Cape Town tightening water restrictions again

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s drought-hit city of Cape Town plans to introduce new water restrictions on Thursday in an attempt to avoid what it calls “Day Zero,” the day in mid-April when it might have to turn off most taps.

Residents will be asked to use no more than 13.2 gallons of water daily, down from the current limit of 23 gallons. The use of city drinking water to wash vehicles, hose down paved areas, fill up private swimming pools and water gardens is illegal. Residents using too much water will be fined or have devices that limit water supply installed on their properties, according to the rules.

Some 70 percent of water used in Cape Town is consumed in homes, authorities say.

The city of four million people, known internationally as a top tourist destination, has been struggling for several years with water shortages caused by climate change and huge population growth. Political factions are also bickering about alleged failures to respond to warnings years ago about a looming water crisis.

“Day Zero,” set for April 16, would occur if the average level of reservoirs serving the city falls below 13.5 percent. The average level has dropped to 26 percent.

Authorities said they will take over management on Thursday of a source of natural spring water where residents have converged, sometimes chaotically, to collect water. One person was detained at the Newlands neighborhood site after a fight broke out this week, and noise and traffic congestion around the clock have disturbed neighbors and an adjacent home for the elderly, the city said.

Private security guards already monitor people with plastic containers at another natural spring location at a South African Breweries facility in Newlands.

The possibility that most city taps might have to be shut off has raised concerns about security, and police and the military are expected to help secure water collection sites if “Day Zero” occurs.

A South African parliamentary committee said it will ask the government to “rein in unscrupulous traders” who have raised the price of bottled water to take advantage of the crisis. Poor people will suffer the most from price gouging, the trade and industry committee said.