As the drought situation in Cape Town worsens and water levels drop to disastrously low levels, the City of Cape Town has now implemented Phase 1 of the Critical Water Shortages Disaster Plan. It involves Water rationing through extreme pressure reduction and limiting supply. This move has become necessary because previous water restriction efforts have not been successful in bringing the water usage in line with the necessary target of 500 million litres of collective water usage per day.

“Winter is over and we are in for a long hot dry summer period, when we’ll see a rapid decline of our dam levels.” Said Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, adding that “The New Normal means that as a permanent drought region, we have to change our relationship with water as a scarce resource, and augment our supply with alternative non-surface sources.”

In a statement release in October, the City of Cape Town explaining how this latest move would impact residents, and most notable that water rationing will result in intermittent supply of water during peak water consumption hours, as well as reduced water pressure.

The City of Cape Town has further advised the following:

  • Keep up to 5 litres of water available for essential use only during rationing.
  • Please do not store excessive water.
  • When you experience a loss of supply, and before you contact our Call Centre, please
    check your neighbours’ supply first to see whether it is likely a case of rationing.
  • The City is not liable for any consequences or damage to private infrastructure resulting
    from the rationing or associated operations.
  • Please ensure that all taps are closed when not in use to prevent damage when the supply
    comes back. Ensure that you take necessary steps, such as speaking to your insurer if
    possible, to mitigate potential damage and for fire prevention.

By instituting Phase 1 of the Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan, the City of Cape Town hopes to avoid the more extreme disaster phases of the disaster plan.

Currently, residents are restricted to 87 litres per person per day, with the possibility of receiving a fine if this is exceeded. Water is not to be used at all for any non-essential purposes, such as watering gardens, topping up swimming pools and washing cars.

Water Usage by Activity:





12-15 litres per flush

Don’t flush tissues


15-18 litres per minute (75-90 litres per 5 minute showers)

Limit showers to 2 minutes


150-200 litres per bath

Avoid altogether


20-30 litres per minute

Don’t leave tap running while brushing teeth or soaping hands.


40-75 Litres per cycle

Try to hand wash dishes when possible. Always ensure you have a full load

Handwashing Dishes

10-30 litres

Don’t use running water to rinse dishes

Washing Machine

90-150 litres per cycle

Use sparingly

The Critical Water Shortages Disaster Plan is a three-phase plan, and Cape Town has entered Phase 1:

Phase 1: Preservation Restrictions, Rationing

Purpose – To avoid escalation to Phase 2: Disaster Restrictions

  • Water rationing through limiting supply and advanced pressure management which severely limits available water supply in the system per day
  • Some areas will experience short periods of limited or no water supply
  • Critical services, such as clinics and hospitals, will be largely unaffected
  • Definitive timetables of the outages will not be provided, as the water systems need to be managed flexibly to avoid damage to critical infrastructure
  • Intensified installation of water management devices to limit the consumption of users who are exceeding the water restriction levels

Phase 2: Disaster Restrictions

Purpose – Avoid escalation to Phase 3 (Full-scale disaster implementation)

  • Water rationing aimed at maintaining human life and critical services.
  • City will more actively assume control over the daily water supply available to households and businesses.
  • Many households and businesses will be unable to access running water in their homes or places of work
  • Water distribution sites to be established across the city
  • Strategic commercial areas, high-density areas with significant risk of increased burden of disease, and critical services, where possible, will continue to receive drinking water through normal channels
  • The City’s law enforcement and policing resources, as well as resources from intergovernmental partners, will be deployed to ensure that general safety is maintained.
  • Maintenance of the sewage system – infrastructure and health considerations

Phase 3: Full-scale disaster implementation

Purpose - Minimise impact on human life, dignity and property

  • Extreme scenario – occurs if the Western Cape Water Supply System no longer has surface water supply which the City can access
  • Can be avoided with progressive rationing in phases 1 and 2.
  • Necessary that the City, its residents and stakeholders plan for such a situation
  • Limited drinking water supplies sourced within the city
  • Households and businesses will be unable to access running water in their homes or places of work
  • Drinking water will be distributed, supplemented by bottled water, to residents through water distribution points
  • Critical services dependent on reticulation supply will be significantly reduced
  • The City’s law enforcement and policing resources, as well resources from intergovernmental partners, will be deployed to ensure that general safety is maintained.
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