Drought crossword

Incoming from Mr Crossword himself:

I’ve uploaded a new crossword – attempted a Cape Town drought theme.

And he had. And he did. Here you go:


A couple of genius clues in there this month. 5 across and 4 down were particular favourites. And I think it must be easier than usual because I managed most of it this time around. Enjoy!

Still struggling to get this to appear on the homepage, so if you can’t see the puzzle above, simply click here to reload.

Groote Schuur Quagga News

Fair warning: it’s sad news.

But first, what are a Quagga?

Wikipedia says:

The quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is an extinct subspecies of plains zebra that lived in South Africa until the 19th century. It was long thought to be a distinct species, but genetic studies have shown it to be the southernmost subspecies of plains zebra.

That are nice. And what can like to be the Quagga Project?

The Quagga Project is an attempt by a group in South Africa to use selective breeding to achieve a breeding lineage of plains zebra (Equus quagga) which optically resemble the extinct quagga (Equus quagga quagga).

And thus, Quagga Project quaggas are dotted all around the Cape. Some of the most successful here, and (definitely) some of the most local just across the road from Groote Schuur Hospital.

Here’s a really poor photo I took of one back in 2014.

An aside: My, how my photography has improved. Or maybe it hasn’t, and I’m just more selective in what I choose to upload.

Or maybe both.

You decide.

Anyway, it seems that I’m not going to be able to improve on any previous photos of quaggas on the Groote Schuur Estate any time soon:

The animals at Devils Peak/Groote Schuur Estate have been moved due to uncertainty over their water supply during the water restrictions being imposed on Cape Town. Quagga and zebra need to drink daily and even a short interruption to their water supply could have devastating consequences. They have been moved to Elandsberg Farms near Wellington and Groote Post near Darling where they have joined other groups of Quagga in the wild. There are natural water holes on both these properties and the Quagga Project felt it would be safer to keep these animals there.

This is no surprise to me. I’ve been watching the Estate getting browner and browner for the past few months, and I hadn’t seen a quagga there for weeks. I usually see them twice a day: up at the top of the fields in the morning and then right down by the bottom of Hospital Bend each evening. Cape Town traffic being what it is, there’s generally plenty of time to watch them as you don’t drive past.

Sadly, it sounds like it’s a permanent move:

Those animals have been moved to other herds – the best known one, a lovely stallion called Khumba, is now on a farm on the west coast where he will hopefully father the next generation of Rau quaggas.

While that means less fun when driving to and from town, especially for my daughter, it does sound like the best thing for the quaggas. And hey, maybe another family road trip is called for out to Groote Post (conveniently located on  the Groote Post wine farm), or maybe a visit to the Nuwejaars SMA (conveniently located all around the (perennial favourite) Black Oystercatcher wine farm)?

What’s not to like?

No more quaggas on the mountain, that’s what. 🙁


Rocket Science

Rocket Science. It’s not Brain Surgery. But that’s for another post.

I watched the recent (mostly) successful launch of Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket ship thing and I have this feeling that we have seen the future. I’m guessing that what we saw this week was pretty much the same as people seeing television or the internal combustion engine at work for the first time.

It’s ok to be amazed. In fact, I’d be disappointed if you weren’t.

Many people turned citizen journalist and consequently, there are many photographs and videos out there of the launch and landing(s), and they’re all incredible for the simple reason that what they were recording for posterity was incredible.

There are some winners though. I loved this video of the boosters coming in to land more than the others. The guy filming knows his stuff and he knows how to give us a decent soundbite as well.

The guy filming knows his stuff and he knows how to give us a decent soundbite as well.

Comin’ in like meteors real, real fast… Two candles, comin’ down!

Wonderful. But then there was this:

Which blew me away completely.
It’s the work (as you can see) of John Kraus (website, IG):

I’m John Kraus, an 18-year-old photographer living on Florida’s Space Coast. From powerful rocket launches to scenic landscapes, from surfing to extreme weather, or even astronomy, I enjoy capturing everything that makes Florida unique.

What an absolutely astonishing photograph. Probably even more so given that it doesn’t feature the actual rocket. What a fresh angle. What an eye. What a talent.

One day, we’ll look back on this and be incredulous over our incredulity.

But for now… wow. Just wow.

We went to Theewaterskloof

Theewaterskloof being the biggest dam supplying Cape Town with water.
And we weren’t alone. Because Drought Tourism is a thing.

Some TWK stats for you from Wikipedia:
Total capacity: 480 406 000 m³
(for lovers of comparisons, that’s about 15 times the size of Ladybower Reservoir in the UK)
Catchment area: 500 km²
Surface area: 5 059 ha

Of course, that’s what it should be like. It’s not like that at the moment.

Theewaterskloof is divided quite neatly into 2 halves by the R321 bridge.

Most of my photos (link below) were taken from near the red dot (just left of centre) on the map above. Those of the dam wall and associated infrastructure were taken near the green dot (bottom right).

And while there is still some water in the Eastern (lower) half, the Western (upper) half is one big – very big – sandpit. Of course, we knew this before we headed out there, but it was still a wholly shocking sight and nothing (including my photos, I fully admit) prepares you for – or allows you to grasp – the sheer scale of what you’re confronted with.

What you’re looking at here is the only water in the “top” half of the dam. The water is about 100m wide at its widest point, and that sounds ok, until you realise that the far side of the dam is over 5km away. Aside from that 100m strip, it’s all just sand. And laterally, there’s almost another 6km to the left that should also be covered in water. But there’s none. Nothing at all.

And everywhere you look, dead trees. Usually they’d be submerged, but they’re high, dry and seemingly petrified. It’s weird: very disconcerting, yet also strangely beautiful.
It’s like every photo you’ve seen from the Namibian Tourist Board.

I’m not going to be like that “vlogger” and tell you how much water we’re “losing” through the outflow from the dam wall, and how the coffee and chocolate farmers of the region are “stealing” “Cape Town’s water”.
I’m not going to ask you how much water you’re using: if you’re in Cape Town, you should know that already, and if you’re not in Cape Town, then it really doesn’t matter to me.
And I’m not expecting my photos or words to effect any change in anyone. If you’re not panicking even just a little bit by now, too few blue pixels on a computer screen aren’t going to make any difference to you.

But even for a realist like me, it was a very sobering sight.

On a more practical note, photography was incredibly difficult. The light was completely overwhelming, there was nowhere high nearby to get a decent vantage point, and what should have been water is now just a wide open space with no landmarks to get any sort of scale or perspective.
Even the Mavic up at 120m struggled to take it all in. No wonder NASA used a satellite.

Theewaterskloof is very, very big, and it’s very, very empty.
Consequently, it’s my humble opinion that we should all be very, very worried.

Photos on Flickr here. Video to follow.
And hey, if you’re the guy who chatted to me on the dam wall this afternoon and asked where he could see my drone photos, you made it. Welcome!

The capacity of the Table Mountain dams

Yet another so-called anomaly pounced upon by the conspiracy theorists when it comes to the Cape Town water crisis is that of the Table Mountain dams.

Yes, there are five dams on the top of Table Mountain. They were built there during late 1800s and early 1900s as the population of Cape Town expanded and more water was required. Maybe we should have tried this idea more recently too. Anyway, you can still visit the dams on the top of the mountain (but be careful) and you can still see a lot of the late Victorian infrastructure running through Newlands Forest.

The dams are  Woodhead (1), Hely-Hutchinson (2), Victoria (3), Alexandra (4) and De Villiers (5). The other blue area towards the suburbs on the right is the Kirstenbosch dam, and doesn’t count here.

Anyway, there are two questions that people are asking about the Table Mountain dams. Firstly, why are they so full compared with the other dams out east (79.9% vs 25.9% on February 1st)?

Table Mountain is a 1km high lump of rock surrounded by very little other stuff which is 1km high. Its location right down in the very bottom corner of Africa, ostensibly bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on 2½ sides means that it has its own microclimate and is a veritable magnet for rapidly condensing air. It’s regularly moist on top. It’s one of the reasons that the dams were built there in the first place (the other being the use of gravity to produce water pressure).
Newlands’ proximity to the mountain explains why it is so wet compared with virtually every other Cape Town suburb. And also why it’s dark there by 2pm every day in winter. So yes, the top of Table Mountain is more regularly wet than most anywhere else in the metropole (including Newlands).

And that’s why those dams are fuller than you might have expected.

Next question – why aren’t we using that water?

Well, right now, any water is good water. So don’t get me wrong when I tell you this. But there’s actually not much water in those dams, even when they’re full.

Those 5 dams (together) have a total capacity of 2376 Ml.
Theewaterskloof (alone) has a total capacity of 480188 Ml.
That’s over 202 times the combined capacity of the Table Mountain dams.
And even though Theewaterskloof is very, very empty (13%) at the moment (see here) (and not here), there’s still 24 times more water in it right now than there is in the (80% full) Table Mountain dams.

The total capacity of the Big 6 dams supplying Cape Town is 378 times the capacity of the Table Mountain dams. Scale.

Even if we could (and did) empty what’s in those dams, it would only give Cape Town about 4 days water, which is certainly not to be sniffed at, but is not going to save a doomed city of 4 million residents either.


I hope that has answered your questions.
Have a special day.