1001 water-wise ways: Spring stories

I'm at a bit of a crossroads with this water blog. The tips have dried up, as water-savviness has become second nature, and we have our water-saving and harvesting routines down pat. (I sincerely HOPE this is the case.) My book, 101 Water Wise Ways, which throws all the best advice you've given me between two covers, is out in the wild. It's even been spotted in my favourite book shop, The Book Lounge in Roeland Street, Cape Town.

 I love that my water book -- seen here at the Book Lounge -- is surrounded by poetry and art. And am still delighted at the simple loveliness of the cover. So thrilled with Bookstorm's high-quality production.

I love that my water book -- seen here at the Book Lounge -- is surrounded by poetry and art. And am still delighted at the simple loveliness of the cover. So thrilled with Bookstorm's high-quality production.

(Just in case you're still looking for ways to survive and thrive on less water, you can get a copy here -- at a very nice price, I see.)

So what next? Especially, as a friend said gloomily, "What we need now is 101 Ways to Make It Rain." So much depends on that rain, and whether it will arrive, and in the quantities in which we need it. Unlike Gauteng, we have no Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme to gallop to the rescue. But it's no good panicking about events over which we have no control -- all we can do now is wait.

In the meantime, I want to keep listening to people's water stories, and one benefit of collecting from springs is getting to do exactly that. Today I visited, for the first time, the spring at St James -- I needed to do laundry, and for that I like to harvest water that is clean, but not safe to drink.

An hour and a half later, I staggered away with my 20 litres of water, feeling like I'd been a bit player in a soap opera for the afternoon. There is so much about race, gender and class -- and also human connection -- that goes on at springs, it's fascinating and humbling and frustrating, all at once.

So the dilemma was this. The queue was short when I arrived: only nine people ahead of me. Directly in front of me were two women -- one with only two empty bottles, another with three small children -- maybe eight, six and four in age -- and five 5-litre bottles. There were a few men, a few 25-litre containers. The queue was moving along slowly -- there are only two outlet pipes, and they do not gush, they trickle. Then a couple stepped up. They filled several 25-litre containers, and over eighty 5-litre containers. They had a huge 4X4, and every time we thought they'd finished, they'd dash over to it and drag another ten containers out of its depths. Look, they worked hard and fast, given that they were not young -- but it was pretty galling nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the rest of us were keeping the smallies out the traffic, which whisks by only feet from the springs. The littlest one had a bottle, which he kept dropping and then chasing as it rolled into the road, and his mother, burdened with containers and two other kids, couldn't always grab him in time.

OK, so the question is: when does one say something? Especially when yours is the only white face in the queue? I shut up for a long while: I was enjoying the chat, and there are worse ways to spend a mild early-autumn afternoon than standing by the False Bay coast, looking at the changing light on the waves and the cloud shadows on the mountains. But I felt for the two women ahead of me, and especially for those tiny kids. So when 4X4 Couple took over both pipes, I had a few words to say, and they relinquished the slower-running outlet to the mum with children.

 Photo credit: Ken Barris, used with permission. This wasn't the exact view I was enjoying at the spring, but close enough. And that's certainly what the clouds looked like.

Photo credit: Ken Barris, used with permission. This wasn't the exact view I was enjoying at the spring, but close enough. And that's certainly what the clouds looked like.

I'd love to know what that mother's story was: the way her oldest boy helped her made me think this was a daily ritual. They had no car: once their five containers were filled (and the littlest's bottle as well), the two older kids each hefted a container (the little girl was dwarfed by hers), the mother took the remaining three, and off they trudged in the direction of Kalk Bay. Was that their water for the evening? Drinking, cooking and washing?

Likewise the young woman who had waited an hour and a half, texting on her phone, to fill two 5-litre containers. Then she hopped on a taxi heading towards Masiphumelele. Was that her daily ration? Does she go to the spring every day after work?

Meanwhile, the gentleman alongside me was happy to tell me his story: he was retired, but his wife still worked, so he had taken over the family laundry. He had four 25-litre containers, and he explained that each load of washing took two containers. Once a week, he fetched water from this spring and took it home to wash his family's clothes.

The thing that's worth remembering: rain could pour from the skies, the dams could fill up, but for some of the people I saw today, nothing will change. They will continue the hard work of hand-hauling water day in, day out, year in, year out, because it's the only option available to them. And that is sobering indeed.

I took a photo, but I couldn't get everyone's names (the roar of the traffic and the running water made it hard for me to hear). However, the individuals in this pic were enthusiastic about appearing in a blog -- or maybe they were just being kind and indulging me.

 Water-collectors at the St James spring. Long waits, but much patience and courtesy. Pic taken with permission (active encouragement, in fact).

Water-collectors at the St James spring. Long waits, but much patience and courtesy. Pic taken with permission (active encouragement, in fact).


My spring suggestions, if I was the boss of the world: solo parents with small children should get a priority pass at springs, especially if there's more than one outlet: a kind of speed queue. The traffic department should, for the love of all that is sane, put traffic cones or SOME sort of calming device alongside this and other springs -- some of the trucks that whizzed past practically jolted the fillings out my head. It amazes me that there hasn't been a nasty accident (yet) that I know of. And let's apply what I think of as the Newlands rule: you can take as much water as you like -- but no more than 25 litres at a time. After that, you go to the back of the queue and start again.

Oh yes, my laundry! Once I got home to my middle-class machine, it went like clockwork. I don't even bother with water-saving programs. I know exactly how much harvested water to pour in when: 18 litres at the start, another 18 the second the rinse cycle starts, 8 for the spin cycle, and boom, a perfect wash sans municipal water. And all the grey water gets saved for flushing.
 

Helen Moffett