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Winter’s back for a visit, and we could get a little rain this week.

It’s encouraging and frightening when winter storms blast onto the Central Coast. We need rain, but we do not need catastrophic mudslides.

The need for water is crucial, because despite recent downpours that sent mud crashing through areas in Montecito, this region and most of California are once again inching toward severe drought.

We are not alone. Other western states are bone dry, thanks to shifting global weather patterns, which may or may not be caused by humans, depending on how you feel about climate change, the politically-correct label for global warming.

We were pondering long-term drought scenarios the other day when a reader contacted us about a story he’d read on a water shortage in Cape Town, South Africa, which made us think of the piece we had read about water issues in Viper, Kentucky.

So, we could call this a tale of two cities, but the issue is much larger than a big South African city or tiny Kentucky village.

Cape Town is simply running out of water. Normal rain patterns disappeared — along with significant rainfall — a few years ago.

Cape Town’s government officials are warning the nearly 4 million residents that water supplies are down to less than 25 percent of normal. When the level falls to about 14 percent, the city must stop water deliveries. Unless a rain miracle happens, the end of water days for Cape Town residents will happen in early June, or sooner.

And it has finally dawned on those millions of South Africans that their choice of a place to live may soon be unfit for human habitation.

Of all the things humans depend on, water is one of the most important. Think about getting up in the morning, going into the kitchen to begin your coffee-making routine, and no water comes from the tap.

Cape Town officials are calling it “Day Zero,” the time the water is shut off, and 4 million people have to figure out what to do next.

The problem in Viper, Kentucky, is different. The water goes off for varying periods pretty much every winter, especially when there are hard freezes that break water lines. The townspeople subsist on bottled water, and they’ve become accustomed to the drill.

The point is that Earth is brimming with people, a crowd that expands by the minute, but not enough potable water. The folks in Viper think they’ll get along, but what about those 4 million people in Cape Town?

The irony is that Cape Town sits beside an endless supply of water, being the geographical divider of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. With the right kind of facilities, the city and its inhabitants wouldn’t have any water worries.

Are you getting a sense of where we’re headed with this? We’ve written about it so many times, it would be a shock if regular readers didn’t catch the drift toward desalting ocean water so it can be used for everything from growing valuable crops, to washing cars, to brushing teeth. Oh yes, and having clean water to drink.

The potable water issue is only going to worsen. America’s aging infrastructure is in trouble, and that includes water delivery systems that in many Americans towns and cities are more than a century old.

We’ve been beating the desalination drum for more than a decade, because it is the logical answer to one of the Central Coast’s most vexing questions: In a worst-case drought situation, where do we get water?