Several shades of grey water

Using potable water to flush toilets is wasteful.

Capetonians can pat themselves on the back. We have cut our water consumption to approximately 640 million Kilolitres a day – down from well over 1 000m Kl usage in the days before the drought.

However, in other news we hear that our storage crisis is unlikely to get much better in the next few years, and many experts predict that the water shortage is here to stay. One thing is certain though, the days of cheap abundant water are a thing of the past.

Besides the obvious “not enough rain”, there are two main factors contributing to our current crisis.

Firstly, our climate is changing. We won’t debate the causes of climate change here, especially as I believe that Donald Trump is a regular reader of the Bolander, and does not like people disagreeing with him… nevertheless, I think even this president elect would agree that climate change is real and happening – even if it is “just the weather”.

Climatologists predict that we will not necessarily have less annual rainfall, but that it will be more sporadic, meaning more dry months – like the May just past -and that the rain that does arrive will often be more concentrated.

Unfortunately for our dams, torrential downpours do not collect as much water in the catchment areas due to the quick run off.

The second factor affecting the Western Cape is population growth, along with the prodigious influx of people who have decided to come and live on the bottom tip of Africa.

Here in Somerset West, there are new housing developments in all directions, with the associated construction of roads, schools and shopping malls. There are also large developments planned around Stellenbosch and Cape Town. Short of declaring a republic and building a wall (Mr Trump can be of help here), all of the new arrivals will need water, so what can we do to help alleviate the situation?

Government interventions

The Western Cape government is putting in place several initiatives in response to the crisis.

Unfortunately, we can’t build any more dams, as there are no suitable sites left. The wall of Voel-vlei dam is to be raised, but that’s about it for conventional storage.

Desalination, reverse osmosis, collecting run-off water and exploiting underground water are all possibilities, but be warned that the cost will be high, and passed on to the consumer.

But before we go to the expense of taking salt out of sea water, we need to look at factors closer to home. An enormous amount of potable water is lost through leakage within the various municipal supply infrastructures.

According to Greencape, the national loss through pipe leakage runs at a massive 37 percent. That is a significant amount of water, and the immediate benefits of replacing and fixing our pipes are obvious.

Another stagg ering statistic is that we Capetonians pour approximately 450m Kl of treated waste water into the sea every day. Much of this water can be re-used for non-potable requirements such as irrigation, cleaning etc.

A further aspect for our planners to urgently consider is that all new developments must help fund our water requirements through increased development levies, and in addition, all new buildings will be required to harvest rainwater as well as installing grey water recycling reticulation systems.

Me and you

Approximately 74 percent of our water usage is residential.

In addition, it comes as no surprise that those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale consume the least water, while as wealth increases, so does water consumption. Somerset West is a relatively rich beautiful suburb of tree-lined streets, lush gardens with manicured lawns and sparkling swimming pools. The bell tolls for you, affluent Somerset Westers.

It’s no longer okay to use drinking water to automatically sprinkle the lawns, flush the toilets or refill the pools. It is time to change our habits and embrace this crisis as an opportunity to create a sustainable future.

Water is getting more expensive, and it already makes sense to spend some money now to put in place some simple storage and recycling solutions that will keep the garden green without effecting drinking water supply.

Step 1: Purchase a tank or two and collect rainwater. This is easy and relatively simple to do, and you will be surprised how quickly they fill up and provide relatively clean water that can be used for a variety of tasks.

Step 2: Collect and recycle your grey water – that is water from showers, hand basins and laundry that is not heavily soiled.

It’s a temporary crisis measure, but in our family we collect grey water before it goes into the sewer, and then transport it by bucket to the bathrooms to be used to refill the cisterns and flush the toilets. It works, it’s not ideal, but at between three and six litres a flush, it’s a significant saving.

Unfiltered grey water must be used quickly or it tends to smell and grow bacteria, and it can be a bit of burden to have to carry buckets of water around twice a day – not to mention the aesthetics (maybe shops will introduce a range of attractive buckets that match ones bathroom decor?).

Therefore, our next project will be to install a greywater filter system and pump – there are several available – and from there, the treated water can go to irrigate the veggie garden as well as to be used in the loos.

It’s a bit more complex to re-plumb your toilet, but with some DIY savvy or input from your local plumber it’s a worthwhile investment both financially and morally.

Tony Totten is a Somerset West-based architect, with an interest in green buildings.

Previous articleDo you know him?
Next articleA wheel treat