Cape Town’s reservoirs have topped 100% for the first time in six years, a magnificent change in the “Mother City” compared to its dire situation just two years ago.
In 2018 Cape Town was on the precipice of becoming the world’s first major metropolitan area to run out of water, prompting what officials referred to as “Day Zero.” A combination of strict water rationing, infrastructure changes and above-average rainfall this year in the South African city has made those memories a thing of the past.
At least for now.
“Having flown over Cape Town’s six major supply dams during and after the drought, it is almost impossible to believe the changes in the visuals of the dams,” says Jean Tresfon, a marine conservation photographer, who has been documenting Cape Town dam levels since before the drought began.
“From nearly empty (total storage capacity of 19%) to overflowing (total storage capacity 100.8%), the change is amazing, with lush greenery covering the surrounding countryside instead of dry, parched, semiarid conditions,” Tresfon says.
Capetonians became all too familiar with 90 second showers and reusing gray water to flush their toilets.
At the height of the crisis and just days before dams ran dry, residents were restricted to 50 liters per day (just over 13 gallons) for all cooking, drinking, washing and bathing. If “Day Zero” had been implemented, residents would have had to queue for daily water rations of 25 liters per person.
That’s no easy task, considering the average American uses between 300 and 375 liters (80-100 gallons) per day, according to the US Geological Survey.
Capetonians rallied together to ration water like never before, changing its societal relationship with water. It was and continues to be a united effort to save their precious, limited resource.
“The city thanks everyone who helped navigate our way through the record-breaking drought, and raises a glass to the collective effort that brought us to this point of plenty. It is cause for well-deserved celebration,” proclaimed Alderman Xanthea Limberg, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for water and waste.
However, this celebration may be premature if future water conservation efforts are relaxed and the city falls back into a period of demand outweighing supply. Cape Town has a long history of water stress, as it’s situated in a semiarid region of southern Africa.
Fortunately, the Western Cape has received above-average winter rains, which has helped alleviate the city’s drought stress and replenished the dams to their former glory.