1001 water-wise ways: A licorice allsorts round-up (#4)

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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