When we read about “global warming” or “water shortages” or “air quality” or GMO crops that are harmful to human consumption, we rarely feel panic.
“How real is all that?
I’m feeling fine.”
And even if a town runs out of water – as happened a few years ago in Colorado and more recently in southern California – we’ll tend to see those events as anomalies, and not necessarily as a permanent impending crisis.
“We’ve got time to adjust …
if the problem happens at all.”
I recall reading how Tuscan, Arizona’s aquifer would run dry in five years. And that was six years ago, so who knows?
Here’s a report about the first major city that is, in fact, running dry. And we could readily say,
“Well, that’s in South Africa;
our situation is far better here.”
As much as I dislike all the alarmist headlines, with the “If it bleeds, it leads” policies of media outlets, we may be wise to see some of these events as pieces of a longer term trend. And the longer we wait to address these kinds of problems, the worse the outcome and the more costly the remedy.
• • • • • • • •
‘We’re deep, deep,
deep in crisis’:
Cape Town may become 1st major
city in world to run out of water
AccuWeather staff writer
January 11, 2018
As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, residents of Cape Town, South Africa, ushered in 2018 — the start of a new year and the start of the city’s stringent new water regulations. The Level 6 restrictions came into effect to combat an unprecedented drought which threatens to make Cape Town the first major city devoid of water.
The slew of new measures include limiting individuals municipal water usage per day and threatening to impose fines on those who exceed it. They also reduce agricultural water use by 60 percent and commercial use by 45 percent, compared to pre-drought allocations.
The drought and water stress across most of South Africa follows a strong El Niño in 2015 and 2016. The weather pattern — characterized by warmer-than-normal ocean water in the equatorial Pacific — resulted in extreme heat and spells of dry weather.
Beneficial rain eventually returned in late fall for much of the country, including the drought-stricken western Cape. But according to the South Africa Water and Sanitation Department, it failed to restore the water supply in the country’s dams. They said in a November media statement …
“Instead, the levels continued
their slide week-on-week.”
Soaring temperatures in between spells of rain meant a high rate of evaporation and usage, resulting in sinking water levels in dams. Throughout December, temperatures continued to simmer, averaging 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in Cape Town. AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said:
“The average high in December for Cape Town
Is In the upper 70s, but there were 13 days in
December when the temperature rose into the
80s or higher. Unfortunately, Cape Town is in
the midst of its dry season and will continue to
have more warm days than rainy days this summer.”
As of Dec. 18, the combined level of dams supplying the city was at a mere 31 percent of capacity. At the current rate of consumption, officials warn April 29, 2018 will become Day Zero, the day the city’s taps will be turned off.
“The city of Cape Town could conceivably become the first major city in the world to run out of water, and that could happen in the next four months.” Dr. Anthony Turton, professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, told the New York Times.
“It’s not an impending crisis —
we’re deep, deep, deep in crisis.”
In addition to enforcing restrictions, the government has signposted water conservation notices throughout the city. Restrooms and airports are plastered with posters, reading “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” and “Slow the flow: Save H20.”
But not everyone is making a concerted effort, Cape Town resident and travel blogger Kerry Kopke told AccuWeather …
“The problem is that water saving is a shared
collective responsibility relying on trust that
everyone will do their bit to conserve water, but
we are all acting as individuals. How do you
actually know what your friend, family or neigh-
bor is doing to save water on a day-to-day basis.”
The peak of tourist season further complicates the problem. Tourism accounts for more than 9 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product. Though not all of it comes from Cape Town, it’s a significant part of the equation. Many have called on the government to do more to stress the importance of conservation, but educating potential visitors without discouraging them from coming is a tough balance to strike.
Airlines arriving in Cape Town have been asked to make announcements about the drought upon landing, but according to the city’s executive mayor Patricia de Lille, it can’t be enforced. Kopke said …
“[Tourists] may have heard about [the drought]
but they don’t realise how severe the crisis
is and that the onus is also on them to save
water. But think about it. If you were coming
on a holiday to an amazing international
destination, having spent thousands of
dollars of your hard-earned money to get
there, would you really want to stand in a
shower for two minutes with a bucket under
you and use that bucket to flush the toilet?”
• • • • • • • •
Reading this report, you’d have to ask whether or not this condition is permanent or a short-term anomaly. And you’d need to ask if this could happen where you live. However, an alternative approach might be:
“What could I do now, in case a
water shortage were to hit me? And
how much would it cost me to do that?
For example, the Hampton Roads area – southeastern Virginia – does periodically suffer from water shortages. A proposal for a second dam and reservoir, costing a few billion dollars, was defeated – largely on environmental grounds. And we’ve enjoyed a reasonable amount of rainfall. However …
In our Garden Atrium sustainable community development, we provided each home with a cistern. The metal roofs are free of particles that clog a system. And the rain goes into gutters and then downspouts. But instead of going out onto the ground, the rain goes into a cistern. For homes, 95% of the water use is non-potable … toilets and hose bibs. The cost for the installation is about $5,000 per home, which is about $21 on a mortgage. Most homes have a water bill of around $90, where ours are under $4.
So … in addition to providing water conservation – always nice to contribute to the “public welfare” – we save money the very first month! Isn’t that a more positive approach to addressing potential problems?