Nasa images paint devastating picture of waterless Cape Town

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Nasa images paint devastating picture of waterless Cape Town

Graphic shows how dams have slowly been shrinking

News editor

If a picture paints a thousand words, then satellite images write novels – especially if you're looking at what they say about the severity of the drought affecting Cape Town and the Western Cape.
The figures make for stark reading. Theewaterskloof, the biggest dam in the Western Cape Water Supply System, was at 89.5% full at the end of January 2014, but it is now just at 13.3% of its capacity. In simpler terms, that means it has gone from having just shy 429,700 megalitres to 64,825 megaliteres – a drop of near on 365,900 megalitres in just 48 months.
While this sounds bad, images release by Nasa this week allows you to see – physically, brutally and starkly – just what this means for water security in the region, and how the drought has affected a dam that supplies about 40% of the water for Cape Town’s more than  four million people.
Theewaterskloof was nearly full capacity in 2014.
“During the preceding year [2013], the weather station at Cape Town airport tallied 682mm of rain, making it one of the wettest years in decades. 515mm is normal," Nasa’s Earth Observatory notes.
But then the drought struck.
“However, rains faltered in 2015, with just 325mm falling. The next year, with 221mm, was even worse. In 2017, the station recorded just 157 mm of rain.”
The result was devastating.“Cape Town’s six major reservoirs can collectively store 898,000 megalitres of water, but they held just 26% of that amount as of January 29 2018. Theewaterskloof Dam — the largest reservoir and the source of roughly half of the city’s water — is in the worst condition, with the water level at just 13% of capacity," Nasa said.
The result has seen the Day Zero scenario – when the taps run dry – set for April 16.
For this to be avoided or pushed back, water augmentation projects are streaming ahead.
Strict Level 6B water restrictions kicked in from Thursday. The restrictions mean that Capetonians are only allowed to used 50 litres of water – or less – a day. Given that just over half of residents were meeting the previous target of 87 litres of water a day, this will be a challenge for residents. But it is a challenge they will have to meet.

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