I read the alarming news about Capetown, South Africa, one of the world's most affluent cities, with a sense of foreboding. news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/cape-town-running-out-of-water-drought-taps-shutoff-other-cities/ A new term has been coined to refer to the problem there. Day Zero. That is the day that all the taps in the region will be shut off. From that point on, water will be distributed from one of 200 emergency water stations outside groceries and other gathering places. Residents will be forced to queue up surrounded by armed guards to collect enough water for their needs. Day Zero was going to be February 5th, 2018. They got a slight reprieve because agriculture had already used their allotment this year, so it has been postponed until May 11th. Officials say Day Zero in Capetown is inevitable. "The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?" says Helen Zille, former Cape Town mayor and the current premier of South Africa's Western Cape province. It is tempting to think that they were caught unprepared. But over the last 20 years, Capetown has made elaborate changes in preparation for the looming threat. It even won several prestigious international awards for water management. In 2014, all the reservoirs were full. But then came three straight years of drought, the worst in a century. All water management algorithms employ historical models to predict the future. But we are now in a perilous new environment in which climate change, extreme weather events and increased demand from burgeoning human populations are taking their toll. Capetown is not the only major city with water problems; included are Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Jakarta, and Melbourne, Australia. In addition, there are also many areas where famine and unrest are tied to a lack of water. Here in California, we have our own share of water problems. As Mark Twain once said, "Whisky's for drinkin, water's for fighting." We are made of water, our bodies are comprised of 60% water and if we don't have access to it, we probably will resort to fighting. Water is Life. Our predecessors crawled up out of it millions of years ago with a vascular system that carries it to every part of our bodies. We have lived too long in the lap of luxury with water flowing from ubiquitous taps everywhere. Our presumed continued access to clean water could prove to be our Achilles heel. We haven't caught up on the dismaying news that clean fresh water is no longer guaranteed and we may need to plan for that eventuality.
The human imagination is also ripe with resourcefulness. Consider the possibility of "Fog Collection" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fog_collection. There is evidence of ancient practices of a version of this in medieval dew ponds in Southern England, antique stone piles in the Ukraine and large scale natural irrigation in the Atacama and Namib deserts. Modern day fog collection is simply accomplished by stretching a large piece of canvas between two poles. Water droplets coalesce and run down into a collection trough below. A good example of this occurred in the eighties by the meteorological service of Canada (MSC) with the construction of large collecting devices on Mount Sutton in Quebec. Chilean authorities learned of it and erected 50 of the systems to irrigate seedlings on a hillside in an attempt at reforestation. It's proven success elicited a request from the villagers below and funding from the IRDC (International Development Research Centre). It was expanded to 94 collection devices, a storage tank and piping to the village. Initially, it was considered to be a spectacular success, with an average production of 15,000 litres of water per day (peaking at 100,000 liters) that could be stored or piped to the village for use in drinking, bathing and irrigating. Other successful implementations of this low tech water harvesting method have also occurred in Guatemala, Morocco, Yemen, Haiti, and Nepal.
Another inspiring example of a simple water conservation method is the story of a farmer, Pak Sadiman, from Central Java, Indonesia www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/09/01/man-spends-19-years-planting-trees-save-village-drought.html. He spent nineteen years of his spare time planting Banyan and Lamtoro trees on a denuded hillside. The hill was severely deforested through logging and a series of forest fires that took place between the 1960's and 80's. As a result, the Gendol river, which used to be the only source of water for villagers, completely dried up. While thirty other districts in the region are still suffering from the water shortages, his local Geneng district has been unaffected by the prolonged dry season. The Banyan and Lamtoro trees he planted have the effect of retaining groundwater. Sadiman says he can't remember how many trees he has planted but data from the subdistrict office indicates that at least 11,000 trees have been planted in the last 19 years. Locals are quoted, "Pak Sadiman is our hero. This village used to struggle with a water crisis, but now we have an abundance of water because of him. Pak Sadiman is a living example of sincerity, persistence and hard work." Sadiman, age 67, says he intends to plant at least 20,000 more trees on the Gendol and Ampyangan hills to further alleviate the current water deficit and ensure that all neighboring subdistricts also get enough clean water. "I won't stop planting trees as long as I'm still physically fit to do that," he said.