The Cape water crisis is now a reality of which most people living in South Africa are very aware. Cape Town is preparing for a harsh summer ahead, and the local government attests that it is doing everything in its power to ensure that the Mother City makes it through this challenging time.
Water consumption is currently at 585-million litres of collective usage per day, and must be reduced further, so it is important that all Capetonians do everything they can to help.
Even if you’re not living in the drought-stricken Cape, water is still a precious commodity that no one in the world should take for granted. Even leading water scientists predict that “future wars will be fought over water”. The head of the department of urban water management at UCT, Neil Armitage, explains that “a person needs four to five litres of water a day to survive and we’re using on average 200l per person per day.” It’s clear we need to drastically alter our water usage habits (and mindsets), so that we don’t continue to waste so much.
Water-shedding is now in place and the water supply will be disrupted in some areas during peak usage times (from 05:00 to 09:00, and 17:00 to 21:00). While a crucial measure, it’s natural to still want to enjoy your holidays, while abiding by restrictions. So here are six tips for how to save more water, prepare for any water rationing, and to support the City of Cape Town in its drought interventions.
1. Set up a grey water system
A grey water system allows you to recycle water from the sinks and shower to flush toilets and water the garden. There are a few different systems on the market, which can be set up to catch water from washing machines, dishwashers, dryers, and even sinks. Do also note that it’s important to always wait for a full load before running any dishwashers or washing machines, and consider investing in a machine that allows the rinse water to be reused for the next cycle.
Grey water can be safely used in the garden for irrigation, ensuring that little to no water is wasted. This not only saves gardens, but also saves money. Your sewage bill is based on your incoming water consumption, as opposed to your outgoing water. So, by setting up a grey water system, you will use water twice before sending it back into the municipal system, which will result in you using less and spending less.
It is quite simple to install a system. You will just need to switch to natural, biodegradable products to protect the integrity of the soil; and it’s advisable to use any grey water intended for the garden within 24 hours.
2. Stay informed about water restrictions and inform any guests
The Western Cape is expecting a further two million international tourists during the upcoming summer season, and chances are you may be hosting guests from abroad or from other parts of the country. Or maybe you live in another province and are making the fantastic decision to spend the holidays in the beautiful Cape!
Cape Town has recently launched an initiative called the ‘Save like a local’ campaign, which focuses on juggling local and international tourism with the existing drought interventions. According to an article published on Traveller24, the local government will rely heavily on the tourism sector to spread awareness, and has strategically placed water-saving messages in several languages across the city, including on airport billboards.
It is a good idea to keep informed of any developments by reading the local newspapers or following the Water Shedding Western Cape on Facebook. Not every holiday maker is aware of the current drought, so you may need to let guests know that water wastage is no longer permitted. Make them aware of any house rules you may follow to reduce and reuse water, and support them in making decisions that can benefit the environment that they will be enjoying.
3. Change to a water-saving toilet
Toilet water use can vary significantly, but older toilets can shockingly use up to 26 litres of water with every flush. Ideally, everyone should invest in a high-efficiency toilet that uses less than five litres per flush, but If you can’t afford to install a specially designed water-saving toilet, then consider at least installing a system that flushes grey water. Or simply add a brick or two to the cistern to reduce the amount of water the toilet uses.
Low-flow faucets and shower heads can also reduce water usage by as much as 30%, so it’s worth replacing old faucets and bathroom accessories with low-flow components before the holiday period starts. Put an hour aside to also try to find and fix any leaks, as this will save you water, money and stress once your house is filled with friends and family.
4. Invest in a natural swimming pool
According to a Traveller24 article, “with level 5 water restrictions firmly in place, the City of Cape Town’s Recreation and Parks Department is reducing the number of public swimming pools that will open for business this summer.” Only 12 of the 35 municipal swimming pools will be open during the peak summer season, and these facilities are distributed across the city to ensure equitable access.
With this in mind, if you’re fortunate to have your own swimming pool, consider changing it to a natural pool that doesn’t need any chemicals. Under current water restrictions, topping up of swimming pools is prohibited, so you won’t be able to run the pump if the water level is too low. It is, therefore, essential to buy a pool cover but, if your budget will allow, then changing to a natural pool is an effective way to avoid your pool turning into a swamp.
5. Create a water-wise garden
Prepare your garden for the long, hot summer ahead by planting hardy plants that can withstand drought. It’s also a good idea to replace grass with artificial turf, gravel or decking to save water. As it is no longer permitted to water gardens with municipal water, it is advisable to replace thirsty plants with those that require minimal water to survive.
An indigenous garden will use water efficiently, so start by clearing any invasive plants. These consume excessive amounts of water and compete with local flora, without offering any ecological benefits to the environment. South Africa has a diverse array of indigenous plants to choose from, which are adapted to the climatic conditions and can tolerate long periods of drought.
Landscape experts, Life Green Group, highlight that water is often wasted through inefficient irrigation, so they advise using a drip irrigation system, which delivers very small amounts of water directly to the root system to ensure water is not wasted through run-off or evaporation. Or simply plant a succulent garden, which has very little need for irrigation. Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that was developed in arid areas. A xeriscape is a very low maintenance garden, using a lot of stones and desert-adapted (xerophytic) plants, that will actually die if over-watered.
Also don’t be afraid of using much more mulch. It may be hard to wrap your head around this, but Life Green Group suggest that you leave the leaves in the flowerbed! Rather than forking the beds, use natural mulches, such as wood chips and leaves, to add texture and hold water. Mulch promotes water retention in the soil and helps develop the soil quality, whereas tilling is actually bad for soil biodiversity and root development.
6. Harvest water
Invest in a water tank to harvest rainwater and make the most of any glorious downpours!
A little bit of investment and preparation can make a massive difference in the long run. So follow these simple steps to enjoy a water-wise and stress-free festive season in South Africa.