Living in Cape Town South Africa, after we have gained experience with rolling blackouts, our city (and surrounds) ran out of water … a first-world major metropolis ran out of water.
This is my summation of what happened and how we personally dealt with it.
Two things to note:
Cape Town falls in a winter rainfall area. (Similar to Northern California)
In our country, clean water is a constitutional right. Building dams, desalination plants, and maintaining the dams is the responsibility of the national government. Local governments are responsible for distributing the water. They are not allowed to build dams or desalination plants. Cape Town was forced to do both, at taxpayers' cost.
This is to give you some background on how things are (or are supposed to be) here. You will see that how things are supposed to be are not how things are.
How did Cape Town almost run completely out of water?
There were basically four main reasons, as Cape Town knew of this pending problem:
An unforeseen severe drought triggered it all.
Unbeknownst to most, because of "state capture" (a kind phrase for corruption), the National Department of Water and Sanitation had no funds left to build dams. The South African public was blissfully unaware of this.
The local budgets, the part that the city must budget in order to distribute the water, was used to build a dam, effect some repairs to local national water infrastructures, and because year after year there were good rains, the rest was used for other pressing political promises, like schools, toilets (yes toilets), and housing etc.
There was a huge influx of people into Cape Town from other provinces, seeking jobs, as the Western Cape is one of the best-run provinces in SA.
A "perfect storm" some would call it, triggered by a drought.
Here's some more information if you wish to read further.
#DayZero – How close we came
The city of Cape Town, with plus or minus 4 million people, with businesses and the agricultural sector on top of that, was using about 1.2 billion litres of water per day. If the rains stayed, that would be no apparent problem, but it turns out that even with regular rains, the system was being put under severe strain already, and maintenance was behind too.
To make ends meet with the rains gone, first the agricultural sector's water allocation was reduced, then canceled. Then large water users like businesses and hotels were forced to reduce. Then home users allowed only 50 liters (about 13 gallons) per person per day (pppd) i.e. level 6b water restrictions. Everyone was affected.
What are Level 6b restrictions? This included, not limited to, no watering of gardens, no topping up of pools, no washing of cars nor pavings i.e. no hosepipe usage at all, no filling of pools nor fish ponds or any water feature, and people were limited to only 13 gallons per day. With an average of four people per property that equates to a max usage of 6000 litres per month. (1585 gallons)
Note from Daisy: For comparison's sake, the average American uses 101.5 gallons of water per day. For a family of four, that's 406 gallons per day and 12,180 gallons per month.
Coupled with the above, a forced massive hike in the water price with huge fines if you don't stay within the limit with the last resort, the physical limitation of the water supply to your home. Larger families could ask for an increased usage.
To further "help" people manage their water usage a website was created that showed each house in the city's water consumption. Green dot and you are good, so one could also see ones neighbour's usages. People got really angry and took to social media if they saw water wasters.