running on (almost) empty

One way of looking at the impending crisis of a waterless Cape Town is that we are certainly getting a crash course in disaster management. I am enormously impressed with the City of Cape Town’s media release** yesterday, about how things can be managed for the best, who is ready and able to get involved (eg. retailers, traffic police, etc) and what each of us can do to avoid Day Zero altogether. It’s most likely that none of the people now involved in crisis management were responsible for allowing this major f%#k-up to happen in the first place, so their efforts are especially laudable.

** In case anyone is interested in reading it,  here’s a link to the release: CITY OF CAPE TOWN

Realistically, many people will not sufficiently reduce their water consumption and it’s a matter of a few more weeks before the taps run dry. We will then each be allowed to take 25 litres of water a day from one of the city’s 200 wellpoints. It won’t be nice, but we won’t die.

I saw this post from an American citizen on a friend’s facebook page this morning, and it struck me how spot-on he is about this being a wake-up call for the whole world – we must never ever take any natural resource for granted again.


I hope you don’t mind me sharing my beloved city’s problem here. I believe the issue has made the news around the world so I thought some of you would be interested.

30 thoughts on “running on (almost) empty

  1. katechiconi

    There are selfish f*%#kwits everywhere, but their selfishness and stupidity matters so much more when the problem is so acute. I feel almost guilty that we are finally getting a little rain. Not enough to fill the water storages, of course, but enough to make the grass leap out of the ground so we have to mow, and just enough that the farmers can stop irrigating for a day or so. I copied the ‘What you can do with 50litres’ chart you posted a few days ago and printed it out. It’s made me look more closely at my water habits. I’m already careful, I’ll try and be more so.

  2. coppicelearner

    I am so glad that there are plans in place for the disaster and that there are people committed to making sacrifices to get you all through this. If it is any small consolation those of you who have already restricted your water use will have fewer problems coping than those who have thought that the rules do not apply to them. The planet is certainly making its distress plain – I just wish it did not take a crisis like this to make people sit up and make changes. Good luck!

  3. tgonzales

    Hi Jill! I am one of those that DO NOT listen to the news, so I am glad that you shared this with us. This is clearly a good lesson for all of us. Love and Hugs, Tamara

  4. chocolatebluenz

    I appreciate hearing about this. We’ve had a very dry summer in NZ and some cities have water restrictions but nothing like what you are experiencing. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    1. Nice Piece of Work Post author

      It’s actually incredible how much a person can reduce her consumption by when she’s being forced to be so aware of the preciousness of every drop! Just back from the hairdresser, where they are now only washing hair once instead of twice and also using non-rinse conditioner. It’s really made me stop taking things for granted. I hope you get some rain there soon – is the rainy season coming up for you now?

      1. chocolatebluenz

        We don’t have a rainy season in NZ. We are mostly a temperate country but the far north of NZ is sub tropical. It can and does rain at any time in NZ but some years the weather pattern is wetter or drier than others.
        I changed to washing my hair with a bowl of water a number of years ago. After realising how much more water washing my hair in the shower.

  5. Eliz~

    We have gone through water shortages. Not this bad. But we have had bans on lawn watering and requests to cut back in the home. (we live in Minnesota/USA) We always did our very best to use as little water as possible. It made me so angry when dumb neighbors used their “Well” water saying that was o.k. As if Well water never runs dry or connects to the water we were getting from the city. grr. We haven’t had this for years. But I won’t be surprised if we do again. I’m so sorry to hear this is happening in Cape Town. We don’t hear this on the news. Not even BBC America. :o(

    1. Nice Piece of Work Post author

      There are quite a few people here who have their own boreholes – which is definitely a boon – but as you say, they can be conveniently blind to the source of the water! Things are so bad now here that even people who do have their own boreholes are restricted to using the water twice a week, and will also have to pay separately for the privilege. There is a rising communal panic in Cape Town about this problem – the supermarkets and other shops have all run out of bottled water, plastic buckets, and pretty much everything related to personal hygiene and the disposal of human waste. There are workshops on how to build your own waterless toilet (preferably outdoors) and how to cut down on the washing of laundry, hair, etc. I have friends who shower just once a week now, and do the top-and-tail thing on the other 6 days. I can skip a day, but not more than that yet! I am a very quick showerer anyway, I’m down to about 15 seconds.
      I must be getting confused about US cities – when I think of Minnesota I think of the movie Fargo, with all that snow, so I was surprised to imagine you ever being short on water supplies. But what do I know!?
      Thank you for writing, I appreciate it :)

      1. Eliz~

        Fargo! LOL!! That’s a parody of life in Minnie-So-tah! ;o) And Fargo is a city, and minnesota the State. :o)
        Yes we have had crazy climate changes like everyone else. Droughts that killed a lot of trees in out North woods that had shallow roots, even though they were near lakes. Of course the lakes were very low level. Or we’ve had so much rain that it runs off and is not useful, because it travels further away from parts of us. We had a year (2006 I think it was) with record high winter temps and no snow! We hasd 5 years where in the North woods we could not burn anything other than a very small camp fire for fear of fire during the drought.
        I think this stuff is happening everywhere!
        I wish they would have charged my neighbors for using their Well!!

  6. Linne

    I, for one, certainly do not mind you sharing this news. We hear little, if anything, about whats happening in Cape Town. I feel ever so lucky to have grown up as I did and when I did. I never take water for granted! Often the issue (as a young adult) was my own lifestyle choices, not necessity, but I had the childhood training to deal with it either way. I have often told younger people that if all falls apart, they better hope they live near me! If I haven’t done something, I most likely have read about it and can figure it out.

    I’m glad to hear the government is taking steps; I wish ours were more pro-active, but, like all governments, they will wait until forced before doing much. Individuals are acting, though. Today I heard that many restaurants, etc., are no longer using plastic drinking straws. People are pushing for a complete ban. I can only hope these steps do not come too late to turn the tide. I was heartened to hear that the hole in the ozone layer in the southern hemisphere is healing itself. I know that the earth can do that, as our bodies can; it’s a matter of will we choose to help or to hinder. The answers are anyone’s guess, really.

    Overall, from a global standpoint, these crises are a good thing; they will force us to grow up, finally. But still, I feel for the individuals, particularly those who are already doing the right thing and who must now endure the consequences of the actions of those less caring.

    Hang in there, Jill. I have your entire area on my list, as well as you and your family. Love and Light. ~ Linne

  7. Nice Piece of Work Post author

    I posted a reply to your comment this morning, not sure why it isn’t showing up now :( You are right about governments, they tend to be reactive rather than pro-active. Ours is no different.
    I am honoured to be on your list. xxx

  8. insearchofitall

    Thanks for the update, Jill. I did hear about this on our news after you had mentioned the possibility. Maybe I was watching at just the right time as I tape the news and watch most with the sound off and in fast forward. I stop if there is something relevant that needs my attention. It saves me a lot of agony about things I can’t fix. I have seen this before and so many will never comply. I grew up with a water pump outside and outhouse for a bathroom. (in a small German town) In later years I lived in Taiwan where we had to import our drinking water as what came out of the tap was not clean enough to consume much less bath in. We could shower and did it quickly as there was only a barrel full of water on the roof. Even now in an area with plenty of water (for now) I am excessively conservative. When I moved into my house 3 years ago, I took out all the lawn and replaced it with drought tolerant ground cover. The back is covered in bark dust so there is nothing growing other than in a couple of planters. We get rain all winter but none anymore in summer. The planet has tilted somewhat and it’s had it’s affect on the weather. This process will continue for years to come. We are getting one of our warmest, driest winters ever. Water is not something to take lightly. They say the next wars will not be about oil but over water. They may be right. It’s a hot commodity. Keep us posted, I’m definitely interested and concerned. It’s a global issue.

      1. insearchofitall

        No rain catchers allowed here. Nor compost bins. Because of the neighborhood, a manufactured home park with each place shoehorned in next to each other, aesthetics are tightly controlled. My house is on leased land and the rules are quite strict. It was all I could afford so I make the best of it.

      2. Nice Piece of Work Post author

        Well, that makes sense then. I used to live in a complex and the rules were equally strict about certain things. A communal composter might be useful, but one can’t have everything. I don’t think you guys will ever run out of water, do you? I’m sure you have better systems and civil management in place :(

      3. insearchofitall

        It helps that we live in the Pacific Northwest and have many rivers and lakes. Inlets from the ocean help a bit as well. But weather is changing everywhere so there are no guarantees. It’s always good no matter where, to be mindful of the earth.

  9. Donnalee

    I hope this all works out well and people wake up and cooperate for the best. We in our household in the US near Woodstock NY use so little water that the local water company tries to overcharge us by saying we couldn’t possibly use as little as we do, even though they installed a new meter for it. We just don’t waste, and it makes a difference. Best wishes to all–

    1. Nice Piece of Work Post author

      Good grief, that’s really inspiring. Some people here have shared how they have been careful with water for so long that they don’t even get through their free municipal allotment. Huge wake-up call for all of us! Incidentally, our Day Zero has been pushed back to early June, meaning that people really are making an effort now. Also, the drought has been declared a National Disaster by the national government, so more resources will now be available to come up with new initiatives. :)

      1. Donnalee

        It feels like a time period the last year or so when many have started to really get active and more outspoken about many things, especially here in the wreckage of the United States, so I hope that it all continues and works out for the best everywhere for all.

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