In 123 days, South Africa’s second largest city could run out of drinking water.
Cape Town, a city of 4 million, continues to grapple with severe water scarcity following three consecutive years of below average rainfall. The city’s six major reservoirs are expected, by late April, to run dry on “Day Zero.”
For months, local authorities encouraged residents to cut water consumption. The city’s goal is to lower daily water use to 500 million liters, which allocates a mere 87 liters (23 gallons) of water per person per day. A typical desert Southwest resident in the United States consumes five times that much water in a day. Although some Cape Town residents have complied–34 percent use less than 87 liters each day–many households continue to flout the water restrictions. Last week, water use jumped to 641 million liters, up from 628 million liters the week before.
In response, the city is considering jail time for heavy water users.
“A person who fails to comply with water restrictions … is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine or upon conviction to a period of imprisonment not exceeding six months,” reads a draft of the proposed water by-law, which is open for public comment until January 8. The suggested bylaw would also limit borehole use, punish rogue plumbers, and make swimming pool covers mandatory.
Still, these measures might not be enough. Following the spike in water use, city officials announced that the estimate for Day Zero is being moved forward to April 29, 2018. The date is based on the city’s 500 million liters per day target, plus the addition of 196 million liters per day after February 1, which will come from a variety of water-yielding projects that the government is putting in place.
If water consumption stays at current levels, however, Day Zero could fall sometime in March.