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Faced with the threat of “Day Zero”, when it was feared that Cape Town’s taps could run dry, consumers reduced household water usage from 540 to 280 L per household per day over the 36 months between January 2015 and January 2018. This paper describes the events that prompted this reduction. We look at how changes in water use were affected by official announcements and by public engagement with this news via the social media activity and internet searches. We analysed the water usage of a subset of middle to high income households where smart hot and cold water meters were installed. For hot water usage patterns we compared meter readings with that in another area unaffected by the drought. We further map our cold water smart meter readings against that of the City of Cape Town’s municipal data for domestic freestanding households — a sample of more than 400,000 households. We found that the introduction of Level 5 restrictions had a perverse effect on consumption, possibly due to confusing messages. The most dramatic change in behaviour appears to have been instigated by a media storm and consequent user panic after the release of the City’s Critical Water Shortages Disaster Plan in October 2017. However, contradictory communication from national and provincial government eroded some of this gain. The paper concludes with recommendations for demand management in a similar future scenario.

Drought response, Demand-side management, User behaviour, Household water usage, Time-of-day analysis, Smart water meters, Cape town drought


Booysen, M.J., Visser, M. and Burger, R., 2019. Temporal case study of household behavioural response to Cape Town’s “Day Zero” using smart meter data. Water Research149, pp.414-420.