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.

 

Dam Mischief

I was a bit naughty yesterday, but I’m not sorry. Everyone should be a bit naughty every now and again. I’m not advocating murder or anything. Nothing illegal. Just a bit of mischief, which harms no-one and which keeps your heart young.

As ever with a big news story in the modern era, everyone wants to be the first to share the latest developments and fresh angles. There’s a certain gratification to be found in being the one to tell your friends about the breaking news you have just read. They didn’t know. You informed them. You’re the man (or woman). Noddy badge of honour time.

The water crisis is dominating the news here at the moment, as it has monotonously for several months now. There are no new angles anymore. Even Helen Zille’s tweets are only generating transient, short-lived outrage.

Still, when I put out this tweet yesterday, I was rather surprised when people quickly shared it.

Several people remarked on it and shared it, often with a sad emoji, because it clearly doesn’t look like a major reservoir feeding a city of 4 million people should.

Of course, that’s because it’s actually a picture of Mars.

This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA’s Curiosity rover. In the foreground — about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover — is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals.

So, no. This isn’t Theewaterskloof dam “from the Villiersdorp road”. It’s another planet about 55 million kilometres away.

Still, there are some similarities:

The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. Further back in the image are striking, light-toned cliffs in rock that may have formed in drier times and now is heavily eroded by winds.

This was never meant to be a social experiment. I lobbed it up there as a bit of a joke. Perhaps naively, I expected everyone to see it exactly for what it was. Instead, there were only a couple of engagements which suggested that*. The remainder simply clicked the Retweet button apparently without even thinking.

I’ve learned something from this, but I suspect I might be just about alone in that.

 

* One of them was from Jonathan Meyer**
** He’s very anxious for me to point that out to you

Homeopaths concerned about Day Zero

As the spectre of Day Zero continues to ever more occupy the Cape Town psyche, one particular group of complete and utter charlatans is feigning panic more loudly than many others.

Local homeopaths, whose sham of an industry relies almost entirely on selling people small, expensive bottles of water, are voicing their concerns that they may not be able to offer their completely ineffectual services once the taps run dry.

Ron Liar, spokesperson for local quack body, the Society of Homeopaths In Town (SHIT) this morning issued a statement in which he expressed anxiety over the immediate future of their members as Day Zero approaches:

As a group representing registered Homeopaths in Cape Town, we are dismayed at the thought of the city running out of water. Water is the lifeblood of mankind, but is especially important in our field of expertise. Indeed, without water, homeopathy is unable to function, since all our products are, in fact, just small, expensive bottles of water.
If we are forced to reduce our water usage, our preparations will increase in concentration to the point where molecules of the so-called active ingredient may even be found in them. Not only would this cause them to work less effectively (as per the pseudoscientific laws to which we ascribe), it might actually make them genuinely toxic. We use some really horrible stuff in there, you know? That’s one of the reasons we quietly dilute the living hell out of them before we had them over to the victim client.
It might actually kill them if we didn’t.
We need that water.

But the idiots who actually pay these fraudsters for their snake oil seemed unperturbed. We interrupted Obs resident Moonbell Dinglebat during her Nepalese Meditation session and she told us that had her own method of getting around the issue:

If there is a water shortage at my homeopathist, I’ll simply take more of whatever he prescribes for me: using two five millilitre vials instead of one ten millilitre vial will not only reduce the dosage I receive, thus increasing the effect of the preparation, it will also save water and help to protect Mother Earth.

At this point, we had to terminate the interview, because quite frankly, our heads were about to explode, and the thin mask of professionalism behind which at least some our work takes place was becoming dangerously close to slipping.

The challenges that Cape Town faces as we become the first major city to run out of water (yeah, I’ve seen the thing on Sao Paulo, don’t @ me) are numerous and terrifying.
Thus, if there are any positives that can be taken from the situation, we should do so with great glee, and the imminent death of the fraudulent homeopathic businesses across the Mother City is surely the one that I’m looking forward to the most.

The Blame Game

OK. Here goes. I rarely do “opinion” posts on the blog any more because there’s rarely anything I feel strongly enough about to be bothered to wade through mentions on Twitter, comments on here, insults flung at me on my journey to and from work and hate mail delivered to my home address three months later via the SAPO.

But I feel I need to say something.

I’ve been  watching the Cape Town water crisis with interest for a long while now. I’ve blogged about it an awful lot. And while “crisis” seemed a strong word 25 months ago when water restrictions were first introduced, we’re now staring down the barrel of a rather terrifying gun, with fewer than 100 days left until Day Zero – the day the taps will be turned off.

An entire city of 4 MILLION residents is going to run out of water in just 3 months time. And yet, a quick glance at the City’s Water Dashboard gives us this picture:

What, if I may be so bold, the actual fandango?

Just 39% of residents are using fewer than 87l water per person per day. That’s frankly appalling, and it shows a huge disregard and/or misunderstanding for the gravity of the situation.

You think that showering with a bucket is inconvenient? (It can be, I agree.)

But when Day Zero arrives:
There will be no water in your home. None.
Literally nothing will come out of your taps.

Want water? Go to one of the ±200 city-wide collection points and queue for it. 25 litres per person per day.
25 litres of water weighs 25kg, by the way. Transport that, mate. Every single day.

Businesses will be forced to close.
Closed business = no income = staff being laid off.
Schools won’t be able to open, creating a childcare nightmare for parents, and an educational nightmare for schools and students.

And Day Zero won’t last a day. The biggest misnomer since Pussy Galore, right there. Day Zero is when it starts.
Brace yourself for 3-6 months of no water supply.

Sadly, if scare tactics – or “the truth” as most people call it – worked, we’d already be doing a lot better than we are.

But I digress. This paragraph from David Olivier’s independent report on the current crisis has stuck with me:

Blame shifting, fault finding and panic are usual reactions to water crises all over the world. Some anxiety is good, as it motivates water saving, but blame shifting actually pushes responsibility away, and causes water wastage. The best attitude Cape Town’s people can adopt is for every person to do their best, together.

(emphasis by me)

This isn’t a political post. Absolutely not. I have no party axe to grind. But it does seem to me that there is a blame culture which has flourished in recent weeks. People saying that this water crisis has been poorly-managed by the City.

My personal feeling is that they’ve done ok considering the lack of any precedent here and the 20/20 hindsight that their detractors are blessed with. I think any city, any government, any party would have struggled with the challenge of a 1 in 1000 climatic event:

And I’m always intrigued to hear what the critics would have done differently.

But those are just my thoughts. Other opinions are available.
And, as I’m about to point out, none of that actually matters anyway.

I think David is absolutely right: this blame game has given people a convenient scapegoat which in turn has led to them choosing to ignore what, in this situation, are very clearly their social responsibilities.

So here’s my plan.

Blame and anger don’t contribute to our water supply. That’s not how the water supply works.

You can’t drink outrage.

If you want to stick it to Patricia de Lille, the City, the DA, the Provincial Government, the National Government or whomsoever, then next time your opportunity to vote comes around, you must do just that.
That’s how democracy works. Literally, the power of the people.

(Remember to choose wisely, just in case this happens again.)

But attempting to spite any or all of those individuals or bodies by refusing to cut down on your water usage is misguided and isn’t going to help anyone. Even yourself.

Spoiler alert:
Your political affiliations and opinions are not an excuse to not save water.

It’s time (it was time a long while back, actually) to put on your big boy panties, take a step back (and up) and choose to overlook the petty politics right now.
Deal with stuff that later.

Right now, collectively, we need to reach out to that missing two-thirds of residents who are still using too much water – the Day Zero denialists, the monied individuals in Bishopscourt, the Observatory anarchists, the tannies in Pinelands with their precious lawns, that oke in Durbanville that just doesn’t care – and rein them in. And if they want to moan all over the newspapers and social media and and and… about us doing it, well they must knock themselves out.
Just as long as they’re saving water while they’re doing it. Because if they don’t come to the party, we’re very definitely doomed.

I’m aware that this is pie in the sky thinking. I’m aware that if people actually cared about this situation, they’d be saving already. But just imagine if the residents worked with the City instead of pointlessly fighting the system (“pointlessly” because as I’ve pointed out – using water just because you hate the DA is a recipe for disaster), fiddling as Rome burns.

If you’re one of those individuals I’ve mentioned above, you’ve probably not read this far. But on the off-chance that you have, for the good of everyone: rich, poor, black, white, young and old please can you please start saving some water?

We need to pull together here. Or we’re all massively, massively buggered.

 

(Don’t @ me.)

First!

A quick test.

Who was the first man on the moon? (1969)
Who was the first person to reach the South Pole? (1911)
Who was the first person to receive two Nobel prizes? (1903 & 1911)
Who were the first men to climb Mount Everest? (1953)

I’d guess that you knew most of them. And with good reason, because firsts are important and while someone can always do it Citius, Altius or Fortius-er – they can never take away the honour of being the first from you.
So let’s celebrate the fact that Cape Town stands now on the very brink of being the first major city in the world to run out of water. As recognised by Time magazine, no less:

Other minor places have run out of water before – our near(ish) neighbours in Beaufort West allegedly expired back in November. But Beaufort West is – at best – a town, and is – very definitely – minor. Cape Town is about to make history in the same way that Hiroshima did back in 1945.

Of course, everyone saw the Hiroshima thing coming (but it clearly happened anyway), so what about Cape Town? Aryn Baker (for it is she) goes along with that independent report:

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. Still, a three-year drought on this scale is a “once a millennium” event, say climatologists, and even the best-planned water system would have taken a hit under current conditions.

Indeed.

So while we might not have any water in 3 months; while our sewage systems may be collapsing around our ears (or whatever other parts of our bodies); while the very fabric of our lives is torn from all around us – ain’t no-one that can take away that first place from us. Not ever.

Be proud, Cape Town. Be proud.