Can an iceberg rescue Cape Town?

Possible plan to help with South African city's drought crisis involves towing icebergs to use as drinking water
Cape Town Dangerously low levels in water reserves such as the Theewaterskloof Dam have left Cape Town in a major crisis. (© Hpbfotos |

Back in Issue 40 of the OWLconnected eMag (which is awesome, by the way, and free to all subscribers of OWL magazine, just saying), we discussed the ongoing drought crisis in Cape Town, South Africa. A quick recap in case you haven't kept up with this story...

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Cape Town was voted the best place on Earth to visit in 2014 by the New York Times. (Getty Embed)

This city on the southeastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean is widely considered one of the most beautiful on the planet. But for the last few years, it has barely had any rain at all. Unless something big changes (i.e. rainfall returns to normal), city officials fear that a 'Day Zero' will happen some time between late summer and 2019. This means that the city will run out of water for all but its emergency services.

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Water rations have been a part of everyday life for people in Cape Town for months now. (Getty Embed)

Obviously, this is an enormous problem and people are scrambling for solutions. According to the Reuters news agency, one of those is a plan that sounds straight out of some sci-fi action blockbuster.

To give Cape Town the water it needs, someone is proposing towing icebergs to the city.


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"We'll take that one!" (Getty Embed)

Skipping past the fact that large ships and icebergs sometimes don't mix too well, this plan certainly sounds fantastical at first glance. Icebergs are a) massive and b) ice. Towing such a huge object would be quite expensive, and then there's the problem of keeping the ice from melting on its way to a place where even the winters average a cozy 11°C (53°F).

But this plan isn't as wild and fanciful as it might sound. The iceberg would come—surprise, surprise—from Antarctica. Though this is over 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles) away, there is a northward ocean current called the Benguela Current that it could hitch a ride on for part of the trip. And the team behind the plan also say that they could wrap the iceberg in a special fabric that would stop it from melting. Or at least, reduce how much it melts.

Betting on a berg

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Berg or no berg, solving Cape Town's water problems will take a lot of planning. (Getty Embed)

Can this plan really work? Even if everything goes well, it is still estimated that the project would cost about $US130 million. That's a big chunk of money for a big chunk of ice. But, it is estimated that the right berg would give Cape Town 150 million litres of pristine drinking water a day for a year. That would certainly help!

In the end, this doesn't sound like a permanent solution to Cape Town's water woes. But as an idea, this iceberg plan definitely got our attention! Do you think Cape Town will agree?

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