The Cape Town water crisis has been a hot topic of conversation among locals for a while. Strict water restrictions has dramatically brought down usage – but many feel as though the City of Cape Town’s management of the crisis has not been completely transparent.

Day Zero – the day the City would run out of water and the taps would be shut off – was pushed back to 2019. This, without sufficient rainfall or a better plan to augment the seriously low dam levels – has locals concerned. Will there be enough water to take Cape Town through to summer?

We posed burning questions to Acting Cape Town Mayor Ian Neilson and this is what he had to say…


Q: Day Zero was pushed back to 2019, what changed in the last three months to justify this? 

A: When we announced the possibility of a Day Zero in January 2018, we looked at the current urban water usage, the dam levels, as well as how much the agricultural sector was using from the same water scheme that we are supplied by. When we considered those and other factors such as temperature and evaporation and the uncertainty about potential rainfall volumes, it was deduced based on the information that we had at that time, that a Day Zero would be likely in the first half of 2018 unless the mentioned factors changed materially. We knew we needed to immediately reduce usage but at the same time, to give all of our residents and businesses a fighting chance to adapt as much as possible for an event that we thought could be likely, based on the information we had.

The announcement however did significantly change urban consumption, but even more materially, it was the reduction of agricultural water use allocations as well as a subsequent huge Groenland agricultural water transfer to the City later in January and February which changed the prognosis. At the time of announcing the likelihood of Day Zero, the agricultural aspects were not confirmed or clear. We had to act in accordance with what we knew and could control, being our water usage and our water programmes.

Remember that we have always linked our drought stages to usage.

Currently, we need to get to 450 million liters per day to keep Day Zero away. We are hovering near 500 million liters per day and we need to reduce this. The situation remains serious.

It is not possible to predict how much rainfall we will receive and even if we receive above-average rainfall, which is highly unlikely, our dams will take many years to recover.

If one were to look just at our communication on the drought over the past year and a half, the golden thread has always been that we can only get through this extreme drought by ensuring that our water usage is reduced. The National Department of Water and Sanitation still requires of us to reduce our usage to 450 million litres per day. If we do not do this, we may face enhanced restrictions and in addition, we will not stretch our water supply, which is required as we don’t know how much rain we will get.

In summary: we’ve had a great response from our water users but we still need to get down to 450 million liters; we cannot predict the volume of rainfall and hence we need to stretch the water that we have in our dams. Even if we receive above-average rainfall, our dams will take years to recover.

We will stay on the current restriction levels and associated tariff levels until we receive adequate rainfall supply to our dams. We need to enhance our water income because of the income that we’ve lost due to reduced water sales and the need to continue to provide water services, such as our pressure management programme which is saving more than 50 million litres per day, building state of the art reservoirs and servicing almost 11 000 km of water pipeline across the metro. We also need to ensure that we make additional water available through our groundwater, desalination and re-use programs.


Q: When can we expect the desalination plants to be activated and what other water augmentation plans can we expect to be rolled out? 

A: Note that the resilience program, which came into effect in May 2017, has evolved considerably over the past year – with each evolution better reflecting the current reality based on the latest information. Substantial changes to the programme as it was, were announced in December/January 2017/18 and further amendments have been made since February and March culminating in the New Water Programme.

For details about this programme, please see here.

Much experience has been gained over the past year through the development of the various projects, and continuous advice from professionals and subject matter experts, both locally and abroad. This knowledge is informing the current programme and priorities, for example:

– Sustainable groundwater extraction is cheaper specifically for large yields. Our approach remains conservative to ensure we maximise the water yield sustainably at the lowest possible cost. Furthermore, with groundwater, the system design can only be finalised once yield and quality are established in the various clusters.

– Temporary desalination and re-use should not be pursued as emergency solutions as this is not affordable, and rarely provides the promised volumes of water according to programme.

– For future resilience, permanent desalination and re-use is recommended as alternative sources of water to add to ground and surface water.

We have achieved in four months what would usually take two years in terms of project development and progress.

Please see the Water Outlook document as per the link above for more information.


Project Date first water *expected based on current information Date full production *expected based on current information
Monwabisi temporary desalination plant June/July 2018 June/July 2018
Strandfontein temporary desalination plant May 2018 June/July 2018
Waterfront temporary desalination plant May 2018 May 2018
Groundwater programme Cape Flats aquifer and TMG aquifer Timeframes are dependent on variables such as water quality and land access.
Atlantis aquifer Atlantis Aquifer – 8 Ml/day is currently being supplied from groundwater sources. Atlantis is thus off the grid already.
Water transfers


Groenland Water Transfer has been completed. A total of 7.3 MCM was released to Steenbras Upper Dam

Albion Spring – 2.4 Ml/day


Main Spring (Oranjezicht) – 1.2 Ml/day


Lourens River – Currently treating 3.9 Ml/day at Helderberg WTP.

Albion Spring – 2.4 Ml/day


Main Spring (Oranjezicht) – 1.2 Ml/day


Lourens River – Currently treating 3.9 Ml/day at Helderberg WTP.

Re-use projects: Under way



Q: Many readers feel as though they have brought down water usage with their concerted efforts, and would like to know what the City has been doing to save water? 

A: Yes, and the City thanks all of our water users for helping to keep Day Zero away by using 50 litres and less.

Across City operations and buildings, we have implemented ways to save water, such as reducing the number of working taps and shortening the flow in bathrooms where possible, making waterless hand sanitiser available in some buildings and focusing attention on encouraging City employees to flush less. Public spaces where water is required, are being attended to by non-potable treated water, this goes for sport fields and outside community facilities. Our MyCiTi buses continue not to be washed, and where they are being washed, it is with non-potable water.

We are also retrofitting the water and sanitation systems in some of our Council rental flats where this is possible.

Our Water and Sanitation Department’s water-saving teams continue to engage with communities, residents and workers about water-savings. We are training workers at workplaces in water-saving methods and we have also trained many EPWP workers in water-saving and awareness programmes across the city.

Our advanced pressure management program is saving more than 50 million liters per day by lowering water pressure and therefore, lowering water usage and reducing the chances of leaks and bursts. We have also increased City staff to help us to respond to leaks and bursts faster. Our average first level response time after being called out for a leak/burst complaint is two hours.

Our overall water loss rate is 16% compared to the national average of 32% and much work is continuing to lower this rate even more. We have been internationally recognised for our water conservation and demand management programmes.

We have a Water Leaks Program where we help to fix the leaks of indigent/destitute households.


Picture: Pixabay

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.