Water restrictions, water conservation and water harvesting dominant much of our conversations these days, but with the hope of Easter and the start of winter many of us are gearing up for the rain. That sad the fact remains that even if we get a large amount of rainfall and the dam levels rise to the ideal 85%, increasing population and warmer climatic conditions are a better bet than high rainfall.

Over the last few months I have been reading about the El Nino effect (the hot phase of ENSO) and looking at Statistics about our current Cape drought. Historically this drought is on time- albeit- a little early statistically, but with increased population, tourism and development in Cape Town it makes sense that our water reserves are suffering. To date we are in an El Nino cycle and if one has to refer to the current warmer climatic conditions as a bell curve we are at the top. To be honest during the last couple of years us Capetonians have been moving slowly over the top of a wide bell curve.  Interestingly La Nino (the cool phase of ENSO) is at the bottom of the bell curve and in theory brings cooler climatic conditions. Many believe that this will mean an increase in rainfall and cooler conditions for us as Capetonians. In the next decade or so we will fall into La Nino (perhaps sooner or later), which will in turn mean different climatic conditions to what we are currently exposed to.

At the moment we are currently experiencing:

  • Hot, dry conditions, which in turn leads to vegetation die-back and subsequent erosion.
  • Habitat and Vegetation Changes: The Karoo is said to be spreading and its habitat now stretches almost 20% further than 10 years ago.
  • Increased growth and development. Cape Town is growing faster than supportive infrastructure.

When the fluctuations of the Ocean and Atmosphere around the equator fall into La Nino then we will experience:

  • Cooler, wetter conditions. With the erosion and vegetation dieback that occurred pre La Nino could we experience severe flooding, and with it extreme damage to existing unprepared infrastructure?
  • Cape Town city’s climate to become more and more like the West Coast/ Karoo? Hot, humid days and Cool, cold nights.
  • Increased growth means limited resources and infrastructure. As well as higher demands on food and water resources

Irrespective of the changes in El Nino and La Nino the facts remain- The bell curve depicting hot, dry conditions on top and cooler, wet conditions at the bottom is getting wider. Thus, we need to cater for the increased periods in drought in the future. This means developing alternative water sources; building larger dams; becoming more water conscious and water-wise; changing our perceptions on gardens/landscapes and planting alternative/different vegetation.

The worry is that even with rain on the forecast or La Nino pending Capetonians will forget about the drought. The hard truth is that drier conditions for Capetonians and perhaps a drought might become an every-day reality for years to come…

(See Blog post: Gardening tips for Water Restrictions and Xeriscape Gardening)