1001 Water-wise ways: rewiring our heads

Who else is finding that having to think about how we live with water is reframing the way they think about MANY other things? As we tackle some of the issues attached to the water crisis, I find I'm questioning certain ideas, or finding that certain views that have always been swimming around at the bottom of my mental fishtank are rising to the surface.

The other fascinating thing is talking to psychologists, social workers and activists about the big emotional swings we're seeing. There's something about fear of loss of water that presses all sorts of buttons. In the last month Cape Town has swung from panic to denial (with no doubt all the other stages of loss still to traverse), but with lots of "can-do" spirit as well. People who've had the money to install alternative water systems (adapting their gutters, putting in tanks and pumps, using their pools to harvest overflow) have been telling me how more confident and in control they feel as a result. Part of the price we pay for a so-called "civilised lifestyle" involves handing power over to the authorities and trusting them to take care of us. Taking that power back, when we can, can be incredibly liberating. The day I realised I could go off the water grid if I had to, simply by dint of hauling water from springs and wells (like millions across the globe) felt like strings loosening.

And so I've realised that being water-wise is more than accumulating tips and putting them into practice, even though these are super-helpful (and thanks to all those who keep sending them in -- my favourite this week, from my editor, was "Stick your sweaty gym clothes in the freezer instead of washing -- kills all the odour-causing bugs").

I've been setting my sights on those communal villages -- retirement complexes, gated estates, life-right villages, etc -- who, having failed to prepare their buildings or grounds for a water-scarce future, are now throwing bureaucratic obstacles in the way of those frantically trying to make their homes less dependent on municipal water. (This entire crisis has made me even more than usually allergic to red tape.) Among many other annoyances, I am rendered almost speechless by objections to rain-tanks on the basis of their appearance. "But they're an eye-sore!" scream some of the neighbours. "Must meet specifications as to colour and appearance be screened off preferred suppliers plans submitted to and approved by variance committee rabbit rabbit" drone the managing powers. This is a bit like objecting to the installation of blackout curtains on the eve of World War 2 on the grounds of "unsightliness".

And this got me wondering: what's the most beautiful city in the world in terms of built environment? (The pic at the top of this blog is a bit of a giveaway.) Why is Venice so breathtakingly beautiful? It's what you DON'T see. Not a car, truck, garage, parking lot, parking space, stretch of tarmac, road marking.

I don't think I've ever seen an attractive garage. They ruin the symmetry of houses, they're blocky and disproportionate, their lack of windows makes them look blank and sinister. But people would send for straitjackets if I lodged objections to them on the grounds that they made a property look ugly. What's more (and this will no doubt have folk storming my house brandishing pitchforks), I've never seen a 4X4 that wasn't hideous. Some cars (a very few) are indeed things of beauty: the vast hulks of metal and plastic I see parked everywhere in driveways are not. (I grant that a dusty bakkie or Landie on a gravel road is inoffensive.) Yet we take for granted that we're free to litter the landscape with our automobile paraphernalia; but a dark-green, pleasingly shaped Jojo tank is an offensive object that needs to be veiled. 

One water activist speculated that people object to seeing water tanks because they have uncomfortable associations with them: that upward mobility, keeping up with the Joneses, etc, means the status of a house with multiple bathrooms and water at the touch of a tap; a return to tanks and wells and windmills is somehow "primitive" or old-fashioned. If this is true, we should rather see these as signs of healthy independence and self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, in the interests of knowledge as power, here are some of the interesting links on fresh thinking about water coming my way: here's information about an upcoming hackathon in Cape Town. I know nothing about it beyond what's on the website, but I like the emphasis on new ways of thinking. There's a preponderance of pale male faces among the keynote speakers, but I see Dr Bernelle Verster up there, and she's one of my favourite water warriors, with a great blog you can visit here.

And if you're have a great green water-wise idea or business you want to launch, Groundswell Africa, an initiative of Fetola, is looking for projects to mentor and help develop, but hurry, you need to apply and soon: all the details are here.

There are also some intriguing videos at this website: I dipped in and out (water pun done), enjoying the combination of water-saving ideas and the sight of sustainable lush gardens and pools.

And concerning the cessation of water for agricultural use, this report by the reputable Kerry Cullinan on Coke's use of water right here in Cape Town raises questions. If farmers have had their supply for growing food cut off, if workers have been laid off, flocks sold, orchards dug up -- surely the same sorts of principles should apply to the manufacture of non-essential foodstuffs, like soft drinks?

To go back to Venice: with hindsight, I'm astonished to see how many pics I took of fountains and wells because I thought they looked pretty or quaint or historic. Independent water sources or storage spots need to become things of beauty because of what they represent. A mental shift. 

Helen Moffett
1001 Water-wise ways: A licorice allsorts round-up (#4)
licorice allsorts.jpg

Here's a licorice allsorts round-up of the tips and topics that floated in on the tide (water pun: tick) this momentous week, which saw a new South African president sworn in.

Many of us are feeling more hopeful, both about the nation and the water crisis. Day Zero has been pushed back again, this time till June, by which time it's not unreasonable to hope that winter rains will come to our rescue. The improvement in our water status is for multiple reasons: the cut-off of agricultural supply, shorter days (so less evaporation from reservoirs) and strenuous efforts by Capetonians to limit their use of water.

However, along with cautious optimism and general celebration, two responses are troubling. The first are the claims that the entire water crisis has been manufactured by the City/ the government/big business/ evil PR companies/ [insert villain here] for nefarious purposes. The fact that the crisis has been mismanaged and even manipulated doesn't make it any less real. It's beyond reason to suppose that hundreds, if not thousands, of environmentalists, scientists, journalists, farmers, climatologists, economists, NGOs, urban planners and more secretly banded together for over two decades to concoct a systematic tissue of lies to hoodwink the public. It's common sense that dwindling supply (courtesy of climate change) + increasing demand will eventually = shortfall.

What worries me more is the outbreak of magical thinking seen all over: the assumption that we'll be fine "once the rains come". IF we get good winter rains (by no means certain), and IF they fall in the right places, and IF they’re the right kind (we need soft and soaking – rain that falls in a sudden downpour tends to rush away down drains and out to sea), we will indeed be off the hook – temporarily. But a major underlying contributing factor, climate change, is not going away anytime soon.

When São Paulo ran out of water in 2015, residents cut their usage dramatically, largely in response to financial incentives (something for our municipalities to consider), but after good rains in 2016, at least half their households went back to their old ways. Today the city is once again teetering on the brink of water collapse. We may banish our Day Zero bogeyman for now, but it will be back, and soon. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable, and the only thing we can be sure of is that we’re likely to face this scenario again and again in the near future, and need to adapt accordingly.

If this sounds scary, here's a tip that sounds even scarier, but is in fact comforting. Practice “water-fasting”: seeing just how little you can manage on for several days. This will make you feel more in control, and will help you develop a “reserve” for times when you really need more water: for example, when experiencing a heavy period or post-partum bleeding, doing particularly hard or dirty labour, struck by illnesses like diarrhoea, night sweats, eczema, and so on. Most healthy adults find they can live comfortably on as little as 30 litres a day (including laundry, cleaning and water for pets), and much less for short bursts. If you can, use less than your allotted 50 litres a day, so that those who need the extra – small children, invalids, the incontinent and so on – can benefit. Within families, parents can use less daily water so that their small children or elderfolk can have a bit more.

Experimenting, I've found I can get down to 10 litres a day: 3 for drinking and cooking (including drinking water for my cats); 2 litres in a bucket for a flannel bath and for handwashing the day’s undies (all saved for flushing); 2 litres for doing dishes, washing my hands and keeping the kitchen clean (if you keep grease out of this water by licking plates and scraping pans, it can be added to the flushing ration); an extra 3 litres for flushing (I used dirty rainwater, taking daily water use down to 7 litres, but not everyone has this option). Remember, there's no rule that says you have to blow through 50 litres every day.

My nearest chain pharmacy, with a vast display of water-wise goods outside its doors.

My nearest chain pharmacy, with a vast display of water-wise goods outside its doors.

I also toured my nearest chain pharmacy to investigate their water-saving products on display, some of which were rather surprising: there's something called "Got 2 Wee", a "personal disposable urinal". Who knew? Is anyone brave enough to tell me that they've used this, and how it works? I picked up a pack of disposable knickers (sensible navy but with the fun addition of polka dots) and will report in due course. I was also intrigued by this tiny but mighty bottle ("Pure Drop") which promises to purify even "dirty rainwater", and I had no idea there were so many variations on wet wipes: for babies, for kitchens, for bodies, for faces, organic, biodegradable, gentle, tough, e-coli-killers, feminine, intimate and dozens more. Remember that NONE of them can be flushed, not even when it says you can on the packet. I just hope the planet doesn't collapse under their weight.

The best thing was discovering that one can donate bottled water to those in need simply by adding to purchases at the cashiers' station. Thank you, Dis-chem. Let me know what other chains or stores are offering this or similar services, and I'll mention them here.

Helen Moffett
1001 water-wise ways: How one Cape Town restaurant is responding
One of the famous pies from a beloved local deli. The roast tomato and rocket salad is my handiwork.

One of the famous pies from a beloved local deli. The roast tomato and rocket salad is my handiwork.

Thinking about being water-wise in the kitchen reminded me that a local chef and business owner sent out an email with some very good tips on what steps she's taking to save water in her small restaurant. With her permission, I'll post most of her advice here, but first some thoughts on keeping hospitality businesses -- significant providers of jobs -- open in the face of the threat of no running water.

I believe it's important to continue supporting local businesses, especially coffee-shops, pubs, restaurants, at the same time as not sponging (H2O pun of the day out the way) water off them. For this to work and to keep staving off Day Zero, they and we need to adapt our habits and expectations a little. I tend to hang out and work in local coffee-shops where everyone is very chilled (this is Noordhoek, after all; it's no longer hippy central, but incense still lingers in the air) and the yellow has been mellowing in our public toilets for at least a year now.

So I've been surprised to hear some Cape Town restaurants don't have hand sanitisers and "mellow yellow" notices in their bathrooms. Clearly living behind the tie-dye curtain has made me a bit naive. The other issue that keeps coming up has been the matter of serving tap water in restaurants, with some now refusing to do so, and giving the water crisis as their reason. If ever there was a Middle-class Problem, this is it, but it seems really contentious. On the one hand, I have waitrons telling me that their current pet hate is patrons asking for tap water with ice and then not drinking it. On the other, it seems that some establishments are using the water shortage as a reason to strong-arm their customers into ordering bottled water -- an expensive habit that doesn't even save water in the long run.

So here's an NB tip for restaurants, pubs and coffee-shops: your clientele are feeling scratchy, and they've all just put rain-tanks on their overdrafts and credit cards. So DO NOT GOUGE or appear to be exploiting a genuine emergency in order to gouge (this goes for all industries). If you genuinely no longer want to serve tap water, tell folk they're welcome to bring their own.

I solve the problem with my Red Riding Hood basket: I arrive smiling sweetly and say "Hello! To help you out, I've brought my own boiled well water, and look, here's the thermos with my ice, and I've brought my own napkin and compostable cup, and here's the travel mug for my coffee. You don't mind, do you?" So far, so very good, although I admit I still have to try this at a super-posh place.

Restaurant survival kit. (I leave the herbs and teapot behind.) The bottle of non-potable water is for use in the restaurant toilet.

Restaurant survival kit. (I leave the herbs and teapot behind.) The bottle of non-potable water is for use in the restaurant toilet.

Now for Anita's tips. As we went to primary school together (even though we met for the first time in over 40 years only months ago!), I won't name her restaurant except to say it's in Simonstown.

"With the all-consuming thoughts on everyone's minds on how to exist on 50 litres per person per day and how we can avoid Day Zero, we have done some real head-scratching on how XXX Restaurant can contribute to saving water.

"We have decided to reduce our water usage by serving our meals on biodegradable, compostable plates, made from sugarcane fibres. They are water and oil-resistant, hygienic and completely compostable within four weeks, so they will be taken home each evening, to be dug into the garden, thus assisting with mulching and enriching the soil. 

"This is not compulsory -- we will offer our patrons the choice -- traditional plates or disposable! If this step is supported by our community, we will bring in compostable cups for coffee and cold drinks.

"We will not be offering municipal water at tables, but have reduced the price of our bottled water. We take care to ensure that our water is not bottled in drought-stricken areas -- our favourite coming all the way from KwaZulu-Natal, where water is abundant.

"We will also restrict the usage of ice, which we make ourselves from bottled water. All our drinks are refrigerated and ice will only be served if requested. We have invested in wine skins to replace ice buckets, or we offer to keep your wine in our fridges and top up your glasses as required.

"We will also put buckets of grey water in the toilets, which can be used for flushing. We are testing  and supply a hygienic, waterless 'handwash'.

"We ask patrons to assist us in saving water by using these alternatives, but point out that this is purely a request -- not compulsory at this stage."

That all sounds most sensible, and fairly easily adoptable by other restaurants. I'd add, ditch  tablecloths unless they're the wipe-clean kind.

How is your small business or restaurant coping with water restrictions? Are you finding tensions between hygiene requirements stipulated by law and keeping water use to a minimum? Let me know.

Helen Moffett
1001 water-wise ways: Round-up #3 heads for the kitchen
Roast tomato salsa with yellow pepper, lime and coriander.

Roast tomato salsa with yellow pepper, lime and coriander.

True confession: one of the things I've actually enjoyed about the water crisis is the chance to rethink kitchens and cooking. I love cooking for friends and have been incredibly lucky to live for years in one of the best places on the planet to be a locavore (to eat food grown as nearby as possible), so I'm always preparing fruit and veg that's in season in the neighbourhood. I also have no intention of giving up parties and teas and celebrations and retreating into some austere bunker mode, hunched over my water supplies, the cats prowling on sentry duty.

So how can we change our kitchens, our recipes and our entertaining habits so that we can go on having a life, spending time with friends and family, without feeling like collective water Grinches?

51. The obvious tip seen all over the internet: have more braais (barbecues). Get your potjie into the action. I rarely cook outdoors (read: never), so I stand to be corrected, but it seems that you could cook your food on the coals, then burn the paper plates and napkins afterwards. Note that it's possible to have great vegetarian and vegan braais (remember those cheese, tomato and onion braai sarmies from childhood?) -- not just a carnivore option.

Here's what I've done on the kitchen front (I'd love to hear what others are doing).


52. First thing was to retire my goblet blender. It takes way too much water to clean. It got replaced with a cheap and cheerful stick blender, which I use directly in whatever container I'm going to be eating my smoothie/soup in. Proceed with caution: you want something narrow and deep to avoid spatter.

There wasn't enough water in Cape Town to clean up this mess.

There wasn't enough water in Cape Town to clean up this mess.

53. If rain is forecast, I get out my biggest pot to cook bulk soups and stews for freezing. Depending what your family eats, and whether you have fridge or freezer space, you could cook a week's worth of rice, pasta, pap, etc at a time -- anything that takes a lot of water and leaves a sticky pot. After the dirty pot gets the wet teabag or paper napkin treatment to clean most of the gunk off, I then set it outside to soak in the rain. Once it has some rainwater in it, I dash out with dishwashing liquid and a sponge, wash, then rinse in rainwater. (This is easy because I have a garden for chucking away the dirty water. Not a viable option for flat-dwellers, who may have to proceed to the next tip:)

54. Retire your big pots. Almost all my cooking is now done in non-stick frying-pans and saucepans. Try to get ones with deep, steep sides (surprisingly scarce). I know the magazines all say "get the best one you can afford", but I'd rather recommend that you don't buy the very cheapest, in case the lining peels off the first time you use it (this has happened to me). The one pictured at the top of this usually just gets wiped after use; I wash it about every fourth time I cook in it.

55. Remember the wok craze? If you have one, now's the time to dig it out. Basically treat it as a non-stick frying-pan with high sides. Remember it should be possible to clean all these with teabags, kitchen paper and only then, if needed, a little splash of water and dishwashing liquid. (The teabag tip is at the end of this post.)

55. Your partner in non-stick cooking is a whole bunch of those silicone spatulas. I once got given an indestructible one from Le Creuset (it's in the top pic), and it gets used to stir everything while cooking, to decant food out the pot for serving, to scrape the plates into the compost tub afterwards, and so on. I have several cheapo plastic ones as well, to make sure that every container has every possible bit of food residue cleaned out of them before washing.

One dish meal: stir-fried onions, garlic, celery, leeks, mushrooms, fennel, wild spinach, chard, basil and a purple cauli I grew myself. For vegans, add toasted seeds and nuts. For vegetarians, feta cheese. For carnivores, chicken strips added after the onion and garlic stage. Or just eat as is.

One dish meal: stir-fried onions, garlic, celery, leeks, mushrooms, fennel, wild spinach, chard, basil and a purple cauli I grew myself. For vegans, add toasted seeds and nuts. For vegetarians, feta cheese. For carnivores, chicken strips added after the onion and garlic stage. Or just eat as is.

56. Hunt down the best one-pot meal recipes: the days of a separate dish for cooking meat and three pots for the veggies, plus a gravy-boat, are done. There are wonderful recipes for meals that combine protein, veggies and starch all in one pot: I typed "one pot meals" into Google and got "about 81 300 000 results (0,53 seconds)", so you are never going to run out of ideas. Many of these are also budget meals. 

57. Likewise, get everyone in the family to think about eating everything in one bowl, rather than a flat dinner-plate and a side/salad plate.

58. Retire the salad bowl and plates. Instead of big leafy salads with soft lettuces, think about getting salads into meals via fresh salsas and sambals (this time, Google gave me "about 23 800 000 results (0,46 seconds)": for instance, a dish of chopped-up tomato, onion and cucumber, or a salsa of chopped fresh peppers, baby marrows and coriander, or grated carrot with ginger or orange zest or mint. These salad substitutes can used almost as garnishes on top of hot food.


59. I've almost completely replaced lettuce with rocket, which grows like a weed all over my garden. If you're lucky enough to have the same problem, simply take handfuls of rocket, chop roughly and sprinkle over everything savoury you eat. That's your raw greens taken care of.

60. Microwave foods like butternut, pumpkin and potato rather than cooking them in pots (if this is new to you, do a bit of Googling first -- cleaning exploded spud off the inside of a microwave is a rite of passage to be avoided). In fact, if you have a microwave, use it for as much cooking as possible. You'd be amazed at what you can do -- scrambled eggs in soup bowls, for instance. One less pan to wash.

61. If you DO have a pan to wash, after you've tried the teabag trick, sprinkle a little of your magical all-purpose Swiss Army bicarb on the bottom, add the merest splash of water and let it stand for a while before giving it a gentle scrub. Lifts off even burned-on milk or egg residue with no fuss.

62. All over Indonesia and many other tropical places, banana leaves are used as plates for even wet, soupy dishes -- straight from the table to the compost heap afterwards. Surely this must be possible here (eyes the KZN coast). Any ideas for cheap, clean sources? Let me know.

I got these banana boats (on the right), compostable coffee cups (and a few compostable soup bowls for good measure) from Merrypak in Ndabeni. If this looks like advertising, I should say that while they have some EXCELLENT green and waterwise stock, I was also shaken to discover just how many single-use items abound in the catering industry.

I got these banana boats (on the right), compostable coffee cups (and a few compostable soup bowls for good measure) from Merrypak in Ndabeni. If this looks like advertising, I should say that while they have some EXCELLENT green and waterwise stock, I was also shaken to discover just how many single-use items abound in the catering industry.

63. In the absence of leaf plates (not everyone will be as enchanted by this idea as I am), I had to think hard about how to serve guests food, especially at parties. I've found a fairly inexpensive solution: the bamboo "banana boats" above. They hold a nice portion of even wet and messy finger-foods without leakage, the sides prevent your falafel from leaping to escape, they work for sit-down and stand-up eating, and can go straight into the compost heap at clear-up time.

64. I also laid in some compostable coffee-cups so I can go on running workshops and training without angsting about cups. These I'll probably burn after use. Good option for workplaces where coffee-cups stack up in the communal sink. I've also added a few to my out-and-about basket to use in place of water glasses.

65. The biggest water-wise tip in the kitchen? Don't. Waste. Food. Ever. And that's a topic for a blog itself. Coming soon.

66. Related to this is the issue of garbage: if you're used to composting and recycling, you need to head guests off before they start hunting for your rubbish bin. Nowadays when people offer to help clear up, I ask them to scrape every little scrap left on their plates into the compost tub.

67. If you're still using your dishwasher (and there was considerable debate about the post suggesting that dishwashers use less water than washing by hand), the general consensus is that this is a water-saving option only if you don't have to first rinse those plates. So scrape, scrape, scrape, wipe with used napkins and those teabags (that tip is turning into a gem).

68. Something else well-meaning folk don't think about: if your host has served you dinner on regular crockery, and you leap up helpfully and start stacking dirty dishes, someone will have to scrape and wash both sides. Aaargh. Carry plates one by one into the kitchen and scrape carefully before stacking. If space is limited, simply stand by and offer chocolates instead.

69. I've sort of said this already, but don't stop having a social and family life because of the water crisis. This could be an opportunity for members of your family to work more closely together preparing meals, to discover new recipes, and to have friends round more often. If you're water-resilient, your friends dependent entirely on municipal water will be especially delighted to get invitations.

And a final random "tester" tip:

70. On the subject of laundry (again), my washing-line experiment, planned to coincide with Friday night's rain, was hugely successful. I stain-and-spot-treated my clothes, pre-soaked them in my trusty cooler-box with with biological washing-powder and just enough warm water to wet everything through, then hung everything out on the line and crossed fingers there'd be enough rain to give everything a thorough wash and rinse. (I also hung out all my used towels, which were getting a bit lively). Now that everything has dried out (it took about a day), I can report that it worked a treat. No stains, and everything is fresh and clean. This, however, depends on the rain actually arriving and then staying, so it's a bit of gamble. We had about 2 hours of steady soaking, so I got lucky.

Helen Moffett
1001 water-wise ways: The soap opera
Trouble-making baths in history: Elizabeth Siddal famously modelled in a tin bath for this Preraphaelite painting by John Millais. She got pneumonia; her father sued Millais for fifty pounds.

Trouble-making baths in history: Elizabeth Siddal famously modelled in a tin bath for this Preraphaelite painting by John Millais. She got pneumonia; her father sued Millais for fifty pounds.

One thing about using my bath to store water is the pleasure of climbing in and wallowing now and again. So last night, as I lay in blessed rainwater freshly harvested from my gutters, I considered a question I'd been asked earlier that day: how often DO we need to wash our bodies?

It's February, and as you may have read here, university residence administrators are coming up smack against young adults who believe that the right to shower every day is guaranteed in the Constitution; it's also the biggest water moan I hear from parents of teens (and even older children): how to get them to use less water in the shower. Folk are reluctant to give up washing rituals that are all but articles of religion: "But I HAVE to wash my hair every day! I couldn't leave the building otherwise!"

Here's a tip or rather an observation from my magic hairdresser: about a year ago, as her clients were washing their hair less and less, she noticed a steady improvement in the condition of their hair. Then their scalps. Another hairdresser noticed that dandruff was a thing of the past. Then the beauticians chimed in: they were seeing visible improvement in their customers' skins as they spent less time in the bath and shower.

So this is one carrot to be waved in front of those who believe that a daily top-to-toe shower, shave and hair-wash are essential to looking good: the opposite could in fact be true. Once I started mulling this over, I realised how much our washing culture is driven by advertising: all those body lotions? We need them because we bath/shower way more than is good for the natural health of our skin, scrubbing away at our natural protective oils. But beyond entitlement, habit and marketing: how often DO we need to wash ourselves?

Back to the commonsense practiced by our grandparents and many of our close, poorer neighbours, this is the mantra for daily self-cleansing with water: face, pits, bits and feet, and in that order, if we're using a bucket. Even this isn't quite accurate: the body parts we need to clean most often? Our hands. Faces don't actually need more than a dab with a wet facecloth (more marketing: all that cleansing, toning and moisturising is a huge great con, and can be reduced to quick, simple and cheap options, but a post for another day). That leaves bits, pits and feet, and I'll get to those, but for now, the skin all over the rest of our bodies does not need daily washing. Twice or even once is week is fine, and in fact optimal for skin health. There is no rational basis whatsoever for our addiction to daily immersion.

Of course commonsense kicks in here. If you're performing manual labour or you work in dirty conditions (and many of those who do simply don't have the option of bathing daily other than in a bucket), exercising strenuously, having a lot of sex, menstruating, living in a hot and/or sticky climate, working with soil or animals, or have a medical condition that requires strict cleanliness, then you're going to be a lot more comfortable if you can shower often. However: there are workarounds.

I've already written a lot about the joys of bidets, and they are the perfect solution for the pits and bits conundrum -- especially valuable for the sexually active and those having their period, also invalids and elders. One piece of advice people tell me they now regret following was the craze for ripping bidets out of their 80s bathrooms. Ironically, they were often advised to do so on the grounds that they wasted water -- whereas they're by far the most water-wise and comfortable form of washing that involves an indoor plumbing fixture.

But obviously, this is a long-term solution, so the trick is to rig your bathroom so that it works in a similar way: if your shower or bath has a shower hose that attaches or moves, squat wherever you're trapping the water (that's if you're not using your wonder new pressure sprayer featured here) and use the shower attachment on said bits and pits.

Daily strenuous exercise or labour still presents a problem; some dancers I know (and if you think horses sweat heavily, you've never been in the wings helping with costume changes at the ballet) are now showering in their leotards or exercise clothes, washing themselves and their gear in one fell swoop.

I'm still racking my brains about communal shower situations: some of us have humbly knuckled down to bucket baths, the daily washing method used by the majority of South Africans, but they do require privacy or the intimacy of a family situation. Maybe one option is to issue students in residences with buckets or sprayers, or to hang these from the walls in shower cubicles. Any other ideas to make this work?

And more on sudsy matters: spent an hour this morning browsing a local chain pharmacy for water-wise goodies, and I never knew there was such a vast variety of wet wipes: intimate wipes, baby wipes, feminine wipes, hygiene wipes, incontinence wipes, disinfectant wipes: I didn't see any biodegradable ones, though, and aiyiyiyi, that's a landfill problem brewing right there. I use a flannel and a small basin of warm water, but then I have off-grid water to play with. For now, I guess wet wipes trump water, especially if you are now washing your ticklish bits only every other day. BTW, wet wipes are not cheap, and not everyone has a kitchen in which to brew up their own -- recipe here; perhaps residences could issue students with a pack when they move in (but everyone repeat once again, DO NOT EVER FLUSH THEM, EVER -- blocked toilets are never fun, but less so in a drought, least of all when they're communal).

Bathroom design has a fascinating history, and there's a lot to be learned by diving down a Wiki rabbithole of Japanese bathroom design, the hammans and steam baths of the Middle East and Asia, and more. (In some tiny Japanese homes, the bathroom sink is attached to the toilet cistern, for instance.) One thing is clear, though: modern Western bathroom design is insanely wasteful, unsustainable, and not actually always effective. (Apparently showers should spray upwards, not downwards, for maximum cleansing and least water use. Who knew?)

Long-term (and we are in this for the long haul): we need to revamp basic Western bathroom design from scratch. En-suite bathrooms are among the worst (and most unhygienic) offenders: apart from anything else, who puts the source of the most moisture in the house feet away from the place with the most soft furnishings? Duvets, mattresses and billowing steam: this is NOT a good mix. Bedrooms with attached bathrooms belong in guesthouses and hotels, not private homes. The average middle-class two-or-three bedroomed home needs to revert to the system of one bathroom, which contains a bath (optional), shower and sink. There should then be a toilet with a sink for handwashing in a SEPARATE room. A bidet in one or both these rooms would be a damn fine idea. And no more spa baths, ever. That's what spas are for.

Last night's rainwater harvest bath. That's the colour it came out the gutters: same shade as champagne.

Last night's rainwater harvest bath. That's the colour it came out the gutters: same shade as champagne.

Helen Moffett