February is the worst month for water consumption in the Cape. One resident shares her water consumption calculations and saving devices and plans with us.
The City of Cape Town gives all its residents 6kl of free water a month. Last February my family used up this allocation in 3 days. For some households, 6kl is enough water to last them the whole month. We live in the suburbs. Between the four of us we used a daily average of 1.89kl a day (57.7kl a month), whereas in November we had only used 0.62kl a day. Our consumption had increased by a whopping 32%!
In these financially trying times it’s not easy to find more money in the budget to pay for services. But it’s not only about money. Living in the green leafy suburbs, it’s all too easy to forget that South Africa is a semi-arid country, where water is a seriously scarce and precious resource. It is up to each of us to find ways to use water wisely. Every drop saved really does count.
Having realised that there was a problem, I decided to take action and try to pinpoint where we could make some savings. A City of Cape Town survey found that middle to high income households with a garden used up to 46% of their water on gardening.
Fortunately my garden is planted with indigenous, water-wise plants. At the start of summer we put a thick layer of mulch to protect the soil from the hot sun and wind. Most of the garden survives on the few days of rain we get in summer, so we are not wasting water here. We water our vegetable patch in the late afternoon and by hand as this ensures the water gets to the roots and is not lost to evaporation. If you do need to water larger areas and have limited time, then a drip irrigation system is the most water wise, although not the cheapest option.
Greywater system saves 50%
Our small patch of lawn is watered by our grey water system. According to a local greywater company, recycling of grey water can reduce your total water needs by approximately 50%. This depends on how much water the system can access. In our house two bathrooms had internal plumbing pipes, which made it impossible to link the outlet pipes to the greywater system. So we can only re-use water from the washing machine and one bathroom.
This is something to keep in mind if you renovate your bathroom: greywater systems need external plumbing pipes. Some people worry about the smell of the grey water. We have never had this problem, probably because as water goes into the tank, it is automatically pumped out. So it doesn’t sit in the tank long enough to go off. The starting price for a simple, locally manufactured grey water system was around R3 000 last year, however costs vary depending on installation requirements.
Most greywater systems don’t use the water from the kitchen sink or the dishwasher, because the filters can’t deal with the fat particles and these wouldn’t be good for the plants. There are some systems that can use all your household’s waste water, like the Lilliput domestic sewage treatment plant. They claim to be able to recycle all your waste water, including raw sewerage, and use the discharge for irrigation and the pool. It is made in South Africa, costs around R20 000 and can be installed as a new system or a retro-fit add-on.
In the Western Cape, detergents with phosphates are a problem for Fynbos plants. This won’t be an issue if your household is already using environmentally friendly detergents, otherwise it’s a good opportunity to make the switch! Some locally made environmentally friendly options include Enchantrix or Earthsap. Both are free of phosphates, chlorine or other harmful chemicals.
Pools guzzle mega litres
While we may be using water wisely in our garden, swimming pools are huge water guzzlers. On hot and windy days an average size pool can lose up to 357 litres to evaporation. After a week of sweltering heat, your pool could lose 2500 litres, and 10 833 litres in a month. This could be one of the main reasons for our high water bill in February. We don’t have a pool cover and are always topping up the water to protect the filter. The evaporation rate can be significantly reduced by covering the pool’s surface.
A local pool cover specialist claims that their product can reduce evaporation by 90 – 95%. A solar blanket can also reduce evaporation and at the same time increase the pool’s temperature by 2 – 4 degrees Celsius so you can use it for longer periods in the year. Another nifty water saving gadget worth looking into is the backwash recycling system for pool water. This device receives the water normally thrown away from a swimming pool backwash process, cleans it with a little flocculent, and after 24 hours returns all the clarified water back into the swimming pool. By returning your backwash water, you don’t have to top it up with water so often.
In summer, everyone in my household prefers to shower, which is way more water efficient than bathing – if you don’t shower for too long, Replacing our existing showerheads with water saving ones could help to reduce our water consumption here quite substantially. A conventional shower head flows at around 15 litres per minute, while a water saving shower head typically has a flow rate of less than 10 litres per minute. This can result in savings of around 75% of the water and electricity used by most conventional showerheads.
I found a water saving shower head that requires up to 40% less water than conventional shower heads. Water saving shower heads start at around R175 per unit.
Toilets are greedy too
Toilet flushing is another area where water can be saved. My grandmother used to put bricks in her toilet’s cistern on the farm to save on flushing water. She also had a sign on the wall: ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down.’
If you don’t fancy the idea of a brick in the cistern or letting things mellow, the Hippo Water Saver can also do the trick. The Hippo bag is placed in the cistern and is supposed to reduce the volume of water flushed by 2 to 3.5 litres. It fits in almost any toilet cistern of 9 litres or more, can be installed in seconds by anyone and costs R20. We recently installed a new toilet with a dual flush mechanism with two options, the yellow and the brown, and it works just fine.
There are many ways to save water. Most of these methods won’t cost you a cent; you do have to change your habits though, which is usually easier said than done! Being aware of how much water you are using is a good starting point to make changes, and its as simple as reading your utility bill and keeping track of how much water you are using. Don’t let February’s water bill take you by surprise. Wake up now and make some small changes. Perhaps plan some bigger purchases, like a pool cover. We can all stop being so wasteful and do our bit to conserve planet earth’s most precious resource: water.
By Theresa Wilson