Cape Town’s water crisis
I love living in Cape Town, it’s no secret. This is my favourite place to be, this is home. But recently it has gotten more and more difficult to live here. That’s because of Cape Town’s water crisis that we are currently going through. It seems that everywhere you look you are bombarded with water saving tips in an effort to get people to use as little water as possible.
About 10 years ago I saw a picture, I can’t even remember where, of a little girl standing with all her pool toys and inflatable armbands that kids wear so they don’t sink. She was standing in-front of a large Olympic sized swimming pool filled with water, but she wasn’t allowed to swim. Between her and the pool stood 3 armed guards preventing her from using the pool to swim. There was a caption which went along the lines of ‘save water before it becomes too scarce for everyone to use’ or something like that.
I remember thinking it was a bit melodramatic and that it didn’t apply to Cape Town. Surely that would never happen here. But now, with Cape Town’s water crisis and public taps being turned off, it being ‘illegal’ to fill pools with tap water (you get a hefty fine if you do) and water usage being closely monitored, Cape town’s water crisis is a reality we have to live with today. Now I feel like that little girl. (The City of Cape Town has even created a website where you can see water usage per area and even per household to encourage people to save more..)
I think every Cape-townian feels the same – like their world has been turned upside down when it comes to water. Everyone you meet has some or other new water saving tip to help out.
We are resorting to some drastic measures to keep our usage of municipal water low. Many of us are collecting rain water to use around the house and some people are even queuing at natural springs around Cape Town to collect large containers of runoff water from the mountain.
All this is an effort to use less municipal water. The municipality uses the dams around Cape Town to provide the city with clean drinking water (tap water). Once the dams dry up, so do the taps. Cape Town’s water crisis is no joke. The Sh*t is getting real.
To be honest it’s getting a bit crazy here and I (and many other people I know) have had sleepless nights just thinking about ‘Day Zero’ and Cape Town’s water crisis and how we can use less and less water and survive past Day Zero. If you don’t already know, ‘Day Zero’ is the day that the City of Cape Town will have to turn off the water supply totally. It is when the dams get too low to use. This is where Cape Town’s water crisis is heading.
Nobody wants this so everyone is doing their part to use less water from the dams and so far our efforts have been paying off. We managed to push ‘Day Zero’ back from somewhere in April initially, to June now. The date changes for the better the more we manage to save (or the less we use).
Cape Town’s water crisis has already had an impact on tourism to Cape Town and I personally know of a few people who have cancelled their holiday to Cape Town because of it. But, if you have already planned a trip here, and you are willing to help out then there is no need to cancel your holiday to Cape Town at all. The taps are still running, for now, and there are quite a few easy water saving tips and tricks you can use to help us save water and push Day Zero out of sight.
Here are some easy water saving tips you can use to help us save water and overcome Cape Town’s water crisis
Do not take bubble baths at all
As far as water saving tips go, this is a no brainer. Bubble baths are a huge waste of water, that could be otherwise used for drinking and other essentials. I know it’s so tempting to soak in a bubble bath when you are on holiday, but think of all those people who will have to queue for water if Day Zero comes.
Shower every 3rd day
As gross as it sounds this is a must. Bathing takes a lot of water, so prolonging it for as long as possible saves about 10L of water minimum each time. If you want to freshen up in between showers using dry shampoo on your body works really well. It absorbs all the sweat off you so you can feel fresh without using any water at all. Baby powder also works well for this.
Collect shower water
This is an old water saving tip and many people were doing this even before the drought. Get a wide container and collect the water you let run from the shower while the water is warming up. Use this to wash clothes by hand. Then use another wide bucket to collect the water that you use to rinse off with. Don’t throw any of this water away no matter how dirty it looks. Us it to flush the toilet.
Because of Cape Town’s water crisis, 2-3 minute showers are the norm now, and if you take longer in the shower you are seen as selfish. The trick with getting the 3 minute shower right is to switch the water off while you are soaping down or shaving. Only use the water to rinse yourself off and do so as quick as possible. Once you get used to it it becomes so ingrained in you that doing it any other way feels wrong.
Save dish washing water
Collect all your dirty dishes in one of the sinks or a bowl. Then plug up the second sink. As you wash and rinse the dishes collect all this water in the plugged up sink. If you need to soak anything do so in this collected water because it will be relatively cleanish. Don’t forget to rinse sparingly.
Rinsing dishes carefully
When you wash cutlery group them into forks spoons and knives and tea spoons. Use a sponge and scrub all the knives/ spoons/forks, but don’t rinse them one by one. Instead hold all the scrubbed spoons/ knives or forks in one hand and rinse them all at once. This uses a heck of a lot less water than rinsing them individually.
The water that you will have collected is grey water. You can either use it to flush the toilet or you can use it to water you plants.
I know watering plants may seem wasteful during Cape Town’s water crisis, but many of my plants are actually veggies so I eat from them too. (Plus I see plants as living things and I get sad to see them suffer too.)
Flush once a day for a poo
Use the water you have collected around the house to ‘flush’ every third pee. I use about 3L at a time for this. Only flush properly when you poo. This alone saves about 10L each flush.
Collect water you use when you wash your hands
You’ll be surprised at how much you will collect doing this. I collect about 10L a day and use this to flush the toilet or wash small items of clothing.
Cook using a pressure cooker
If you need to cook potatoes or meat or anything really, use a pressure cooker as you need far far less water to cook the food. If you have to boil stuff like pasta or rice, save the water left from straining it out too.
Straighten your hair
This is an odd water saving tip, I know, but if you have curly hair (like me) you know the struggle of trying to tame it when it’s dry. If you straighten your hair you can go for longer without washing it, and use dry shampoo to extend it just a bit longer. I get away with washing my hair once a week this way.
So if Cape Town’s water crisis gets to the point where we can’t use the shower at all I’ll be using max 10L to bath myself using a bucket bath system. There are a couple of steps and with each step you will collect the used water and reuse it for the next step. The whole idea is to start with the least dirty part of your body, collect the water as you go along to wash the rest of your body. So: wash your face. Wash your hair if needed. Wash your body. Wash the really dirty parts.
You can stand in a wide bucket and collect the water you use to rinse off yourself with. Then use 3L of clean water to do a final rinse with.
For cistern-less toilets
Unfortunately our toilet doesn’t have a cistern so we are a bit screwed when it comes to number 2 if/ when Day Zero hits. We have invested in a portable composting toilet which uses minimal water and uses capsules full of helpful bacteria to break down the waste. It is supposedly odour free.
My Biggest water saving tip
The biggest water saving tip, the thing that works the best, is using water more than once. Pretend that your drains don’t work at all and collect the water you use to wash dishes, clothes and yourself with. Use this to flush the toilet. You need to use water as many times as possible, and the final time should be used to flush the toilet.
Cape Town’s water crisis and the coming of ‘Day Zero’ is a very scary reality for everyone living in Cape Town, but luckily most people are doing more than their part to help avoid this disaster. There are so many other water saving tips out there, and it seems that each person has a new innovative way to do so, which is fantastic. If we all work together we can overcome Cape Town’s water crisis, or at least survive it.
If you have any water saving tips for us, suggestions for other travelers or advice on visiting Cape Town you can share it with the world in the comments below. And if you enjoy this article don’t forget to share it or follow us on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram to find out what I’m up to and get the latest news about my new articles as they come out.