In 2018, the Western Cape region in South Africa experienced a significant drought. At a certain date termed “Day Zero”, it was projected that about 3.7 million people in the City of Cape Town would run out of water. In this qualitative study, we provide a context for the situation and explore how a group of individual residents interpreted and adapted to the situation by changing their norms in order to preserve water. A systematic text condensation identified three superordinate themes that captured essential aspects of how the informants interpreted the situation and mobilized to cope with the environmental crisis. Three core processes are exemplified with direct statements from the informants. Specifically, these were labeled “making sense of the situation”, “taking part in the action” and “looking to the future”. The interview data suggest that the water shortage emerged as a significant existential experience transcending personal norms, mobilizing action, and reminding the informants about an uncertain future. The findings from this study may inform future research on pro-environmental action and sustainability.
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