All the way back in March I managed to get our water usage down to 8,000 litres per month (equating to 87 litres per person in our household) and have stuck with that for the past seven months. Quite a few people asked me at the time to share how I’d achieved it and give some water saving tips. The answer is, you’re not going to like what you hear. Most of it requires being just a bit unhygienic.
Everyone in Cape Town will know, or should know unless you’re a total git, that we have level 5 water restrictions and are limited to 87 litres per person per day. Our water is scheduled to run out completely by the end of March and this is probably just going to get worse as we get into summer. It’s starting to feel like we live in apocalyptic times.
If you’re serious about saving water and sticking to the rules then the reality is probably going to be unpleasant. Here’s how we’ve done it:
The taps on all our toilets have been turned off. If you need to flush a toilet, you get the bucket of grey water and flush it manually.
Toilet flushing only happens for number twos, so we just have to deal with there being some degree of wee in our toilets at any given time. It’s disgusting but I reckon if you can’t deal with your own family members’ wee then you need to do some team building exercises or something.
I wash dishes in a bucket (as infrequently as possible) and use the dirty water to water my three remaining plants. Even water from cooking that is normally drained (like when boiling pasta) gets collected in a bucket for these herbaceous beacons of hope. I’m determined that they, like me, will survive this.
All clothes except underwear have to be worn more than once. Unless they have a gigantic tomato sauce stain on the front, they go back in the cupboard and not into the wash. Because laundry is done once a week, and when the machine is full, it’s full. Laundry is probably the biggest single user of water in our house, and it’s very difficult when you’ve got kids to keep washing to a minimum. Moo’s school uniform, underwear and anything that is really sweaty or dirty takes precedence. Bedding, towels and other clothing makes it in when there’s spare space. Before the drain cycle I scoop out as much grey water from the washing machine as possible to use for toilet flushing. I really, really miss having my weekly clean bedding. 😦
Probably the most difficult reality to accept has been banning baths and cutting our showering down drastically. A hot shower has become the ultimate luxury in my life. I now only shower twice a week when I need to wash my hair (coinciding with horse riding days because I get pretty grimey). The other days I have to make do with a bowl of water, a face cloth and dry shampoo. When I do shower, I collect every drop of shower water to use for flushing the toilets. And my daughter has exchanged bathtime every night for an occasional shared shower and her monthly hair wash. I’m probably a bad parent, but she seems quite happy and doesn’t smell funny.
Our swimming pool no longer exists (well, it does, but it’s got about 30cm of water in it which is too low to filter, so it’s a disgusting green swamp). Our lawn is a giant sandpit and the only surviving plants are the three pot plants which live off dishwater. It’s depressing and our garden looks ugly but I guess in crisis time appearances no longer matter.
Lastly I have a few general tips. There are some places in Cape Town like the brewery in Newlands where you can collect free spring water. My parents who live nearby wait in the queues and collect really big bottles full to use for drinking and cooking etc. If you live near the beach you can collect sea water. It’s a schlep hauling 10 litre containers across the sand to your car, but I’m going to be using this for toilet flushing this summer. Then there are the usual things like brushing teeth with a cup of water, water saving shower heads etc.
Collect as much rainwater as you can. We are getting a tank installed, but up until now every time it has rained I run outside and put buckets under the downpipes. There are also flexible roll-up hoses you can connect to your downpipes to channel rainwater directly into your pool, garden, or storage tank. If I’d known about these at the beginning of the winter our pool might actually still have been full enough to run the filter…
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I don’t even use the car wash anymore. My car looks pretty bad, but then again what’s that compared to a dead garden, an empty pool, dirty windows, unflushed toilets and bi-weekly showers? This I’m afraid is the reality of 87 litres per day.