Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New York Times: "Dangerously Low on Water, Cape Town Now Faces ‘Day Zero’"

          It sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. “Day Zero” is coming to Cape Town this April. Everyone, be warned. 
          The government cautions that the Day Zero threat will surpass anything a major city has faced since World War II or the Sept. 11 attacks. Talks are underway with South Africa’s police because “normal policing will be entirely inadequate.” Residents, their nerves increasingly frayed, speak in whispers of impending chaos. 
         The reason for the alarm is simple: The city’s water supply is dangerously close to running dry. 
          If water levels keep falling, Cape Town will declare Day Zero in less than three months. Taps in homes and businesses will be turned off until the rains come. The city’s four million residents will have to line up for water rations at 200 collection points. The city is bracing for the impact on public health and social order. 
          “When Day Zero comes, they’ll have to call in the army,” said Phaldie Ranqueste, who was filling his white S.U.V. with big containers of water at a natural spring where people waited in a long, anxious line. 
           It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Cape Town. This city is known for its strong environmental policies, including its careful management of water in an increasingly dry corner of the world. 
           But after a three-year drought, considered the worst in over a century, South African officials say Cape Town is now at serious risk of becoming one of the few major cities in the world to lose piped water to homes and most businesses. 
            Hospitals, schools and other vital institutions will still get water, officials say, but the scale of the shut-off will be severe.
As is usually the case these days, the city officials relied on "green" initiatives to reduce consumption ignoring the need to look for additional sources of water, even as the population continued to increase. As a consequence, the city is scrambling to develop alternative sources of water, including ground water sources and desalination plants. The article notes, for instance:
            Here in Cape Town, the water shortages have strained political divisions, especially because much of the responsibility for building water infrastructure lies with the national government led by the African National Congress. 
           “The national government has dragged its feet,” said David Olivier, who studies climate change at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Global Change Institute. 
            The national government controls the water supply to Cape Town, other municipalities and the province’s agricultural sector, including the large wine industry east of Cape Town. In the first two years of the drought, experts say, the national government failed to limit water supplies to farmers, intensifying the problem. 
           But the city made mistakes, too. Last year, instead of focusing on “low-hanging fruit” like tapping into local aquifers, the city concentrated on building temporary desalination units, said Kevin Winter, a water expert at the University of Cape Town’s Future Water Institute.
           So what is a person supposed to do. First of all, I have a lengthy article on storing water (including prepping containers, the use of bleach to make sure it stays usable, etc.). Review that article. Hopefully you have already been storing water, but if not, start doing so to prepare for when the water is shut down.

           Obviously, you only want to store water in food grade containers. The 2-L soda-pop bottles work well. If you have purchased water in jugs (for instance, my wife and I have to use distilled water, which comes in 1 gallon jugs), you can use those jugs. However, don't try to reuse milk jugs--you won't be able to get all the milk residue out and it will contaminate the water. If you can get larger containers, well and good--just make sure that you can get the water out. For instance, I have a couple of large drums filled with water, and have a hand operated pump to get the water out of the drums. You can also buy bottled water. Remember that this water is for storage and use when the shortages hit, so don't be using it before the authorities start to restrict water. This water is to supplement what water you will be able to get after authorities begin rationing water: in essence, your stored water will supplement what you can otherwise get. This is especially important if, for some reason, you are unable to retrieve your ration on a given day. And, of course, you will want to reserve some containers for obtaining you allotment/ration if, as the article above indicates, potable water will be limited to certain collection points.

          You will need a minimum of 1 gallon (~4 liters) of water per day per person for drinking. Plan on more if you will be doing any labor--particular where you might sweat. Perhaps 3 gallons per day per person in that case. This does not include water for sanitation. In my prior article, I recommended at least 5 gallons per day per person, including for sanitation.

          You right as well now learn how to take sponge baths to preserve water. Hair can be washed pouring some water over it to dampen it (try and catch that water to reuse for rinsing), and then using a bit more to rinse the hair. As for flushing the toilet, remember the rule: "yellow, its mellow; brown, its down." That is, don't flush if its just urine; flush (or wash it down) only if it is fecal material.

         Be careful of drinking contaminated water or food; diarrhea can and will cause dehydration. I would be particularly careful of water in open top containers (buckets) or drawn from open sources of water (ponds, streams or brooks).

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