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Water securityCape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

Published 6 February 2018

Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April.

The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

ASU Now: Cape Town’s water crisis sounds apocalyptic. How did they get to this point?
Dave White:
The causes of Cape Town’s water crisis are familiar to water managers in water-scarce cities around the world: limited supplies, dramatic population growth, aging and inefficient infrastructure, persistent drought, inadequate reservoir storage and climate change impacts. The recent severe drought, which has lasted three years, was almost certainly made worse by the impacts of climate change, including rising temperature and declining precipitation. Our best scientific projections lead us to expect more frequent and extreme droughts in the future. 

This crisis should serve as a wakeup call for cities around the world. These are among the very same challenges that we face in western U.S. cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and Los Angeles. In the western U.S., our urban water systems have proved to be remarkably resilient, in part due to far-sighted planning, professional management and conservation, but there is clearly a pressing need to develop new innovative solutions (to) transition urban water systems to adapt to multiple interrelated stresses, including climate change.