternative sources of water to add to ground and surface water supply sources.”