Cape Town is running out of water. Is Los Angeles next?

There’s an expression in Afrikaans, n boer maak a plan, which roughly translates to “a farmer makes a plan.” According to Carey Buchanan, a lapsed Afrikaner now living in England, it’s a typically stoic South African sentiment about perseverance—and apparently, one that encapsulates how many Cape Town residents are feeling on the eve of Day Zero.

That’s the day when Cape Town, South Africa is predicted to become the first major city in the world to run out of water. It’s coming sooner than you’d think.

It’s a name that conjures all sorts of 28 Days Later connotations, but it’s more a reality than a dystopian fiction. Day Zero is expected to fall on May 11, 2018—having already moved up (and then pushed back again) from the originally-estimated April 21 date.

Cape Town isn’t alone. Mexico City, Tokyo, and Delhi top the list of the five most water-stressed cities, according to the Nature Conservancy’s first global survey of megacitieswater sources.

Los Angeles comes in ninth globally. Nationally? We’re No. 1.

So, does Cape Town portend Los Angeles’s fate in a few short years?

In a word, no. But as Kelly Sanders, environmental scientist and assistant professor of environmental and civil engineering at USC, says, “the devil’s in the details.” LA’s water portfolio, what scientists call the sources from where a city gets its water, is diverse and well-funded, but experts say the city can do more to accommodate for future climate change and population growth.

Contrary to popular wisdom, LA is not a desert. Some may mourn the forever tainted words of Kim Gordon or Joan Didion, but this is good news. It means that it’s easier for LA to save water, because there’s more water falling in the surrounding mountains, more natural groundwater sources, and more chance that rainwater can be absorbed back into the water table when it does rain, in contrast to desert cities like Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

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