A major coastal city is set to run out of water — and 'Day Zero' is approaching faster than anyone predicted

  • Cape Town, South Africa has moved up its predictions for when the city will run out of water, with officials now saying they'll likely have to shut off the taps in early April.
  • The city is urging people not to shower for more than a minute or two, but politicians say water usage in the city is up lately, not down.
  • They're worried about "anarchy" if "Day Zero" arrives. 

 

Cape Town is officially on track to turn off the faucets earlier than anyone predicted.

Breweries that normally bottle beer are switching to spring water, and private hotels are rushing to bring pricey desalination plants online as the city struggles — in vain — to get people to use less water.

On Monday, the City of Cape Town announced that the day when they will have to shut off the faucets, which they're calling "Day Zero," has been moved from April 21 to April 12.

The coastal city, one of Africa's most popular tourist destinations, is grappling with the worst drought conditions it has faced in over a century. Dam levels have decreased 1.4% since last week, according to new official reports, and city dams are now 27.2% full. When they reach 13.5% capacity, the city says it will be forced to turn off the taps and move to a bucket-brigade-style system. 

"I personally doubt whether it is possible for a city the size of Cape Town to distribute sufficient water to its residents, using its own resources, once the underground water-pipe network has been shut down," Western Cape Premier Helen Zille wrote Monday in the Daily Maverick

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Cape Town dangerously close to running out of water
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Cape Town dangerously close to running out of water
People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring, in St. James, about 25km from the city centre, on January 19, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring, in St. James, about 25km from the city centre, on January 19, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring, in St. James, about 25km from the city centre, on January 19, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Sign warning residents of water restrictions is seen in Cape Town, South Africa, October 25, 2017. Picture taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring, in St. James, about 25km from the city centre, on January 19, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Water levels are seen at about 24 percent full at Voelvlei Dam, one of the regions largest water catchment dams, near Cape Town, South Africa, November 8, 2017. Picture taken November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Signs warn residents of water restrictions in Cape Town, South Africa October 17, 2017. Picture taken October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Members of a drilling team prepare to drill at a site where the Cape Town city council has ordered drilling into the aquifer to tap water, in Mitchells Plain, about 25km from the city centre, on January 11, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of a drilling team prepare to drill at a site where the Cape Town city council has ordered drilling into the aquifer to tap water, in Mitchells Plain, about 25km from the city centre, on January 11, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of a drilling team prepare to drill at a site where the Cape Town city council has ordered drilling into the aquifer to tap water, in Mitchells Plain, about 25km from the city centre, on January 11, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of a drilling team prepare to drill at a site where the Cape Town city council has ordered drilling into the aquifer to tap water, in Mitchells Plain, about 25km from the city centre, on January 11, 2018, in Cape Town. Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Sign warning residents of water restrictions is seen in Cape Town, South Africa, October 25, 2017. Picture taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Residents walk past a leaking communal tap in Khayelitsha township, near Cape Town, South Africa, December 12, 2017. Picture taken December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Workers are seen as they drill a borehole at a residential home in Cape Town, South Africa, November 8, 2017. Picture taken November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 30: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created as a still grab taken from video.) Cape Town residents queue to refill water bottles at Newlands Brewery Spring Water Point on January 30, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Diminishing water supplies may lead to the taps being turned off for the four millions inhabitants of Cape Town on April 16 2018, known locally as Day Zero. Water will be restricted from 87 litres per day to 50 litres as temperatures reach 28 degrees later this week. Politicians are blaming each other and residents for the deepening crisis. (Photo by Morgana Wingard/Getty Images)
A writes on a placard prior to take part in a protest against the way the Cape Town city council has dealt with issues around water shortages, on January 28, 2018, in Cape Town. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 30: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created as a still grab taken from video.) Cape Town residents queue to refill water bottles at Newlands Brewery Spring Water Point on January 30, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Diminishing water supplies may lead to the taps being turned off for the four millions inhabitants of Cape Town on April 16 2018, known locally as Day Zero. Water will be restricted from 87 litres per day to 50 litres as temperatures reach 28 degrees later this week. Politicians are blaming each other and residents for the deepening crisis. (Photo by Morgana Wingard/Getty Images)
Firefighters walk up along a fire hose after fighting a fire on Table Mountain on January 28, 2018, in Cape Town. Firefighting organitations face an especially difficult next few months as the risks of fires is on the increase, as the summer season reaches it's hottest time, but the Western Cape is facing severe water shortages. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 30: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created as a still grab taken from video.) Cape Town residents queue to refill water bottles at Newlands Spring on January 30, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Diminishing water supplies may lead to the taps being turned off for the four millions inhabitants of Cape Town on April 16 2018, known locally as Day Zero. Water will be restricted from 87 litres per day to 50 litres as temperatures reach 28 degrees later this week. Politicians are blaming each other and residents for the deepening crisis. (Photo by Morgana Wingard/Getty Images)
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Premier Zille has asked President Jacob Zuma to declare a national disaster for the city, since Cape Town may need more police and military personnel if Day Zero arrives to "defend storage facilities" and deal with disease outbreaks as sanitation worsens. She also said officials hope to store some emergency water at military bases "for safety." 

Cape Town officials say efforts to get people to cut back on their water usage haven't been working. The city has been urging every resident to consume less than 50 liters of municipal water a day, and to collect what they use when showering and hand washing and re-use that "grey water" to flush toilets and water plants. 

Capetown, a city of 4 million, welcomes more than 1.5 million tourists a year, Deutsche Welle reports. The beach and sea-sport lover's haven is also a short distance from safaris and wine excursions. 

Restaurants and hotels are asking tourists and visitors to do their part to conserve, too. At the One & Only Cape Town hotel, the staff removed bath plugs and started using recycled, filtered water in the pool. They've also installed water-saving shower heads and are encouraging guests at the five-star resort to "save like a local" and keep their showers to two minutes or less.

Some hotels are also contemplating spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install their own off-grid desalination plants so they can turn ocean water into a usable drinking and washing source. 

South Africa's national weather service says it can no longer predict how long this drought might last, since "previous forecasting models have proved useless in the era of climate change." Although there's a thunderstorm in the forecast on the Western Cape, it's expected to drop less than half an inch of rain. 

Meanwhile, city officials are still holding out hope that they can avoid "Day Zero" if consumers shift course and cut their water usage. Zille urges that "no one should be showering more than twice a week." 

But many residents have started to stock up on water just in case. Pictures posted on social media show lines of shoppers already lining up to buy industrial-sized water jugs.

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