22 January 2019
Last year, the news that Cape Town was on the verge of running out of water was global. The tourism and the farming sectors were badly impacted. When the winter rains eventually arrived on May 5, the reservoirs were down to 20.9% of their capacity, anything under 10% being largely inaccessible. Fortunately, the winter rains were generous, particularly in the early months, and the reservoirs peaked at 76.2% of their capacity on October 8. For this year the threat of drought has receded.
But for how long has the problem gone away? Cape Town is using about 0.2% of its reservoir capacity every day or 6% every month. The reservoirs are currently at 61.7% of capacity, so without fresh rain, there is a little over eight months of available water. If there is not normal rainfall this winter, the emergency could be back on next year
From reports I have seen, the average American uses more than 300 liters of water per day. During the peak Cape Town drought last summer, we had to limit ourselves to 50 liters per day, increased to 70 liters when the winter rains arrived, and recently increased again to 105 liters.
Our small building in Cape Town has only six apartments; two on each of three floors, with a secure parking garage in the basement. Our apartment is on the top floor.
Now we know how much water we were consuming as a building, but we had no idea if our individual apartment conservation efforts were adequate. So the building committee decided to install individual water meters in each apartment, and a plumbing company was contracted to carry out the work.
And on a beautiful Cape Town morning on 15 January at 09:00, a plumber and his mate started work. Shortly after, they found that they did not have the right meters, and off they went to plumbing suppliers to source the correct ones.
When they returned, they started work on the first apartment, only to find that the pipe inserts that they had were not the right size. So back to the suppliers they went once more, but this time with no luck. They could not find the required size.
So rather than abandon the task for the day, they decided to at least install the meters, and come back another day, when they had located the correct inserts. At 13:00, they arrived in our apartment, the second of the six apartments to be converted.
By 13:40, the initial work was completed, and I offered to knock on our neighbour’s door, the next on the plumber’s list. When she opened her door, there was a tremendous whoosh of air and a resounding bang, as our door slammed shut behind us, trapping in a horizontal position, an apron, that had been hanging on the wall beside the door.
And nothing we did would open the door. Nothing would move it, not even Tony’s shoulder charge. As unlikely as it appeared, it looked as if the force of the slamming had caused the door to lock, and my keys were inside the apartment.
So, for a while we considered climbing up from the apartment below, but we did not have a suitable ladder. In the end, our neighbour contacted Lotta at her office in the city, and drove off to get her keys.
In the meantime, Tony offered me a glass of delicious white wine in his apartment, while we waited.
But when the keys arrived, it was soon obvious that the door was not locked, just jammed, due to the apron. So everyone had a go at pulling it out, and after several attempts, the plumber succeeded in wrenching it free.
And the door sweetly opened, with no effort.
Finding myself being locked out of our apartment in Cape Town, reminded me of an incident that occurred to me, many years ago in the early 1990s, when I used to spend a lot of time in Brussels on business. I had a contract at attractive rates with the Hotel Euroflat on Boulevard Charlemagne, and on the very rare occasion when they were fully booked, they used to find me a room at an up-market hotel across the street. It was on such an occasion that I am recalling.
I had just got back to my room from training in the Parc du Cinquantaire – I was still a keen runner in those days, and I was rather late for a dinner appointment. I stripped off my running gear and went straight to the bathroom to shower. I threw open what I thought was the bathroom door, only to find myself standing naked in the hotel corridor. Now hotel entrance doors tend to have a strong spring to avoid them being left open, and it was something of a miracle that I managed to realize my predicament, and grab the door behind me, before it slammed shut. I was microseconds from having to descend in the elevator, stride naked across to reception and request another room key.
But how could I have made such a mistake?
For this particular room, the layout was different to a standard hotel room. If one stands with back to the window, normally the bathroom is next to the bed and at the end of a short corridor there is the entrance door. But in this case, the entrance door was next to the bed and the bathroom was at the end of the corridor, where the entrance door would normally be. An easy mistake to make; a possibly embarrassing outcome.
I wonder how many others have got caught like me?
But the curtain had not yet come down on the ‘water meter’ drama. Late afternoon yesterday, there was a message on our Whatsapp group to say that the recently installed piping in the apartment next door had come loose, and the geyser had ejected 400 liters of water. It was all hands to the pump.
Luckily there were several of us in the building at the time and we collectively sourced buckets, towels, mops, sponges etc. and within the hour, all was almost spick-and-span once more.
And while we waited for the plumber and his mate to return to re-do his handiwork, Tony produced two more cold bottles of the same delicious white wine, that had so successfully consoled me a few days previously.
As Shakespeare said, ‘All’s well that ends well‘.