How Cape Town avoided Day Zero and cut its water usage by 50% in 3 years - it took Melbourne 12 years to do the same

Business Insider SA
  • The City of Cape Town should be able to avoid running out of water this year, it announced on Wednesday. 
  • The city decreased its water consumption from 1.2 billion litres per day in 2015 to 516 million litres per day in the past week. 
  • Capetonians use on average only 124 litres of water per person per day, compared to California where residents used 387 litres per day at the height of their drought in 2015.
  • Cape Town's water-saving techniques included limiting toilet flushes and banning washing cars. 

Cape Town is in the midst of its worst drought in more than a century and was set to run out of fresh water in April

On Wednesday the city announced that it should be able to avoid running dry in 2018 after a massive water saving campaign. It managed to reduce water consumption by more than half to 516 million litres per day the past week – down from 1.2 billion litres per day in February 2015. 

Comparatively, when the “Millennium Drought” hit the city of Melbourne, it took the Australian city 12 years to do the same

California in the United States only managed to decrease water consumption by 27%, from 521 litres per person per day in August 2013 to 387 litres per day in August 2015, when the state was hit with a severe drought

On average, Capetonians now only use 124 litres of water per person per day. 

Here's how the city managed to do the seemingly impossible. 

It introduced severe household water restrictions.

The City of Cape Town first adopted level 2 water restriction in January 2016. This was incrementally stepped up to level 6B, which included a ban on using any drinkable water for gardens, and limiting personal water usage to 87 litres per day. In practice, this meant that Capetonians restricted themselves to two toilet flushes and a 2-minute shower per person per day.

Washing cars was banned.

Residents testing waterless products as an alternative to using water for car washes.

The city conducted regular patrols and fined those found washing vehicles.

Water management devices were installed at the homes of excessive water users. 

A water management device being installed.

The municipality installed more than 18,000 water management devices at residential homes with continued excessive water usage. The devices cut water supply to homes once they used more than 350 litres water per day.

The city "throttled" water supply to all suburbs. 

The City of Cape Town pioneered extreme water pressure reduction, or "throttling", in its water network. This meant water pressure was dramatically reduced in the city's pipe network, resulting in intermittent supply to high-lying areas. 

The city introduced a "Day Zero" deadline.

After the city experienced a third consecutive year of low rainfall, it launched a campaign around "Day Zero", the day taps would be turned off and residents would have to queue for water. Every week the city sent out updates to citizens on when this would be expected, while also including tips on saving water and emergency plans for Day Zero.

A city-wide media campaign was launched.

The City launched a comprehensive media campaign to drive down water consumptions. Slogans like "If it's yellow, let it mellow" was pasted in public bathrooms, and billboards, radio adverts and pamphlets were used to drive home the water-saving message. 

The City's tourism division also introduced a "Save like a Local" campaign which encouraged the roughly two million foreign tourists which visit the city annually to adhere to the city's water restrictions. 

Filling up swimming pools was banned.

The city closed several public swimming pools and households were not allowed to use municipal water to top up their pools. Many residents chose to truck in water from other places in South Africa to fill their swimming pools.

Local businesses were rallied to save water.

The City and its investment agency Wesgro regularly conducted meetings with large corporations to encourage water saving. Restaurants were encouraged to sell bottled water (imported from other parts of South Africa), while companies introduced hand sanitisers for employees and turned off their taps. Aircons, which use water, were intermittently switched off and hotels plugged all baths.  

"Water ambassadors" were deployed.

On Facebook, residents formed water saving committees where they shared ideas how to save water. Solutions included waterless toilets, gray water harvesting, and ways to decrease household washing. 

Local media and the city widely shared these water saving techniques, adopting key social media figures as "water ambassadors." The city's mayor herself disclosed how much water she personally used to set an example. 

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