At Granger-Hunter Improvement District, we’ve always kept a finger on the pulse of water shortages around the world. The statistics are heartbreaking; according to the United Nations, 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhea associated with insufficient water supply, inadequate sanitation, water contaminated with communicable diseases, and poor hygiene.
And, in addition to the United Nations, there are many groups using new technologies to help developing countries address the underlying causes. But now, in Cape Town, we’re seeing a frightening turn that brings the water crisis closer to home.
The legislative capital of South Africa is literally running out of water, and will turn off the taps on April 22, when its reservoirs reach 13.5 percent capacity. This is a modern, developed city put on the spot by a population that doubled in the past 20 years, three years of severe drought and households still not following the limits set on water usage.
Does any of this sound familiar? What can we learn from Cape Town’s experience?
• Cape Town, like Utah, planned for the surge in population, and might have rode it through without the sort of drought you only see once in a millennium, according to climatologists. Now, at great expense, they’re scrambling to build desalination plants and exploring groundwater extraction. Are there new technologies we can put in place, such as the improvements we’re making at the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, before it becomes a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis?
• When Cape Town officials realized they would need to shut off the water, Day Zero was set at April 29. But as 46 percent of the population refuses to use only the allotted 23 gallons a day per person, according to Time magazine, the date was reset at April 22. What more can we do as households to lower our usage, before it becomes a major issue? Yes, 23 gallons a day is emergency mode, but meeting our challenge to drop your daily usage by 25 percent by 2025 will make a huge difference.
• What will happen on Day Zero? All water will quit flowing to everyone other than hospitals and clinics, stand-pipes in informal settlements and the 200 points of distribution around Cape Town where people can pick up their daily 6.6 gallons of water. We have nothing to compare to that and hopefully, we never will. But, as many communities around the world now realize, the time to act is now.