Cape Town emergency 'Day Zero' drought plans to be announced

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Cape Town - Operational plans for the unlikely scenario that the City of Cape Town runs out of water will be released within two to three weeks, a city official said.

Sarah Rushmere, the city's energy efficiency campaign strategist, said the newly appointed resilience officer, Craig Kesson, is working with a "high level task team" to finalise an emergency plan.

"The emergency plan is all about avoiding [day zero], but we will have a plan if we do get to it in the next year," Rushmere said.

"Most of the people are working on avoiding day zero, we don't want zero to happen."

Rushmere was speaking to "business leaders" at an Accelerate Cape Town event hosted in the newly opened offices of British American Tobacco in the Cape Town V&A Waterfront about interventions to mitigate the current drought situation.

READ: Western Cape govt hopes to see dams 75% full by October

Expert warnings

Accelerate Cape Town, established in 2006, is a business leadership organisation representing corporate business in the city.

While the city previously said the current provincial wide drought was unanticipated, Rushmere said certain climate change experts have been informing authorities "for a long time".

"Climate change is hitting us hard and fast and I don't think anyone anticipated the impact to be - well - maybe a few climate change experts who have been you know telling us for a long time," she said.

Despite one slide indicating that water consumption in the city is on par with city-wide water consumption in 2000, Rushmere pleaded that residents should do more to conserve water.

"If everyone was as efficient as possible, we might get down to 400 [million litres] per day and that would last us much longer so it's one of those things, the more effort everyone makes now, the longer we avoid day zero," she said.

On Monday, city wide water consumption was at 640 million litres per day.

Slide indicating City of Cape Town water usage to be inline with consumption in 2000 (James de Villiers, News24)

Another slide indicated that the city's population was just below four million people in 2014, compared to roughly two million people in 2000.

The slides furthermore indicated that the amount of water storage in the city's dams following winter rainfall started to drop in 2015, with an estimation that it would reach 50% capacity following rains in the current winter season.

Slide indicating water storage following winter rainfall started to drop in City of Cape Town dams in 2015 (James de Villiers, News24)

Slide indicating water storage scenarios in the City of Cape Town (James de Villiers, News24)

Slide indicating that water usage in the City of Cape Town "flatlined" since 2000 despite exponential population growth (James de Villiers, News24)

No photos

It said that a seawater desalination plant at a cost of roughly R250m will deliver between 10 million to 20 million litres of water per day by May 2018.

A wastewater reuse plant will be completed by June 2018.

The city only expects to get five million litres per day from drilling into the Cape Flats and Atlantis Aquifer by June 2018.

Rushmere said the city is also considering creating a separate system for the flushing of toilets that uses treated water instead of potable water.

"We've just used potable beautiful drinking quality water for everything until now, and I don't think that will be the case going forward."

Throughout her 30 minute address, Rushmere several times asked audience members not to take photos of her presentation as the information is not "big time public yet".

After showing a slide from the city's scenario planner indicating that the city's water storage capacity could be depleted by mid-September if no rainfall occurs, Rushmere asked that no photos should be taken of it.

"It is only being presented to big business groups like yourselves," she said.

'Wires crossed'

In a written reply to News24 on Friday afternoon, spokesperson Jean-Marie de Waal however said the entire presentation could be used for publication.

Asked after the presentation why the city failed to respond to warnings of droughts by academics in the past, Rushmere said she was unable to answer as she was not aware media would be present at the briefing.

Rushmere proceeded to answer questions from other non-media audience members following the question from News24.

The City of Cape Town said an unofficial spokesperson can decide themselves whether they have the appropriate knowledge and expertise on the questions posed.

Accelerate Cape Town said the original speaker from the city was replaced last minute with Rushmere.

"It seems unfortunately, wires got crossed and she didn't realise media would be present," spokesperson Nicole Powell told News24.

The city did not respond to a specific enquiry asking why the city would share apparent confidential information with "big business groups" and not with all ratepayers.

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