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Cape Town is still running out of water, just not as fast as the city thought it would

By Zoë Schlanger
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Cape Town announced on Feb. 21 that it would be pushing back its dreaded “Day Zero” by a month, from June 4 to July 9, thanks to a lesser-than-expected drop in water levels over the preceding week.

The reservoirs that feed the city (also called “dams”) lost 0.5% of their capacity in the week ending Feb. 19, the city announced, compared to 1.9% over this same one-week period in 2014, the year before the current drought officially began. That leaves the city’s reservoirs at 24.1% of capacity as of Feb. 23, according to the city. The bottom 10% of water in any reservoir is considered unusable, so in practical terms, of the city’s total water capacity, only 14.1% is available for use.

That’s better than expected, but still way, way less than the volume of water the city has in a normal year.

The revised Day-Zero date suggests Cape Town’s recent measure to restrict residents down to 50 liters (13 gallons) of water per day, considered by experts to be the bare minimum for sanitation and survival, seems to be working. The city as a whole was using an average of 523 megaliters per day as of Feb. 20 (one megaliter is the equivalent of 1 million liters). That’s way down from the 1,130 megaliters used per day in 2014, but still short of the 420 megaliters the city was hoping for, News24 reported.

The July 9 date reflects a projection of current water use; it may be pushed back farther if city residents continue to take water conservation measures.

Update: The post has been updated to clarify what portion of the city’s remaining water is available for use.

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