Water bill

I’ve been quieter about the Cape Town water crisis recently as the threat of Day Zero has all but evaporated (currently put back as far as 9th July). But we’re not out of the woods yet, and nor will we be for at least a couple of years, so saving water is still a hugely important thing to be doing.

Our municipal bill arrived today and I’m really impressed with the efforts our family has made.

That equates to 34.5 litres per person per day, well inside the 50l pppd limit within which we are supposed to be sticking. (Just as well, looking at how expensive those last 2.2kl were.)

And that’s not even including the beagle, which has a Category 4 water utilisation rating: notoriously hydroconsumptive.

This most recent meter reading has helped me understand two things: firstly, there’s the realisation that it can be done. You can live a “Western” lifestyle on less than 50 litres of water each day. Sure, it’s not as straightforward as life without water restrictions, and in fact some of it is actually a bit of a pain, but it can be done. Secondly, it’s made me realise just how blasé we were about using water previously. And fair enough, to be honest, because there was actually plenty of it to go around.

I suspect that I’m not alone in these epiphanies, and whether or not Cape Town runs out of water in a couple of months time, the habits of thousands – possibly even millions – of residents will have been forever changed.

And that’s got to be good news.

 

UPDATE: There have been some questions. I’m happy to answer them.

No, we were not away on holiday. We didn’t even go away for a weekend. We were here every day.

Yes, a beagle. I know.

I checked back to an old bill for the same period in 2012: pre-water restrictions. I was amazed to find that this bill represents a 94% reduction in the amount of water we used, compared to then.
i.e. We used as much water in just 40 hours in February 2012 as we did in the whole 29 day period this year. Equal parts of incredible and terrifying.

Yes, I’ve double checked. Yes, it’s amazing.

We’re not really doing anything too draconian, just being very aware every time a tap gets turned on. It’s clearly working.

And no, we’re not SEWing. In fact, since the kids are banned from using drinking water from their school, we’ve been giving them more to take from home.

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.

Day Zero moved back

As agricultural water use is throttled (and with all the implications thereof), Cape Town’s impending Day Zero has moved back almost a month to 11th May.

Interestingly, Day Zero is now described as:

The Day We May Have To Queue For Water

rather than the previous incarnation, which was:

The Day The Taps Will Be Turned Off

And there is obviously some debate as to whether this good news should have been announced. But if the City wasn’t to announce this, would they not be accused of scaremongering once the media got hold of the story. They tried to slip it out – there wasn’t much of a fanfare to be honest – but such is the massive public interest in the water crisis, it was never going to slip under the radar. But will this stay of execution now result in residents using more water as they see the problem as having been solved? Quite possibly, although it clearly isn’t.

As one twitter user (it was The Guru) quipped though, we’re still very much lost in the woods, and nowhere near out of them.

That said, it might all be sorted after the weekend, as the National Department of Water and Sanitation are motivating for a 3 day weekend of prayer and mediation [sic]:

Obviously, this will work and Day Zero will become just a dot in the distance. One wonders why they didn’t just do this before and save us all this bother. To be fair, I’d just settle for a 3 day weekend. They’ll probably argue that including Friday allows for Islamic involvement in the process, but the more cynical amongst us have surely already noticed that there is some rain in Cape Town’s forecast for Friday:

which might actually be a double bonus:

Looks like next week is party week. So lit fam.

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.