The water situation in the Cape is pretty dire at the moment, to say the least. Not only have we not had enough rain in the last two winters, but we’ve had some pretty hectic mountain fires in the last week or so, which of course use up a lot of water to kill.
And then, worse than that, are the people who think the water restrictions don’t apply to them. I cannot stress enough how much people need to let go of some comforts at this time. It is quite possible for anyone to do, but requires a small shift in thought and habits. Here are some things I have been doing for some time, and some I have started doing in the last month. They are not difficult and the discomfort level is marginal at first. After a while, you realise that you are one lucky cookie having water so readily accessible, unlike most people in the same municipal district you live in.
Speaking of discomfort levels. They will be exponentially worse once the water does run out.
So, if you think you’re up for a meaningful challenge, that may even be fun if you let it be, try some of these. Each one is either free or cheap, but will save you more money than they cost in the long run.
Don’t take a full shower or bath every day. You do not have to wash and scrub everything with soap each day if you’re not going to sweat, e.g. exercise. Regular folk like myself sit in an air-conditioned work space most of the day, so don’t get sweaty despite soaring temperatures outside. Just “top and tail”. In other words, wash the cavities, the bits that matter, as it were, from a basin. Stand on a towel or bath mat, lather up your hands and let rip. Then wipe it down with a damp wash cloth. I have saved a lot of money on electricity too, as I only switch on my geyser the times I take a shower. For basin washes, half a kettle of hot water is usually enough.
When you do take your full shower or bath, you don’t actually need to have the water running all the time. Wet your body first, turn off the taps and soap up without water running, then rinse when everything’s lathered. Same goes for shampoo, conditioner and shaving.
If you use a shower, stand in a tub. Make sure it’s secure though, so that you don’t fall over. I use an old storage tub. The water in the tub can go straight into your garden, so try to use eco-friendly products if you can. Or use this grey water to flush your loo.
If you use a bath, don’t do a Cleopatra, keep the water level low. And when done, scoop out the water for the garden or cistern. Yes, it takes time, but it’s free exercise. And we can all do with some of that after the festive season.
You do not have to flush every time you go to the loo. Men (and the more adventurous ladies too, I guess) can go outside in the garden (if possible), and do the less elegant ablutions in the toilet. Even only flushing every second flush will save about 15 litres at a time. That’s a standard bucket of water. And to lessen that number, put something in the cistern to fill up space that the water would take up. I have used small 250 ml cream bottles filled with water as they take up the space more effectively that one 2 litre bottle would. There are eco-bricks for sale online, and they work well too.
You’ll probably have to make a few sacrifices. By now, if you live in the Cape, you should know that a green lawn during water restrictions is not cool. In fact, a dead lawn and dirty car both count as status symbols and add to your cool factor. We all know that after the first rains come (and they always come in buckets in April), lawns miraculously sprout back all over. So, say sayonara to your lawn, for now.
Get rid of your plants that need a lot of water. Petunias, really? Get a cactus already! Water wise plants will usually include anything indigenous: Gazanias, herbs, such as rosemary and sage, lavender, aloes, vygies, ericas, etc. If you must irrigate, do it late at night or very early in the morning.
Any garden watering you do should encourage roots to grow as deep as possible. So water longer less frequently (and when it’s cool) so that the water has the opportunity to soak into the ground.
Use mulch. Mulch is just a strange word for dead plant-based ground cover. So bark chips, hay, palm tree fronds, grass cuttings (but not too much as it’s nitrogen rich), even cardboard if you’re broke and at a loose end. Anything that will stop water evaporating, but also eventually biodegrade.
In your pots you can use those sea shells you collected from all your beach holidays, still in plastic bags in the garage, as mulch. Pebbles also work well, and the lighter the better.
Shade netting also slows down evaporation. Use a loose weave (around 40%) to let in enough light for photosynthesis but to keep the worst heat at bay. Insert some irrigation tubing in the soil around the area you want to cover, loop some wire over the area and secure in the openings, and then peg the netting to the wire. Easy!
For those who would like a more permanent water-saving solution, there are companies that can install grey water systems at your home or business that work really well and are practically maintenance free. They are definitely worth the investment.
Borehole water may be free (or cheaper) but in the end that water also comes from the general water table. Use this water wisely and sparingly as it boils down to the same thing in the end.
These are but a few suggestions. There are many more! If you have questions or other suggestions, please add them to the comments section!