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Tanita Mehta

July 27, 2023

How Cape Town Saved Itself from Day Zero

Cape Town, the beautiful coastal city in South Africa, was on the verge of an unprecedented water crisis in 2018. With its worst drought in over a century, the city faced the alarming possibility of running out of fresh water and declaring "Day Zero" – the day when taps would be turned off, and residents would have to queue for water. However, through a combination of innovative strategies, stringent water restrictions, and a unified effort by its residents, Cape Town managed to avoid Day Zero and reduce its water usage by an impressive 50% in just three years. Let's explore how the city achieved this seemingly impossible feat.

Severe Household Water Restrictions

The City of Cape Town implemented a series of water restrictions, progressively increasing in severity over time. Starting with level 2 restrictions in January 2016, the city eventually reached level 6B, which included a ban on using any drinkable water for gardens and limited personal water usage to 87 litres per day. Capetonians had to restrict themselves to two toilet flushes and a two-minute shower per person, per day. These stringent measures played a crucial role in curbing water consumption.

Banning Car Washing and Installing Water Management Devices

To further conserve water, the city introduced a ban on washing cars. Regular patrols were conducted to enforce this ban, and fines were imposed on those found violating the restriction. Additionally, the municipality installed over 18,000 water management devices at residential homes with excessive water usage. These devices automatically cut off water supply to homes once they exceeded a threshold of 350 litres per day, encouraging responsible water usage.

Stifled Water Supply

The City of Cape Town pioneered a unique approach known as "throttling" to reduce water pressure in its network. By dramatically reducing water pressure in the pipe network, the city achieved intermittent supply to high-lying areas. This technique effectively decreased overall water consumption without compromising the basic needs of the residents.

Setting a "Day Zero" Deadline and Launching a Media Campaign

Recognizing the importance of creating awareness and urgency, the city introduced the concept of "Day Zero." Through regular updates, citizens were informed about the expected day when taps would run dry, alongside water-saving tips and emergency plans. A comprehensive media campaign was launched, utilising billboards, radio adverts, pamphlets, and slogans like "If it's yellow, let it mellow" in public bathrooms to drive home the water-saving message. The city's tourism division also launched the "Save like a Local" campaign, encouraging foreign tourists to adhere to water restrictions during their visits.

Pool Filling Ban and Engaging Local Businesses

To conserve water resources, the city imposed a ban on filling up swimming pools. Several public pools were closed, and households were prohibited from using municipal water to top up their pools. The local business community played a vital role in water conservation efforts as well. The City of Cape Town, along with its investment agency Wesgro, actively engaged with large corporations, urging them to implement water-saving measures. Restaurants sold bottled water imported from other parts of South Africa, hand sanitizers were provided to employees, taps were turned off, and hotels discontinued the use of baths. These collective efforts significantly contributed to reducing water consumption.

Deployment of "Water Ambassadors"

Residents of Cape Town formed water-saving committees on social media platforms like Facebook, where they shared innovative ideas and solutions to save water. Techniques such as waterless toilets, grey water harvesting, and reducing household washing became popular among residents. The city recognized the impact of social media influencers and designated key figures as "water ambassadors" to promote and disseminate water-saving techniques. Even the mayor herself led by example, openly disclosing her personal water usage to inspire others.

The Results: A Remarkable Achievement

Through these combined efforts, Cape Town managed to achieve a remarkable reduction in water consumption. From consuming a staggering 1.2 billion litres per day in February 2015, the city successfully decreased its water usage to 516 million litres per day in 2018. This represents a significant reduction of over 50% in just three years, an achievement unparalleled in comparison to other cities facing severe water crisis.

A Lesson in Water Conservation

Cape Town's successful journey in averting Day Zero and substantially reducing water consumption offers valuable lessons for cities worldwide facing water scarcity and drought. By implementing strict water restrictions, engaging the community through media campaigns, deploying innovative techniques, and fostering a culture of responsible water usage, significant progress can be made in conserving this vital resource. Cape Town's achievements are a testament to the power of collective action and the determination of its residents to protect their city's water supply. With continued vigilance and commitment to water conservation, Cape Town can serve as a global model for sustainable water management and inspire other cities to take decisive action in the face of water crises.

Cape Town's successful battle against the looming water crisis stands as a testament to the power of applying lessons from water conservation to combat climate change. It serves as a shining example that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, small changes in our behaviour can lead to a massive impact in reducing water consumption and overall carbon impact. By implementing stringent restrictions, engaging the community, and fostering a culture of responsible usage; Cape Town achieved a 50% reduction in water consumption in just three years. This remarkable achievement offers valuable lessons for cities worldwide. With Tweak, being sustainable is made simple. From a carbon footprint dashboard to personalised tips and strategies to reduce your environmental impact, learn how you can change your daily behaviours for good. Sign up to Tweak today.

Reference List
  1. News24 -
  2. Brookings -

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