1001 Water-wise ways: Living in the danger zone

 Photograph by Ken Barris.

Photograph by Ken Barris.

It's raining rain! Hallelujah, it's raining rain! And all weekend too here in Cape Town (after a disquietingly dry few weeks). The grass is green, the flowers have been insisting it's spring for weeks, the dams are steadily filling -- or are they?

I pore over Tom Brown's Cape Water and Dams Report religiously (a consistently trustworthy source of information who supplies proof of or references for every claim he reports), and the latest is that the dams are 56,7% full (overall). But oh dear: in the last fortnight, the rise has been only 0.2%. Yup: not 2%, 0.2%. Now have a look at this very useful chart Tom has been tracking all year:

 Taken from https://showme.co.za/paarl/lifestyle/nature-outdoors/cape-water-and-dams-report-116/

Taken from https://showme.co.za/paarl/lifestyle/nature-outdoors/cape-water-and-dams-report-116/

You see that yellow band? That's the danger zone -- in other words, where the amount of water available to us is stressed, and unable to meet urban and agricultural needs unless coupled with stringent water restrictions. And this is where we are right now -- and we're approaching the END of our winter rainfall season. To climb out the danger zone, we need to rise beyond 60% (and remember, in the last fortnight, storage crept up by all of 0.2%) to make it through the summer, with its special challenges -- like evaporation, tourism and let's not forget, no rain -- our summers are dry, and like Europe, it seems a scorcher lies in wait for us. (So this is why we're still bathing in buckets. At least, I HOPE YOU ARE.) 

Take a closer look at that graph: especially that notch half-way between April 2018 and May 2018. It shows how narrowly we scraped past a disastrous drop into the failure zone (which would have meant queuing with buckets at water stations). So when I see seasoned journalists claiming that Day Zero was a political hoax, I am tempted to lock them up in a room with this graph and a pair of spectacles. Moreover, we dodged the Day Zero bullet largely because the Groenland Water Users Association (GWUA) released water from their dams into the municipal system, gambling with their own future in the process. So the cavalry really did gallop to the rescue -- but we cannot guarantee that this will happen again.

We have to go on saving ourselves -- and by and large, we're doing a really good job. We never quite get down to the City's target of 450 ML/day, but we hover pretty close to it. And we could do it, too, if a few more people came to the party: because I live on an estate, the water consumption of each household is known not only to the City, but the estate management, which keeps a beady eye on us. I was hugely frustrated to read in the latest newsletter that while a number of us (the majority) are "staying within the restrictions, some are not, and some appear not even to be trying." There are households using more -- in a few cases, WAY more -- than 20 kl per month (twice the limit urged by the City) and they can't ALL have three kids in nappies.

But enough of water, for now: right now, I have now plastic lined up in my sights. See that beautiful photograph of a sea-shore that opens this blog? Now imagine it with a plastic bag or bottle, or a straw, or even an earbud washed up on it. Let's clean up our act. I have lots of ideas for reducing plastic waste and I'd love to hear yours (while totally agreeing with green guru Leonie Joubert that the real change needs to happen at the corporate and manufacturing top of the chain, instead of relying on consumers to mop up the mess at the end). So please send your best plastic-reduction/avoidance tips, and I'll feature them here.

Here's one to start you off, inspired by anti-plastic warrior Karoline Hanks: what's with the plastic bag in which Clicks and Dis-chem seal your medicines before putting it in a wire cage and then locking the cage with a cable-tie? (I fail to understand any part of this process.) Ask the dispensing pharmacist to put your goods straight into the basket, or to use a paper bag, or hand them a paper or cloth bag that can be sealed shut with one of their sticky thingies. And if they have to lock the basket shut (heaven forbid that your 'flu meds might make a bolt for freedom), why not use a padlock that the cashiers all have a key for?

Helen Moffett