Imagine your local government telling you that the pipes in your home will no longer deliver water in a few months.
That’s the reality for the nearly half a million residents of Cape Town, South Africa.
How did this happen? Despite one of the world’s strictest water management policies, it was no match for a historic 3-year drought. All of the city’s water supplies come from six dams dependent on rainfall. After 2014, the dams stood full from good rains, but have decreased ever since. The city neglected to look for new sources to diversify its supply, and then Mother Nature decided not to cooperate.
All of the city’s water supplies come from six dams dependent on rainfall. After 2014, the dams stood full from good rains, but have decreased ever since. The city neglected to look for new sources to diversify its supply, and then Mother Nature decided not to cooperate.
Now, the situation is dire. Starting in February, residents are limited to 50 liters (13.2 gallons) a day per person. That’s a reduction from 87 liters (23 gallons).
Residents are also dealing with intermittent “throttling” or lowering of the water pressure. The water utilities claim this is necessary to discourage excessive usage.
People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring
in St. James, Cape Town Africa. Jan 2018.
Image Credit: RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images
One of the local papers now says that "Capetonians are eyeing swimming pools, rain tanks and boreholes as sources of water."
Another paper said that if the crisis is not averted, the havoc that will be created would on a scale the world has seen since 9/11 and World War II.
Already, fights have been breaking out at natural springs where residents gather to supplement their daily quotas.
If Day Zero comes, all residents will have to go to one of 200 facilities to draw water. The military will have to be called in to maintain law and order at these water collection points.
Neighborhoods will have to dig pit latrines to deal with the lack of sanitation after Day Zero. This and the inevitable sudden drop in hygiene and hand-washing will likely result in the outbreak of disease and food-borne illnesses.
After that, agricultural production will go from slow to a halt. Prices for food will skyrocket and disappear from shelves.
So how does Cape Town avoid this crisis? It appears the only solution is in the hands of the government. This is a very unfortunate situation to be in. Many believe that water is a people’s “right,” but the reality is that self-reliance is the only solution – and the citizens of Cape Town already know that.
Could Day Zero Happen Here?
We already know that much of the water infrastructure in the United States is threatened by contamination. Many of the delivery pipes in this country built in the Civil War era are still in use.
But many cities and regions in our country also face threats to the water supply. Droughts and other natural disasters, increased population and usage have already led states like California to ration water usage.
In “America’s Breadbasket” of the Midwest, the Ogallala or High Plains aquifer, threatens to run dry, especially between Texas and Nebraska.
According to a 2013 U.S Government Accountability Office study, 40 out of 50 states have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.
This data is no longer anecdotal or isolated to a few small areas. This affects nearly all of us.
Preparing for Day Zero
If a Day Zero scenario happens where you live, you will likely have notice – if it’s due to a shortage.
Day Zero could also come without notice, especially if caused by a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood or earthquake. Acts of war and terror could also take tap water offline.
This means it’s critical to start planning for this kind of event now, when you have the time.
The first thing to do is to secure emergency water filtration and treatment.
When the taps run dry, you’ll eventually have to find alternative sources of water (more on that in a moment). If you’re successful finding this water, you won’t want to take chances with its quality. You’ll want to assume any water you find is contaminated.
Next, you’ll want to start hoarding and storing water.
This is especially true if your water is already being rationed. If my water was being rationed, I would automatically put my plan into “survival mode.” This means that every person in my family would try to limit their water consumption to the minimum amount needed for survival. The standard is one gallon a day for active adults. You can get by with less if you are very inactive, but one gallon per day is what you should shoot for. If you need to spend all day looking for water, you’ll be dehydrating yourself in the process. Having as much water stored as possible when the taps run dry is essential.
Stored or scavenged water will need to be filtered or treated for drinking and cooking. Many preppers like to pre-treat their stored water with chemicals like bleach, but I advise against this. Personally, I feel like treatment just prior to drinking is the safest and most assured method. Plus, I avoid harsh chemicals whenever possible.
Storing water is great, but it’s only a stopgap measure. Water takes up a lot of space and weighs over eight pounds per gallon. Plus, even if you are able to squirrel away, say 100 gallons of water, you’d only have enough water for four people for 25 days. A Day Zero crisis could go on much longer than that.
You’ll need to find sources of water, then filter it in order to survive.
The first sources of water you should utilize are the ones closest to you. Your water heater and toilet tanks can be drained and filtered. If you have cube trays or an ice-maker, that can be melted and used as well.
If you don’t have rain collection set up, it would be wise to improvise something ASAP when the crisis looms or hits. One idea: place buckets covered in clean white t-shirts (to keep out pests and debris) in a clear, elevated location.
Lakes, streams and springs. In a water shortage, these areas will receive the most pressure. But if you have an abundance of blue on the map near you, they’re worth visiting to collect water. Running water tends to be cleaner than standing pools, but again – you must assume all water you collect is contaminated.
Another great way to get survival water is to get it from your area’s plants. For example, birch trees in the northwest contain syrup that is 99% water. Certain cacti in desert regions hold water that can be drank. Learn what’s available in your region using foraging guidebooks or groups. This way of collecting water will also be less pressure than the lakes, streams and springs – and can be very productive if you know where to look.
In summary, the two most critical things to prepare for surviving Day Zero is ensuring you have (multiple) water treatment and filtration options on hand and figuring out how you will collect and store your water.
This is not a small step – so we will conclude here today. However, in the future, I do want to go into greater detail on emergency sanitation and hygiene in a water crisis. Stay tuned for that article soon.
We’ll keep our eye on the Day Zero crisis in South Africa so we can all learn and strengthen our plans from it. Until then, have a great weekend and stay alert out there, friends!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply