Just less than two months ago, the City of Cape Town was in a dire position. We were told that due to the worst drought the city had seen in over 100 years, its water supply was near depletion, and “Day Zero” – the day on which the taps would turn off – was set to arrive on 12 April 2018.
We were facing an unprecedented crisis.
As Leader of the DA, I was not satisfied with the way the city had responded to the drought crisis up to that point. While the responsibility for bulk water supply is inarguably the responsibility of the National Government, residents of Cape Town rightly felt that their local government had not communicated openly with them. Many residents blamed the DA, and as Cape Town is a DA government, it was important that I intervened to ensure that residents received the level of service and honest government that they expect from the DA.
I therefore decided to take political control of the situation, appoint a Drought Crisis Team - made up of the individuals sitting on this panel today - and commit to doing everything possible to fight this water crisis, on all fronts.
When this decision was taken, our dam levels were sitting at 27.2%, with only 17.2% of usable water left. We made one thing clear: to fight this water crisis and Defeat Day Zero, we had to band together and mobilise public support around cutting consumption to record lows.
Residents responded magnificently, rolled up their sleeves, and got stuck in. Individuals, families, communities, businesses, private dam owners and many others. Everyone played their part in this city-wide collective effort to keep the taps open.
Each week, the water consumption steadily dropped, and we were able to push back Day Zero by days, and then weeks, and then months.
I am therefore happy to announce today that provided we continue consuming water at current levels, and we receive decent winter rainfall this year, Day Zero will not occur in 2018. This means the taps will stay open in 2018!
Consumption now sits at between 510 and 520 million litres per day – down from almost 1.2 billion litres in February 2015. This 60% reduction in consumption is an incredible achievement, and outperforms many other cities across the world which faced severe droughts – including Sao Paulo, Melbourne, and the State of California.
The significance of this effort cannot be overstated. The sustained dedication and fortitude of all residents is the primary reason for this. You are all Day Zero heroes.
My deepest thanks also goes out to the private water transfer providers whose transfer of water has hugely helped us all to defeat Day Zero in 2018. I am similarly grateful to the agricultural sector and businesses who have played a massive part in defeating Day Zero for the year.
However, while we must celebrate our collective achievement, this is not the time for complacency. While it is now unlikely to occur in 2018, Day Zero is still a very real possibility during the 2019 summer months if we do not have significant rainfall this winter. I want to reiterate, and cannot stress enough, that we need to keep at current consumptions levels until at least after the winter rainfall. We can and we must continue to use less than 50 litres of water per day so that Day Zero can be defeated in its entirety.
I am confident that residents will not return to previous wasteful water practices. We have all had our habits and routines changed for the better by this drought, and we must not revert to old bad habits. There is a 'new normal' in the Western Cape around water use. We must continue in this current spirit of utmost respect for this precious natural resource, and never waste it. I must also be made clear that this hinges on the national Department of Water and Sanitation honouring its agreement as to the amount of bulk water that will be supplied to the city and the province over the year.
The City of Cape Town will continue to play its part – under the guidance of Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson and MMC Xanthea Limberg - in building a long-term water resilient city. As the climate and rainfall patterns are changing, so too is our approach to water security in the city.
Through augmentation projects, we will be adding an additional 190 ML per day to the supply system by the end of this year; growing to 220 ML in 2019; and plan to ramp it up to 300 ML in 2020.
So too will the Provincial Government continue to provide disaster management planning and response, as well as ensuring that the many other towns and cities throughout the province - all of which have suffered through this drought - emerge more resilient and water secure. Premier Zille, Minister Bredell, and their colleagues, have done exceptional work in readying the province for all possible eventualities, and this work can and must continue until such time as water supply is normalised and Day Zero is completely defeated.
Depending on the extent of consumption – and the amount of rain we receive over the winter months - the city may be in a position to scale back the current restrictions from Level 6B to Level 5 in the near future. They will communicate on this in good time.
I am satisfied with the good work done by Deputy Mayor Neilson, MMC Limberg, Premier Zille and Minister Bredell, and want to thank them and their departments in both local and provincial government for the crucial role played in tackling this crisis. I have full faith in their ability to see us through this water crisis.
In the context of climate change, South Africans ought to accept and appreciate that we have a new relationship with water. The DA will begin the process of tasking our governments to build water resilient cities and towns across the country, as we tackle this “new normal.”
My focus in terms of water will now shift to the national sphere, where I will be in Parliament fighting for the many millions of South Africans who do not have a safe and secure water supply. There are too many towns across South Africa who are in a worse position than Cape Town, and they need our help.
Let’s keep our consumption levels as low so that together we can defeat Day Zero for good.