When Our Taps Run Out of Water – Should Australia be Worried About The Cape Town Water Crisis?

When Our Taps Run Out of Water – Should Australia be Worried About The Cape Town Water Crisis?

Have you ever thought about what would happen when our taps run out water? Yesterday, I contemplated the gravity of this crisis because Cape Town will be potentially facing this prospect in 10 weeks’ time.

Right now, Cape Town is having a drought and their water supplies are dwindling – despite tough water restrictions. The Guardian reported on the extent of the water crisis in the South African capital, with a ‘Day Zero’ prediction for the 16th of April 2018. This will be when the dam capacity drops to 13.5 percent and engineers will be told to turn the water valves off to 75% of homes, which will affect millions of residents. No longer will they be able to turn a tap on to get water.

water turned off water restrictions in cape town

What happens when there is no water running to our taps?

There’s no turning on the tap to fill a glass with water when thirsty.

No showers after a hard day at work.

no water Cape Town Crisis

No water to flush toilets. Ok for number 1’s, but when someone’s done a number 2? SHUDDER.

No turning on the dishwasher to clean dishes.

No turning on of the washing machine to wash clothes.

Some of these everyday habits and chores have been put to bed by most of the Cape Town residents to meet the tight water restrictions.

When you list all the basic hygiene needs and household chores that require water, you realise how much we rely on water to meet those needs.

When the valves are turned off in Cape Town, citizens will need to get themselves to one of the 200 water collection points around the city to get their supply of water, which is to be rationed at 25 litres of water per person per day.

Currently the water is restricted to 50 litres per person per day. There are large fines in place if the consumption goes over that limit.

While the restricted water per person is dire enough,  I just can’t contemplate not having a tap to grab water from. And then being only able to use 25 litres of water per day.

Average Water Consumption, Per Person, Per Day, in Brisbane

When I look at my water bill, Queensland Urban Utilities records we use 517 litres per day. That’s approximately 103 litres of water per person, per day in our house. It could be better. And we did use more water this summer with our inflatable water slide. But we do make a conserved effort to bath three kids at once, only do full loads of washing, put the dishwasher on once every few days and rarely water the garden or wash the car.

And yet maybe we should contemplate getting our water usage lower because Brisbane will face another drought, without a doubt. In fact our dam levels are being monitored by water officials right now as the combined levels are currently at approximately 70%, but it’s predicted they will drop after having a fairly dry winter and summer, and not much rainfall. There has also been an increase in consumption in South East Queensland, due to the hot summer we’ve had.

Droughts and Floods in Brisbane

When I started my apprenticeship in 2006, Brisbane was experiencing a drought and water restrictions were in place. Our plumbing business was flat out because there was a push for buildings to comply to the water restrictions and change their bathrooms to water saving fixtures. If they didn’t meet the restrictions by a certain date, they would get a ridiculous fine of around $100,000. Dual flush toilets, waterless urinals and water restricted taps and shower heads were part of the water saving plan.

And then 5 years later, we had the Brisbane floods, where our dams came to full capacity. And water conservation was put to the back of our minds because there was so much water. We had TOO much water.

With our current summer being one of the driest and hottest on record, water consumption has increased per household. Seqwater have reported that consumption levels of water per day, per person have jumped from 156 litres to 185 litres and 2018 will be the year that voluntary water restrictions will be introduced, when the combined dam levels drop below 70%.

When you compare the scenarios between Cape Town and Brisbane, it may look like we have nothing to worry about. There are other cities like Melbourne and Perth, that have it much worse than we do and there are regional towns in Australia, where water restrictions have been the norm for many years.

But complacency can be our downfall and we can be too quick to forget how quickly supplies can dwindle, if they aren’t monitored and managed well.

Everyone has a part to play in conserving water. But often, unless it becomes a crisis, we don’t act until it’s too late.

teaching kids how to be water wise

Me and Mags at her Kindy learning about water conservation

Considering the inconvenient implication of not having running water through my tap and having to drive somewhere to get my water, certainly makes me want to think more about my water consumption. I certainly don’t want that to happen to Brisbane. But it will if we don’t make changes now.

The water crisis in Cape Town should be making all cities around the world – especially the western world, to consider how they can avoid a similar crisis.

I wouldn’t want to be living in Cape Town right now. Water is essential to life. Industries like tourism will suffer, because who wants to visit a city with no water? No one.

Water is a precious resource we need to conserve. It’s never too early to change a habit to preserve the future. I much prefer to get into the habit to conserve what I use now, than to be forced to when a water crisis unfolds. Wouldn’t you?

If you would like inspiration on how to save water around the home, you can check out:

30 Ways to Save Water Around the Home

30 ways to save water at home the plumbette

30 ways to save water outside home the plumbette

Have you been following the water crisis in Cape Town? How would you react if your taps ran out of water?

  • I only heard about the Cape Town crisis the other day. My friend’s sister had just returned from holiday and said the situation was challenging and that’s was with the 50 litre per day restrictions. As you say, it’s so hard to imagine a life without water – love your infographic. I’m going to try out some of your tips. Every drop counts!

    • Yes, it’s definitely something to think about in terms of tourism. Who wants to visit a city that has no water and to be forced with rationed water? I wouldn’t want to visit. It’s hard to imagine a life without water, but being mindful of the water we do use is one way we can help the existing systems we have in place, to never ever get into a situation like Cape Town.

  • David

    Bec,
    Brisbane is in a way better position now after the last water crisis. All of the dams around the south east corner are all now connected with pipelines, so if one is low then the others can be pumped around to help capacity. There is also the desalination plant off the GC.
    There is a recycled water pipeline that has been built to supply water heavy industries (power stations ect). This also has the ability to be pumped into the dam systems.
    Recycled water has a bad name because the thought of poos & wees being in the water. But the reality is that recycled water has to be cleaner then water that it’s get placed into. I believe that London is one of the largest city’s that uses recycled water for potable water supply.

    Now what I find is crazy is that a country like New Zealand that had one of the wettest 18months is now on level 2 water restrictions because of poor infrastructure and foresight

    Dave J

    • Thanks Dave for sharing this here. Brisbane may be in a better position now (and it is when you read about the pipelines and how water can be pumped to areas with low capacity on the grid). My post wasn’t to raise alarm, but to swap places for a minute with Cape Town and then consider if our personal water usage could be better. Just because you have a million dollars in the bank doesn’t mean you go spending it willy nilly because you have ample supply. And the same can be said with water. You can have all the systems in place, but if water isn’t being replenished to be recycled and kept going through the system, combined with existing or an increase in water usage you can still run out of water. We are nowhere near that. Thank goodness. And our existing network should prevent that from ever happening. But it’s something to bring to a personal level – what can I do to conserve the water I use?

      As for New Zealand – what a classic case where poor infrastructure has let them down. It comes down to complacency. And humans are very good at becoming complacent and not worry about it until they have a crisis. It’s exactly the same with when Brisbane had that drought 10 years ago. It prompted action. Nothing is ever anticipated until it requires to be.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment. It added valuable insight into Brisbane. 🙂

  • I hadn’t heard about Cape Town. As for my water saving strategy, I never wash my car 😉 …

    • If there was a laughing emoji, I’d be laughing at this comment Janet. Haha. Classic.

      • Funnily enough I had coffee with somebody on Thursday morning and this exact subject came up – thankfully I knew about it and didn’t come across as a complete airhead!!!