It Can Happen Anywhere: Cape Town Is a City About to Run Out of Water

In January of 2015 I wrote about the California drought “What Have We Learned About the California Drought Since 2009?”  In my post, I highlighted how California and the world is facing a “water crisis” and how “common sense sustainability” must be employed to solve the water crisis.  I updated this post several times, and in July 2016, in “Who says history does not repeat itself?,” I pointed out how almost forty years ago in 1977, during his first term as governor, Brown called for a similar voluntary 25% reduction in water use amid a two-year drought.  Droughts and the water crisis are not a passing fad…and it is not localized to one state or country.

1977 Brown in LA

Gov. Jerry Brown, center, in 1977, discussing California’s water crisis at Los Angeles City Hall with L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, right, and state Assemblyman Eugene Gualco (D-Sacramento). (Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.)

As of January 19, 2018, Cape Town is about 90 days away from running out of water.  As it stands now, when “Day Zero” comes – when most taps could stop running, the 4 million residents of South Africa’s second-biggest city will face a catastrophe.  Let’s let that sink in – the 4 million residents of South Africa’s second-biggest city will face a catastrophe.

 Cape Town has requested that each household limit their water usage at 87 liters (23 gallons) per person, per day.  On average, that is keeping showers under 2 minutes, no watering the garden or washing the car, refraining from flushing the toilet unless absolutely necessary, recycling bathing water where possible and severely limiting dishwasher and washing machine use.  However, according to city statistics, only 54% of residents are hitting their target.  Not surprising – but disappointing.

Planning and action lead to this problem in Cape Town and this situation is likely to repeat itself around the globe.  their city planners have long pointed out that Cape Town’s water capacity hasn’t kept up with population growth, which has nearly doubled over the past 20 years. And like the past droughts that have plagued California and other states, Cape Town’s  three-year drought was on a scale considered to be a “once a millennium” event, say climatologists.  Presumably, even the best-planned water system would have taken a hit under these conditions. Cape Town is playing catch up, quickly and expensively by installing desalination plants and looking into groundwater extraction technology.  It is unlikely any of those systems will be brought online before Day Zero, or even before the rainy season is due to start up again in May (if indeed it does).  These systems are unlikely to go to waste, however.  Climate change researchers predict more frequent dry years and fewer wet years to come.  And with dryer years, the threat of wide-scale wild fires is on the rise.  This is not limited to Cape Town and we all must act globally when we consider the uses of water and do they still make sense?

The fact is that Cape Town won’t literally run dry; in most cases, reservoirs can’t be drained to the last drop, as silt and debris make the last 10% of a dam’s water unusable. Cape Town’s city authorities have decided that once the dams reach 13.5% capacity, the municipal water supply will be turned off for all but essential services, like hospitals.  When Day Zero arrives, the city’s residents will have to go to one of some 200 municipal water points throughout the city where they can collect a maximum of 25 liters (6.6 gallons) a day – about a 71% decrease from their 87 liter requested reduction per household.  And this is where common sense sustainability comes into play.

We are one planet – especially when it comes to water.  And water is one natural resource that is not limitless.  We have to make smart choices.  Considering that it takes over 10 liters of water (2.64 gallons) to make a single piece of paper, the 25 liters of water restriction facing the citizens of Cape Town is the same amount of water used to produce two and one half pages of paper.  Let’s let that sink in too.

Paper 10 Liters

An immense amount of paper is used in meetings, conventions and trade shows and in other uses around the world.  Consider a meeting/convention with only 5,000 attendees.  Then consider they may leave with a 100 page “proceedings” document in paper form.  The water used in just the paper production of the page alone would consume over 5 million liters of water – 1,320,860 gallons.  Using Cape Town’s 25 liter per day per person consumption limitation, this one event would consume the same amount of water that would supply 200,000 residents for a day!  There are more meetings than one may think – 1.9 million meetings nationwide, including more than 250 million participants!  And that is just meetings!

We must all start rethinking what impacts water usage.  After all, we are in a digital, post-paper era yet we have not found our way to greatly reduce our paper addiction.   Common sense sustainability continues to grow, we must find other sustainable, less polluting, less resource consuming means to deliver and manage information/content.

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Terry Mullin is the CEO of ViridiSTOR LLC, a leading innovator in content management and information delivery to the events industry.  ViridiSTOR’s solutions are one of the first “fiscally sound and sustainable” solutions in the marketplace today.  Visit for more information.


“Cape Town Is 90 Days Away From Running Out of Water”

“Will Cape Town Run Out of Water?”

Meetings Significance Survey – Preliminary Data$330-Billion-Annually/ and

What Have We Learned About the California Drought Since 2009?

Who says history does not repeat itself?


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