Return of the Poo and Other Stories: Water Shortage in Cape Town

by biltong101

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An empty Cape Town Dam: Picture from Instagram by @shantarella

If you live in the Western Cape I can say nothing more obvious to you than “we’re experiencing a water crisis”. For those who live somewhere else this may be news that Cape Town’s taps are at risk of running dry. Let me tell you a few words about the crisis which started in the beginning of the year.

First there’d been a long long drought. Then around March people started to really worry that we’ll run out of water. It was all you could see on social media. I was doing my best to save water so I tried not to think about the worst or focus on fearmongering. But then I was refused tap water in a restaurant, which is something that never happened before, it made me worry too. Almost everyone drinks tap water in Cape Town so I can see why it’s a good idea for restaurant to have restrictions. At the same time it came as a realization that things may actually end up in a tragedy. When the rain came eventually, it was a small relief. With the depleted dam reserves it’s just enough to get by. What does it mean for a typical inhabitant of Cape Town? Water saving.

The official policy strongly encouraged Capetonians to keep their water usage down to the minimum. This means not to use more than 100 liters of water per person per day. Now to give you some idea, an average toilet flush is between 6 liters in very modern toilets and 15 liters in older ones. An average shower uses around 22 liters of water per minute and you can forget about taking a bath, which uses 150-200 liters. There’s also the water you use to wash a load of clothes which can be anything between 50 and 150 liters depending on how old your washing machine is. If you make your calculations, you can see that you don’t have to be an asshole who doesn’t care to have a usage bigger than allowed.

As I’m high in compliance we try to be within limits in the household. In fact, most people I know use the rule “When it’s yellow let it mellow, when it’s brown flush it down”. However, what the authorities forget about in their guidelines is that toilet paper accumulates due to the lack of flushing. It can get quite stressful to observe the water levels raising above what’s expected during flushing (didn’t notice it? Just look next time!). Will it cope with all the paper and your poo? So far it’s been managing. Having said that, I did experience what I call “return of the poo”. This happens when seemingly everything has been flushed but when you come back to the toilet later, you can see your piece of shit peeping at you from down there. I can almost here the tune from “Jaws” in these situations.

Let’s not forget that peeing on the top of peeing is a bit disgusting and that of course, no one cares when it’s a house party or even when you have guests over for dinner. Because really, City of Cape Town, how many people do YOU feel comfortable enough with to leave your pee unflushed? You also have to keep the toilet seat down to avoid the smell urine or at least remember to close the door. It’s doable but still gross.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to help! Still, it’d be nice to hear something reassuring from the government! Apparently the authorities were already warned last year about the upcoming crisis and no plan was put in place. Apart from encouragements to save water, fines imposed on residents who don’t comply and futuristic plans not much seems to have been done. In fact, the Plan was announced only in August. Thumbs up for a desalination plant project and the use of underground water. Not so excited about increased water rates but I can take one for the team. The poorest, however, will be hit by such changes and it does feel unjust. After all had the plan been made before, there wouldn’t be so much need to make quick plans and to somehow raise additional funds.

Day Zero, when Cape Town will run out of water, may or may not come. Experts say that if nothing is done we’ll reach this point in March next year, but who knows what gods of rain have planned for CT? We should make plans for the worst case scenario. If there’s no water in taps it would, of course, be rather inconvenient. Part of the problem is that a lot of people would struggle to deal with additional costs coming from the necessity to buy bottled water as a substitute for tap water. Someone, who doesn’t have financial issues, jokingly told me that he has enough money to bathe in Evian every day if he has to. It’s not only about money and convenience, though. There are health threats associated with the lack of water and lowered hygiene, for instance, the increased risk of infectious disease spreading. Last but not least, such a situation would cause problems for the already existing infrastructure. It’s not good to have no water going through pipes for a prolonged period of time and then have it flow again. This is precisely the reason why we don’t have “water shedding” – it would do more harm than good. Anyway, I really hope that the worst doesn’t happen and I’ll do my bit to prevent it. If it does, perhaps I’ll write this post apocalyptic masterpiece I’ve always been dreaming about.

What do you think, Dear Reader? Any thoughts?