Mike Webster and Cape Town’s Water Supply (1/15/19)

Post by Caroline O’Rourke

The water crisis has been an ongoing topic in Cape Town, South Africa for the past few years now. “Day Zero” – the day when there would be no water supply left in the city has been lurking in the minds of the individuals inhabiting the area. After spending a little over a week in the city and meeting the locals, the water crisis becomes clear and better understood. I had the opportunity to meet with Mike Webster, the Director of Water Sanitation in Cape Town, to hear about the water situation in the city. He stated that one of the biggest factors to the low water supply was the lack of rainfall. Starting in 2015 and continuing through 2017, the rainfall hit an all-time low. This helped to create a major shortage in water, which forced individuals to make changes.

Webster says that 70% of the water use was coming from residential areas. These people needed to make the biggest change and needed the most help. When the water supply was low, informal settlements were selling water to formal settlements. Invasive species were being removed on Table Mountain so that water could be reached. After staying in the city, it also was evident to see that measures to preserve water were made through using bottled water that came from outside sources at restaurants. Hotels and public areas would have signs that would ask people to help the environment and to think twice before using water.

According to Webster, the biggest way that Cape Town was able to get through the drought was by reducing demand. Demand was reduced by 40% by the time 2018 came around. This was achieved by economic incentives and strong communication to the locals. The idea of “Day Zero” was ingrained into everyone’s minds so that people made a conscious effort to make changes. This resulted in Cape Town becoming the #1 water saving city in the world with a 55% reduction between 2015 and 2017. Day Zero is a day that won’t be reached anymore and Cape Town will still be able to enjoy the water supply they have, while still taking measures to conserve water.

The research that I did prior to class revolved around the water crisis in Cape Town, which is why it was so interesting to visit there. One of the biggest preconceived notions that I had formed was that Cape Town was still in the water crisis and that they were never going to get out of it. As I stated earlier in this post, that is no longer the case and Cape Town has beat the water crisis that once posed an issue that was seen as too big to undertake. Some of the other research that I had found was that South African soldiers had been assigned to guard the water spots within the city to prevent illegal activity regarding taking the water supply. After sitting down with Webster, it seemed that these measures were not taken and the way in which people were asked to cut down water was done in a different way. Webster said that people could only have up to 50 liters of water a day, which forced people to cut back. They didn’t have a choice, they were only supplied that amount. By taking this measure, it gave the city more time to get their water situation settled. Cape Town does now not have to worry about the Day Zero that was expected to come. They beat their water crisis.


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