Yes it’s true that we will have a Day Zero, which is 22nd April, when technically the taps will run dry. In fact, this isn’t strictly true because Cape Town has for too long abandoned its traditional water supply mechanisms (some of which were designed and built by John Parker, the same mayor that built Parker Cottage). We do need to save water, but realistically, we cannot save as much as we need to because we’re dependent on rainfall, despite literally sitting on virtually infinite reserves of water.
When Cape Town became a city rather than just a port, several decisions were made: to prevent cholera, all natural streams that flow through the city were buried in culverts (one of them runs in the street outside my house which has a flow rate of around 3000 litres a minute) to prevent transmission. Additionally, dams and reservoirs were built on top of Table Mountain, which were connected to a pumping station above Camps Bay, and used to fill the Molteno Dam in Oranjezicht. For the population of the city in the early 1900s, this water was more than enough for the year even in low rainfall years.
Around halfway through the last century, the decision was taken to abandon what was then seen as an antiquated system and so a much larger reservoir, Theewaterskloof, was built mainly to catch the snowfall and (then) extensive rainfall of the much larger mountainous region of the Hottentots Holland Mountain range. The idea was to put the main water source more centrally in the province to provide more water to regional towns and the agricultural areas. As such, the entire water provision of not only Cape Town and the Western Cape was then dependant on one thing: rainfall in the Hottentot Hollands.
Of course the population of the city has expanded, exponentially, in the last 20 years and in addition, the economy has grown and grown, in some years in excess of 15% per annum. This growth, not least in construction and agriculture, both water-intensive industries, has obviously put a lot of strain on existing water resources but couple this with a lack of rainfall over the last five years and you have a crisis.
At the same time, whilst some areas like Limpopo do experience extensive droughts, most of the country has had regular rainfall and in fact has actually had to open dams to dispose of excess water, particularly KwaZulu Natal.
So the truth is that Cape Town has plenty of water: South Africa has plenty of water. What’s needed is a complete rethink of the water management at a regional and national level. We don’t need desalination plants, we don’t need high-tech solutions. We just need cooperation in the various government structures.