Monday, February 05, 2018

In April 2018 Cape Town, South Africa, Could Become the First Major City to Run Entirely Out of Water


Roadside sign in Cape Town, South Africa, from February 2017 (source)

by Gaius Publius

In Cape Town, South Africa, they're calling it the day the water taps could be turned off. They're also calling it, not an impending crisis, but a "deep deep deep" crisis now.

It's also a vision, perhaps, of the future of California and the American Southwest. Is it time yet to take this matter seriously? Or is the writing on the wall not yet visible enough for people to rebel against their political leaders and act?

The drama is unfolding before us, with South Africa leading the way.

Cape Town Is Running Out of Water

I write this in February 2018. On April 29, 2018, even under strict water rationing, Cape Town could become the first major city in the world to entirely run out of water. This story comes from the AccuWeather website, but we could have taken it from several other sources.

First, the extent of current water rationing:
As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, residents of Cape Town, South Africa, ushered in 2018 — the start of a new year and the start of the city’s stringent new water regulations.

The Level 6 restrictions came into effect to combat an unprecedented drought which threatens to make Cape Town the first major city devoid of water.

The slew of new measures include limiting individuals municipal water usage per day and threatening to impose fines on those who exceed it.

They also reduce agricultural water use by 60 percent and commercial use by 45 percent, compared to pre-drought allocations.
California was given a brief reprieve from its own years-long drought by the recent El Niño of 2015-2016, but dry conditions there are now back and the water table has already fallen drastically, as much as 50 feet under the crop-growing Central Valley.

"In some parts of the Central Valley, water tables have fallen 50 feet or more in the past five years, prompting wells to stop producing and even land to sink, dragging down roads and bridges," wrote the SF Chronicle at the start of 2016. "The collapsed aquifers in many cases can’t be resurrected to store water — or at least store as much as they did in the past."

Though new Central Valley aquifers have recently been found, they too will be emptied if the ongoing drought isn't reversed, and a virtual flood of new, usable water isn't added. Absent the years-long drought becoming a years-long recovery, the trajectory for water in California hasn't changed. After all, even absent anthropogenic global warming, the American Southwest has already seen droughts lasting more than a generation.

What Cape Town is seeing now, Californians could very well see before the next decade ends. (For a look at the structural problems with water in California and the American Southwest, read "California Drought, the "Bigger Water Crisis" & the Consumer Economy.")

Americans, and in particular Californians, should therefore consider the following as a real-life preview. Note that the El Niño that brought water to California brought drought to South Africa:
The drought and water stress across most of South Africa follows a strong El Niño in 2015 and 2016.

The weather pattern — characterized by warmer-than-normal ocean water in the equatorial Pacific — resulted in extreme heat and spells of dry weather.

Beneficial rain eventually returned in late fall for much of the country, including the drought-stricken western Cape.

But according to the South Africa Water and Sanitation Department, it failed to restore the water supply in the country’s dams.
Which leaves them where, exactly?
As of Dec. 18, the combined level of dams supplying the city was at a mere 31 percent of capacity.

At the current rate of consumption, officials warn April 29, 2018 will become Day Zero, the day the city’s taps will be turned off.

“The city of Cape Town could conceivably become the first major city in the world to run out of water, and that could happen in the next four months,” Dr. Anthony Turton, professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, told the New York Times.

“It’s not an impending crisis — we’re deep, deep, deep in crisis,” he said.
"At the current rate of consumption" means after current restrictions on water use are accounted for. Absent new water from somewhere, and a lot of it, it would seem the writing is on the wall for Cape Town.

Two Bottom Lines

There's a short-term problem here, and a long-term one.

The article addresses the short-term problem starkly. First, rationing involves trust and voluntary measures, like flushing the toilet much less frequently, and not everyone trusts that if they do their part, including going the "extra mile" in restraint, their neighbors will do the same. This creates social tensions that, as the crisis deepens, will inevitably become political problems as well.

Translate that to a California context and as we've noted many times, a kind of real war could erupt between farmers (and the hedge funds that increasingly own California farming estates), who feel that water is their due, and city dwellers, who greatly outnumber them. When it finally dawns on Californians that the writing is indeed on the wall for a near-term crisis — as it is for Cape Town — those conflicts will become, as noted, a kind of real war.

Second, Cape Town has a short-term problem that Californians may avoid. Cape Town, as a city, is a tourist destination, and derives almost 10% of its revenue from tourism. As Cape Town resident and travel blogger Kerry Kopke told AccuWeather: “[T]hink about it. If you were coming on a holiday to an amazing international destination, having spent thousands of dollars of your hard-earned money to get there, would you really want to stand in a shower for two minutes with a bucket under you and use that bucket to flush the toilet?”

The answer is obviously No. Either tourism will, excuse the metaphor, dry up, or tourists will ignore the restrictions. Or both. 

As to the long-term problem, it's simply this: Sometime in 2018 Cape Town may run completely out of water. What then?

As you ponder the answer to that question, consider this as not just a water problem, but a real estate problem as well. At some point, if not this year then in a year coming soon, Cape Town may be a ghost town. Who will live in a city that runs out of water?

And as people flee, its former residents will have lost much of what they've invested in their homes and businesses, if not all of it. And worse — barring debt relief from the kind hearts of their bankers, their mortgage debt will emigrate with them.

Does insurance cover that? Can government even begin to repair the damage?

Now translate that picture to much of the state of California, the part served by the Colorado River. It's not just a town-sized problem we're talking about. And when the inevitable political conflicts come, they won't be town-sized either.


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At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Left unsaid is what will the residents of Cape Town do when there is no more water? Will they be relocated? Will they be assisted? Will they just be allowed to die?

Then transfer that question to California (Phoenix, Yuma, Tucson...).
In America you can be fucking sure that people WILL BE ALLOWED TO DIE. And, in America, you can bet the ranch that some will be CHOSEN TO DIE while others will be chosen to be saved and remain whole.

The question then is, in the united shithole of America, how far down the path of selective cleansing will americans go before they load their guns and go searching for scapegoats to kill? If France and Russia are any indicator, it'll take a while and many deaths before we stupid, docile, cowed americans decide enough is enough, if we EVER get to that point.

After all, the Jews of Europe NEVER rose up as one and defended themselves (Sobibor being one small exception). It was said, then, of the Jews that the one thing they did very well was DIE.

They were probably sure their gawd would save them. American dipshits... er, Christians prolly think the same thing.

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jews also revolted against Nazis at Treblinka and Birkenau.

I think it safe to say that when Jews say Never Again, they are to be taken seriously. They learned a great deal from their persecutors which they will use if pushed to the wall.

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using your logic, then, how many americans must first die at the hands of the money (and their own stupidity) before they also declare 'never again'? 250 million?

And, considering the intellectual limitations of americans, will 'never' mean a decade? less?

At 4:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, 6:38, it could be that bad. And while I share your disdain for the intellectual weakness of the average American, there won't be the same nation in place to allow the average citizen to have much of a say in their individual lives. I don't see the nation surviving intact once money has its way with it.

At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what the money is doing to the usa, it will do to the world in very short order.

On the plus side, if the money kills 6 billion, the human C dumping into the atmosphere will be vastly reduced. Might mean FL stays dry for another 20-30 years.


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