There are MORE than 1001 ways to save water


At least, that's the impression I got in response to my last blog. I was sent so many links, tips, ideas and queries, from the tiny and almost silly (but every bit helps) to the huge and challenging (change the way we live, transform the way we think about water and use it). And nearly every piece of advice was a rabbit-hole to more fascinating places on the interwebz. (WHO KNEW THERE WAS SO MUCH ABOUT COMPOSTING LOOS? Seriously, folks: half of us are going to have to recalibrate our basic toilet-training. But that is a post for a day when we're all feeling a bit stronger.)

Meanwhile I am swimming in so much information, it's both a bit bewildering and very heartening. Do I start sorting by category: kitchen, cooking, cleaning, laundry, toilets, bathing/showering/washing, kids, pools, hygiene, harvesting? Grey water, black water, well water, rain water, spring water?

But first I should explain why I picked "1001 ways to save water" as a title for this very homespun project. Obviously, it's a reference to the One Thousand and One Nights (aka the Arabian Nights), the tales told by the canny and learned Scheherazade each night to her husband the Sultan, who had a habit of murdering his wives as dawn broke. Each story buys her another day. And another. And another. And in the end, her life is spared. I didn't realise it in the moment, but I'm obviously hoping we'll somehow be spared Day Zero. Maybe it can still happen? Either way, doing everything we can to save water will buy us another day. And another. And another...

The other things I've realised is that saving water and confronting a crisis as huge as the one facing us can't be done in a vacuum. Many of the water-saving tips I've been getting belong within a set of broader green living principles, along the "reduce, re-use, recycle" lines. There are things we do (like chucking away food -- the spaghetti our child refuses to eat, the lettuce that's gone slimy in the fridge) that waste the water used for growing/production in the first place -- but we're not taught to think of the secondary consequences of such everyday acts. So a general water-saving rule of thumb is GO GREEN, as much as you can.

On the other hand, the urgency of this crisis means we'll have to break all sorts of green "rules" -- those of us with cars will be using them a lot more to haul water, we're going to be using more disposable plates, napkins, kitchen towels, nappies ... and please spare a thought for the families who will have to go on washing cloth nappies throughout the coming months because they can no more afford disposable nappies than fly to the moon. (I know it's Januworry, but if EVER there was a time to donate nappies to NGOs and creches that care for littlies...)

So I'll be writing about those tensions as well -- where saving water means more paper in landfills, for instance. Generally, though, the greener your lifestyle, the less water you'll use. And although I'm talking to the middle classes here, going green is not just for the wealthy (where DID this idea come from?): my parents are so green they're almost emerald, and as my mama remarks every time I say how lucky we were to have them as role models growing up: "We were being frugal, darling." Green living saves money.

But mostly what I've realised is that if we're going to save water and deal with a truly horrendous crisis (and we need to do both at once), we need to rethink our community ties. We can't live in sealed little bubbles: we need to get out and find out who our neighbours are, and which of them are vulnerable. The Day Zero scenarios present all sorts of horrible visions of criminal opportunity: water thieves preying on the weak and the confused. Let's say Auntie Mavis, who has asthma and no car, is thirsty and desperate -- and opens her door to see a likely-looking lad flashing a name-badge and offering to collect water for her for a hundred bucks and her ID book -- and never sees any water, her money or her ID again. So get to know Auntie Mavis and her set-up NOW.

OK, our suburbs stratify us by class to a horrible extent, but you have no idea how many terrified people might be a stone's throw from you: the widow next door may eat off Dresden china, but she may have arthritis in her hands that makes it impossible for her to carry water. The mum with toddler twins and a partner working in Dubai might barely be managing, and the thought of collecting water on top of everything else has her weeping in despair.

Fire up existing community networks: churches, mosques, synagogues, all those parental mafia groups that circulate around schools, every club, every charity, every neighbourhood watch network. Adapt them into "water webs". Don't interfere, gossip or stoke existing tensions, but do ask people -- especially those who aren't up to speed with the latest technology -- what plans they have, and if there is anything you can do to support them. (If nothing else, help them get online.) Establish trust now so that when the paw-paw hits the fan, you're a familiar face.

Some saint in one of my neighbourhood groups made an incredibly generous suggestion: that everyone with an UNSTRESSED well, wellpoint or borehole identify three "adoptees": a neighbour; a nearby vulnerable family; a nearby small and vulnerable NGO. And commit to giving them water for flushing and basic hygiene (washing up, cleaning kitchen surfaces, etc) once Day Zero arrives. I think that IF you have a source of groundwater that is plentiful and perennial, put this plan into action before Day Zero, in the interests of eking out those last few puddles in our dams.

As not many of us have wells, I reckon this principle could apply if you have a car and are able-bodied: every time you collect water from a spring, take a few folk who can't manage on their own. If you own a bakkie, load up as many people and their containers as you can, and get the huskier folks to do the lugging for the frailer ones. Make this a regular gig. Separate your strapping teens from their electronic gidgets, give them sunscreen, hats and reflective vests, and send them to the nearest spring for an hour or two to help little old ladies cart water.

Same applies if you have rainwater-collecting tanks: many don't, and while I love harvesting rain, it's strenuous, time-consuming, and very wet work. So the minute rain starts to fall, hand the strapping teens cozzies and gumboots, and send them off with jugs and plastic containers to harvest Auntie Mavis's downpipes for her.

Remember, this water is primarily for flushing: no matter how strenuously we may be saving water, everyone using a conventional toilet will HAVE to flush once a day (unless you hail from Planet Sfinkterlus), and every flush -- unless replaced by harvested or grey water -- drains our depleted dams. So start having frank conversations with your neighbours now.

And now for your bonus fun tip of the day: everyone has to count in the shower for as long as the water is running. So get wet while counting, switch off, stop counting, lather up. Switch on, resume counting. Rinse and repeat. Time's up at 60! This comes courtesy of my sister and her teenage daughter. Cost: free.

Link of the day: this made me happy for so many reasons.

Here's another link I just found on how to have a 5-litre shower -- I DID NOT KNOW there was such a thing as an electric bucket! Well done, Missy, I've been wondering about my bucket baths once the weather turns colder. (Have been abluting in cold well water, which is fine when the temps average 30 degrees, but...) Cost: R165, if you want that cute bucket. Otherwise, free.




Helen Moffett