The Last Drop

“Even if the whole world cried, I don’t know if there would be enough of water.”

I wrote these same words after 5 years of the drought that plagued California. After getting into the habit of warming the shower water with a bucket for collection, limiting toilet flushes and minimizing laundry washing, I found the realities of the drought to become a normal state of living. Green lawns, clean cars, swimming pools – such luxuries were quickly cast aside. Now the same worries of slowing faucets, rivers running dry and a lack of rain are overtaking the coastal town of Capetown, South Africa. After three consecutive years of drought, Day Zero, the day water sources are officially predicted to run out, fast approaches.

Rushing Yosemite Falls after a needed season of rain
California coastline

Water distribution points now cover the populous city, as long lines form with buckets in hand to collect water for daily supply. The Theewaterskloof Dam, the major source of water for the city, is currently at 27.2% of capacity, with 60% of Capetown residents over-consuming at a rate 19.6%. Once Day Zero arrives, residents will be expected to use a ration of 25 liters a day. For us Americans, this translates to approximately six gallons of water and with a toilet flush using two gallons per flush, the ration limits would force an extreme change in water usage practices. Such a drastic water shortage has been credited due to a limited number of dams being constructed during a rapid increase in population. Without the proper infrastructure to support the growing city, Capetown now finds itself in a dire position. Perpetuated by 3 years of low rainfall, the water shortage has only been exacerbated.

Expansive views over city of Capetown

What is Capetown doing to tackle the problem of the looming Day Zero? The city government has begun to explore options of desalination, tapping groundwater, weakening water pressure and installing water management devices. Desalination plants would generate 15 million liters (more thn 3.9 million US gallons) per day pumping water from nearby harbors into holding tanks and then funneling water through a system of filters. Sand, gravel and chemical treatment work to rid water of algae, while microfilters work to remove microscopic impurities. From here, desalination plants would utilize the process of reverse osmosis to filter out salt and other minerals. However, with a lifespan of only two years, desalinations would be an expensive (~170 million USD), energy intensive and only temporary solution. On top of cost and a strict construction timeline, plants would create further issues of brine outflow and constant facility upkeep due to the corrosive nature of chemicals and salt residue.

So with 73 days left until the taps turn off, Capetown is left scrambling, realizing the great value of water. For it is only “when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, [that people] will realize that they cannot eat money.” With the power of water felt by every individual, its song audible to every ear, and its quench soon to instead be a permanent thirst, it is my sincere hope that the last drop is not a tear.

 

-Photos by Nicole Nordstrom and Micaela Unda 

Sources:

Burke, J. (2018, January 24). Cape Town told to cut water use or face losing supply by 12 April. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/24/cape-town-to-run-out-of-water-by-12-april-amid-worst-drought-in-a-century

Cape Town’s Water Crisis. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2018, from http://www.capetowndrought.com/

Lattemann, S., & Höpner, T. (2008). Environmental impact and impact assessment of seawater desalination. Desalination, 220(1-3), 1-15. doi:10.1016/j.desal.2007.03.009

Oberholzer, E. (2017, October 09). Cape Town water crisis: Why desalination can’t provide water overnight. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from https://www.thesouthafrican.com/cape-town-water-crisis-desalination-issues/

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