1001 ways to save water: a start


So we face a major crisis, one with devastating implications for health, safety, public order, the economy (like it isn’t already reeling around punch-drunk). I’m talking about the fact that Cape Town is about to run out of water. And we ALL let this happen on our watch. Yes, the city council is behaving with all the acumen of toddlers on tartrazine, and national government would rather watch a major city go down in flames (literally) than do anything to help, for stomach-churningly self-interested vote-grubbing reasons.

But this is on us, the middle classes. I’ll never forget a Ugandan friend visiting ten years ago. She looked around at the majestic beauty of Cape Town and turned to me in horror: “Where are all your water tanks? Why are there none in the suburbs, where people can afford them? You’re an arid country -- are you people insane?”

I wish it were that pure. Insanity is no one’s fault. Instead we've been selfish, greedy and addicted to magical thinking: I’m OK, so who cares, it’s not my problem, someone else will come along and fix it, and hey, we can always buy water at Woolies. Right?

This blog and its suggestions are for the middle classes. Because WE are the problem. We are the ones who’ve been ignoring the writing on the wall. We’re the ones who install en-suite bathrooms with hot tubs in our homes. WHAT IS THIS THING WHERE EVERY BEDROOM HAS TO HAVE A BATHROOM, DO WE THINK THIS IS FUCKING ICELAND AND THERE’S A GLACIER NEXT DOOR?* (Sorry. Temper. Hot, you know.) We’re the ones who planted lawns and put in pools and garden irrigation systems while paving over earth. We've let greedy developers romp around building luxury estates for which it's been PROVEN there is no adequate water supply. Or worse, where these have threatened vital aquifers needed for growing food (you know, that stuff we believe is made in factories and dropped into supermarkets via elf-sleigh).

We let architects build houses without rainwater harvesting systems (the house I rent is only three years old and half the downpipes are lodged INSIDE THE WALLS and exit only at ankle-height, where it is impossible to effectively catch water). We’re the ones who think we need to shower every day and wash our clothes after wearing them once, who take baths and then pull the plug. We should have been screaming for rebates, subsidies and tax credits for installing water tanks and composting toilets for decades now. We refuse to even THINK about the massive, humungous problem that every single one of us shits,* every single day. INTO POTABLE WATER. We have been guilty of the most spectacular levels of denial.

OK, no more scolding. Things have been tough. Some of us have been working really hard. We’ve gotten our consumption down to 87 litres per person a day, and no wonder we feel bitter about the water-guzzlers who’ve just gone on splashing around like there’s no tomorrow (a cliché that now makes PERFECT SENSE).

(By the way, a little message for the 60% who haven’t bothered to cut their water consumption: I’m assuming that, say, ten per cent of you have no choice: you run a small business from home, you’re nursing your elderly incontinent parents, you have to keep things clean and sanitary. The remaining 50% -- that’s half the city – MAY YOU ROTATE ON A ROASTING SPIKE IN HELL. Oops. More temper. This blog is not for you: you’ve already demonstrated you don’t give a toss, and if there was any justice in the world, it would be only your toilets that clog, and only you queuing for water after Day Zero.)

But. The rest of us, already trying as hard as we can, now have to cut our use to 50 litres a day. And we’re hot and despairing. We’re facing a mini-apocalypse, and we’re scared. We’re getting the message, loud and clear, that we’re on our own, and we need to feel there’s something we can DO. Of course we belong to the water-saving social media groups, but we’re always stumbling across oozing little pustules of racism on those.

What we need now is ideas, encouragement and cheering. We need to rediscover the meaning of neighbourliness, to feel a sense of connection and community. Given our gobsmackingly awful and still painfully recent history, this is not easy. But we’re in this together, and we need to give each other all the boosting we can, as well as sharing resources – including the ones between our ears – wherever we can. We need a Blitz spirit, to keep calm and keeping on keeping on.

So I am going to post, in a series of blogs, every single hint, from the tiny (use leave-in hair conditioner) to the huge (revamp your gutters and connect them to rain tanks), from the costly (install a composting toilet) to the free (pee in a potty and then empty it down the bath plughole or in the garden), from the direct (lick your plates after meals) to the indirect (eat less meat) that will help us, the middle classes, to cut our water consumption to as little as humanly possible. I’m down to 30 litres a day (of which about 10-15 litres is municipal water, the rest harvested) for several months now. This is not meant to be a brag: it’s an indication of what’s possible -- and it’s still more than the 25-litre allotment due to me on Day Zero. So I need to know how to save every drop, too.

Here are the rules for interacting with this blog:

No ranting, no blaming. (Is my blog, so that’s MY prerogative.) Likewise, no conspiracy theories or this-is-God’s-punishment.

Politics: It is no good bitching about the DA and the ANC. Cape Town has been run by both, and both were warned that Cape Town would run out of water in 2016 yonks ago. Neither, IMO, stepped up to the plate. Besides, right now I respect the scum growing in my makeshift tank more than any politician, of any stripe. Stop bickering: you’ve failed us all. And it’s the vulnerable and the indigent who feel your failures most sorely.

Racism: Do you have water piped into your home? A flush toilet? Indoor bathrooms? A pool? A lawn? Then don’t even take a breath to whine about “running standpipes” and “taxi-washing” in the townships. (I’m not going to look up the reference, but a local scientist said that the amount of water filling pools in one square kilometre of Cape Town’s posh suburbs would wash 80 000 taxis.) The poor in this country live at semi Day-Zero level All. The. Time. So until you’ve had to cope with a child stricken by diarrhoea without safe, clean running water in your home, STFU.*

*I really want my posts to be user-friendly and friendly. But I am afraid I swear. A lot. I am going to try and give up my addiction to the f-word. However, I am going to use the word “shit” to describe faeces because the latter is a bummer (ha) to spell.

Which reminds me that water-saving tips are (to use a sideways pun) earthy by definition. We will be discussing shit and blood and other bodily secretions that we usually keep under control with H2O. If you are squeamish about this, congratulations on never having defecated, vomited or menstruated, and convey our greetings to your home planet (and warn them not to follow our planet-trashing example).

Comments are disabled (because racism and politics), but if you like, you can use the contact form to email me your water-saving suggestions, and I’ll publish them. Or tweet them to me @Heckitty. Trolls will get my Medusa face.

Here’s an old link to get us going.

Helen Moffett