Living waters

Water, water everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

This line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written in 1798, somehow seems relevant, given the current crisis facing our country, and the significant restrictions that have recently been introduced in the Western Cape.

The mighty Indian and Atlantic oceans stretch along South African shores, holding unimaginable quantities of water, yet the salt content renders it undrinkable.

But… should we not be thinking more along the lines of desalination? This is the removal of salts from ocean water, to make it suitable for human and animal consumption, and for agriculture.

This is a process that has been successfully used all over the world, and I remember listening to a radio interview at least two years ago, with a South African engineer who now lives in Australia, talking about the successful plants he had helped design and build in Sydney to this effect.

Why do we always appear so slow to take action, waiting for the wells (quite literally) to run dry before being galvanised to a response (which is reminiscent of the electricity crisis)?

The scarcity of water is a global problem, and brings with it a host of repercussions, including mass migrations.

As long as the rain doesn’t replenish dams and lakes, and groundwater, we’re using up our finite resources with each passing day (and having a borehole may ameliorate the problem for some home-owners, but that also holds implications for dwindling aquifers, and the water will become increasingly brack).

And desalination isn’t a modern science – it was used in ancient times, also on ships to provide drinking water for the sailors (and distillation is also very effective in reducing contaminants in water that has been fouled).

One of the offshoots of the situation we’re all in now, is the rethinking of not only how we use water (perhaps carelessly, or wastefully), but also in terms of what we place in our water, in terms of household products.

This relates to what we use to wash dishes, the cleaning materials used on floors etc, or the laundry detergent we choose to use.

Now that we’re all striving (I hope) to capture our grey water to use in our gardens, the time has never been more appropriate to reassess all the areas where we can use less harmful products, and reduce the chemical footprint that we inadvertently leave.

If you’re redirecting your bathwater, it’s as simple as using more natural soaps (I love browsing local markets to source handmade soaps, with fragrant essential oils).

That, and a hose outside the upstairs window, a bit of old-fashioned sucking on the pipe while standing below, and my bathwater all ends up in a few big containers, to be transferred to watering cans.

And there can be few things as good for building upper-body strength and core muscles, than wielding two five-litre watering cans (best tackled in the cool of evening, when there is also less dehydration occuring).

There are natural brands of phosphate-free detergents at most big retail stores, which means you can place your washing machine’s outlet hose in a container, and that could perhaps be used on your lawn, if you have one.

The next thing I intend to do, is have a water tank installed on the side of the house, to capture rain water.

I wish the City of Cape Town would consider rolling these out as a matter of policy, just like they do the hardy black refuse bins (and a friend was the lucky recipient of a compost bin, from the City, which is also something I would love to be a more wholescale practice).

Another good use for grey water is rinsing recyclable containers, before bagging them for collection.

Reuse, reduce, recycle – these have always been credos of mine, and it seems that Mother Nature is making her voice heard to the previously unconverted, as we all face the implications of climate change, and an increasingly arid planet.

And my car looks like I’ve just done the Dakar Rally, but that suits me just fine!

Carolyn Frost: Editor