February 21, 2018 / 12:10 PM / in a month

Drought-hit Cape Town dreads 'Day Zero' when taps will run dry

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A tough water-saving regime and the generosity of farmers have given South Africa’s main tourist hub welcome respite from a severe drought and helped push back a dreaded “Day Zero” when Cape Town’s taps are expected to run dry.

Sand blows across a normally submerged area at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town, South Africa, January 20, 2018. The dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water, is currently dangerously low as the city faces "Day Zero", the point at which taps will be shut down across the city. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

On Tuesday, the city of four million moved its estimate for “Day Zero” to July 9 from June 4 due to a decline in water usage, and after the Groenland farmers association also released 10 billion liters of water from their private reservoirs into the Steenbras storage dam.

South Africa has declared a national disaster over the drought afflicted southern and western regions, including Cape Town, which means the government could spend more money and resources to deal with the crisis.

Cape Town, which attracts about two million visitors each year, wants to become more resilient as the effects of climate change are felt, similar to other dry cities including Melbourne and California.

“We know that while we are going through a challenging time, we are building a world-class green economy that will be a beacon of hope for many places around,” said Tim Harris, chief executive for Wesgro, a regional trade and tourism agency.

The chronic drought is hurting visitor numbers and knocking a rare economic bright spot, officials said previously.

A dried out wicket is seen at a cricket pitch in Cape Town, South Africa, February 11, 2018. Without water, the wickets are considered dangerous to players. All club and school cricket matches has been cancelled as the city attempts to avert a major water crisis. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

According to the South African Weather Service, two of the driest seasons ever recorded for the city since observations started in 1921 happened in the last three years: In 2015 when 549 mm (21 inches) fell and last year - the driest year on record - when annual rainfall totaled 499 mm.

But, faced with severe water restrictions and punitive levies, residents of Cape Town have cut collective consumption by more than half in the last three years, as the city targets a daily consumption rate of no more than 450 million liters.

Slideshow (13 Images)

At the moment, restrictions make it compulsory for residents to use no more than 50 liters per person per day, as city officials look to see out the hot summer months into winter, when Cape Town usually gets rain.

“We must all keep doing absolutely everything in our power to reach the target set by the national department to reduce our urban usage by 45 percent,” said Ian Neilson, the deputy mayor.

Already hundreds of Cape Town residents are being forced to line up overnight to stock up on water in South Africa’s second largest economic hub and tourism attraction.

However, several desalination plants are planned and together with underground water reserves, are expected to help augment water sources well into the future.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia, William Maclean

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