Cape Town’s water restrictions now limit residents to absolute minimum needed for survival

Restrictions on water are getting tighter in Cape Town, so residents are flocking to natural springs.
Restrictions on water are getting tighter in Cape Town, so residents are flocking to natural springs.
Image: AP Photo/Bram Janssen
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Cape Town is trying to make a little bit of water go a long way. Its reservoirs are down to 26% of capacity and falling; if water levels hit 13.5%, the city will cut off the taps. Right now, it expects to reach the “Day Zero” threshold on April 12, less than two and a half months away.

To nudge that date back farther, the city introduced new water restrictions on Thursday (Feb. 1), limiting individual use to 50 liters (about 13 gallons) per day. (According to WWF, only about 39% of Cape Town residents were actually adhering to water restrictions as of mid-January, which were previously set at 87 liters per day per person.)

According to Peter Gleick, a US-based water and climate analyst, 50 liters per day is the absolute minimum amount of water needed for people to continue daily life, without increasing the risk of waterborne illness. In a report published in 1996 (pdf), Gleick determined the “basic water requirements” for human life to break down as follows:

  • Minimum of 3 liters per day for drinking
  • 20 liters per day for sanitation (flushing toilets)
  • 15 liters per day for bathing
  • 10 liters per day for cooking food and cleaning dishes

50 liters is just enough, but that could be soon cut in half

After “Day Zero,” Cape Town plans to open 200 water-collection points to serve the city of 4 million, and restrict use to 25 liters per day per person, half the current restriction. The water points will be guarded by national police and military.

Water-security state

The city said it would deploy 24-hour security forces to a natural spring in a residential neighborhood starting on Thursday, after a physical fight broke out there. Cape Town residents have been flocking to the spring in the Newlands neighborhood as a means to supplement their water supply without going over the tap water limits. Natural springs are not part of the municipal water system and therefore not subject to restrictions.

Another popular natural spring is already patrolled by private security guards, according to the Associated Press.