Saving Water 301: Looking Beyond Today

In the last year or so, I haven’t written much on my blog. After a day of writing at the office, the desire to write after hours is often neither overwhelming nor compelling. But I think this is important. Feel free to catch up with 101 and 201 in the respective links.

For those who don’t know, the beautiful Cape, my home and where I was born and bred, is currently in the grip of a spiralling drought. The city of Cape Town is predicted to be the first major city in the world to run out of water. I’m guessing they mean modern city. Whoever they are.

We’re expecting temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius for these few days. That’s 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit. At the start of December. But that doesn’t bug me too much, heat waves are exactly that. Heat waves. Mega unpleasant though.

What bugs me more is the “plaster” phenomenon. The lemming-like mania that is currently taking hold. The inability to see the woods for the trees, because Day Zero is coming. Fear. Panic. Pandemonium. And our favourite, lethargy. The ever-present ostrich tactic. Listen up. This is no newsflash. If you stick a plaster on gangrene, it just hides it. Doesn’t fix it, and potentially makes it worse.

The problem isn’t really that there is too little water on Earth. I believe it may rather lie with the fact that there are too many people on this planet, too many people who don’t know how to look after nature anymore, and that we have polluted most of the potable water available (which is about 2.5% of global water supplies, if you ignore the 1.5% stuck in icebergs and glaciers). Most of the world’s children are born to the poor and disenfranchised. It has been debated (and I believe there is merit too these arguments) that the only humane and sustainable way to reduce global population numbers is to educate and empower those very people. Women in particular. So, if I sometimes seem like a feminist, guess why. Are you a closet misogynist? Watch out, I’m coming for you. You are part of the problem. Have someone working in your house or garden? Give them your knowledge.

But I digress.

A month or so ago, I drove past a guesthouse property on my way home at about 7pm and their irrigation system was going full blast on the lawn outside their property. By law, in Stellenbosch anyway, at this time of Level 5 water restrictions, if you are watering your garden, it must be with non-potable water and your source must be registered with the municipality after which they provide you with a standardised sign to put up where members of the public can see it easily. I looked for this sign on their outside property, there was none (despite them saying so when I contacted them). I explained to the person on the other side that despite being technically allowed to do what they were doing, I found their logic and insight in the matter disappointing. Depleting source water such as bore hole water and aquifers will complicate our problem in the long run. When it does eventually rain, the water will first want to refill these sources and only then our regular source of water (dams).

There will be other problems too, predominantly created by mono-cropping, such as topsoil erosion, which will degrade the quality of arable land, leading to food being more difficult to cultivate, and so on.

Anyway, so back to the source of the problem. We have become a generation that lives disconnected from nature, to differing degrees. I too lived this life. For many years I lived in London and did the commute, sometimes never seeing daylight, nevermind a natural vista.

And then I returned to South Africa and ended up living on a biodynamic farm. And everything changed. I saw how nature knows best. I saw that if we work with nature, she blossoms, literally and figuratively. She is abundant. I realised that we are not PART of nature. We ARE nature. I started paying attention. I realised that in this world we live in, this constructed civilisation, we have quite literally become stupid. Living beyond nature is the surest path to any and all disaster in the long run.

We pave our lawns. Rather let your lawn just die. At least then when the rain does fall, it is not washed away on paving but goes into the ground (that’s good, by the way, it increases the general water table) and the root system (whether alive or not, but we know it’s hanging in there) will prevent the worst of erosion from happening and keep the soil in place.

We buy bottled water. Besides most bottled water companies having dubious morals (check out the latest Nestlé debacle), making plastic bottles, and any other petrochemical-based plastic products, uses water in the production process. Buy a ceramic water filter for your tap water. There are well-priced steel water bottles for sale online.

We buy packaged fruit and vegetables. See above. Packaging uses water to make. Do you really need wrapped bananas? Wrapped cucumber? Avocado? Seriously? Ditch the supermarket fare and buy from your local market or street vendor instead and take your own reusable bag. Slow down.

Single-use items, such as take-away containers for fast food and coffee use water to produce. They also clog up our landfills (but that’s another post). Take your own container when you get a take-away (if possible). Negotiate with the shop owner. Who knows, they may offer you the packaging’s price as a discount?

We over clean. You do not need to scrub your skin every day, especially if you work in an air-conditioned office. Do a top and tail every other day. Wash your hair once less in a week. I haven’t used shampoo in over 6 weeks after chopping off my locks (a bit extreme but it’s what I wanted to do, you obviously don’t have to). It was a bit difficult the first week while my hair adjusted (yay for beanies) but now no-one can see the difference. This in itself saves a lot of water. Washing everything with soap every day also destroys your skin’s protective layer. Just stop, OK? You need those healthy critters. Wash or sanitise your hands though, heaven knows you don’t want diarrhoea during drought …

We rely on government too much. Install that water tank and consume your own water the way Mother Nature intended it. Can’t install a water tank for some reason? Buy a big tub or barrel and fill it up manually with smaller tubs and buckets from your gutters. Build a rudimentary filter with a bucket, closely woven cloth and some elastic, and use that water for your laundry. One of the coolest things going is a big tube that rolls out from your gutter to your pool to fill it up hassle-free.

Plant an indigenous tree. Plant many! If you can’t plant them, sponsor a tree online. It has been proven that trees are our first-line defence against large-scale drought. I can sing the praises of trees quite extensively. Natural air conditioners, anyone …?

There are many more things I can list that add to our water crisis. Mostly, we live as if we have no future to look forward to. At the moment, this is heading towards a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have children, at the very least, stop consuming without thinking. Stop. It. Use your grey matter.

Do me a favour (and ultimately yourself). Next time you buy something, hold it in your hand, look at it, and think about where it has come from and what brought it to that very place. And where is it going? What role did and will water play in its life span?

When we engage our critical mind, relating to our relationship with our environment, we are on the right road to action. Did I mention that we are all on the same road, whether we agree or not? OK, not? I’m saying it now then.

If we do not stop our many destructive ways or at least reduce them… We. Are. All. Fucked. Maybe not all at the same time. But ultimately, we will all be wiped out.

* I have not added references. I’d rather encourage you to do your own research on topics mentioned here that piques your interest.


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