Cape Town, the capital city of South Africa, is predicted to run out of its water reserves by mid-April of this year.
The reason for the water crisis seems to be three years of severe droughts, as well as unsustainable water use by the city’s rapidly growing population.
Cape Town’s attempt for water conservation proved to be ineffective, with only about half of the population reaching a desirable target of water usage. The rest of the residents continue using water beyond the city’s recommendations in the preparation for the so-called “Day Zero.”
Once the water supply runs dry, the residents of Cape Town will have to go to public water points protected by armed guards, where they will only be allowed to collect just over 6.5 gallons of water per day. To compare, an average person in the U.S. uses about 60 gallons of water throughout the day.
The crisis in South Africa raises questions about water supply worldwide. Is it possible that certain parts of the U.S. where the water is scarce are under the same threat as Cape Town?
George Kraft, former professor of water resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, talks about past instances of water shortage in the United States.
“The closest thing to a crisis in the urban area was in Atlanta just a few years ago where their reservoirs were way down,” Kraft said.
There was a debate about how much water belongs to Georgia and how much to Florida that has not been sorted out.
“They were nowhere close to Cape Town status, but they were saying that if this continued another 60 days serious conservation methods would have to be implemented” Kraft said.
The situation in Atlanta is one of the only cases in the U.S. where an urban population was threatened with water supplies running dry. The biggest concern for water supply in the U.S. is usually agricultural livelihood in places such as California, Nebraska and Kansas.
California has been living beyond its water budget for 100 years because its infrastructure is overstretched. The droughts also seem to be coming a lot more regularly than they used to, which is attributed to climate change.
When asked whether there is a serious dialogue about diverting water from the Great Lakes to drought-prone areas, Kraft said it was highly unlikely.
“Places in Nebraska and Kansas, where agricultural production has used up all their water — they literally don’t have any more water in the aquifer–, have low-value crops, such as soy and corn. It wouldn’t make any economic sense to build that kind of infrastructure there,” Kraft said.
Even though currently, severe water shortage is not an acute issue in the U.S., the situation in Cape Town serves as a wake-up call to populations all over the world. Fresh, clean water is a limited resource and a more efficient use of this resource is crucial for the environmental wellness of the planet.