The government announced “day zero” — a moment when dam levels would be so low that they would turn off the taps in Cape Town and send people to communal water collection points.
This apocalyptic notion prompted water stockpiling and panic, caused a drop in tourism bookings, and raised the spectre of civil unrest.
It also worked. After years of trying to convince residents to conserve, the aggressive campaign jolted people into action. Water use was (and still is) restricted to 50 litres per person per day. (In 2016, average daily per capita use in California was 321 litres.) Households that exceed the limit face hefty fines, or having a meter installed in their home that shuts off their water once they go over.
Capetonians started showering standing over buckets to catch and re-use that water, recycling washing machine water, and limiting loo flushes to once a day.
“It was the most talked about thing in Cape Town for months when it needed to be,” says Priya Reddy, the city’s communication director. “It was not a pretty solution, but it was not a pretty problem.”
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