When the taps run dry: what is your family's plan to cope with severe water shortage?
It's not unthinkable that we could have to shower in salty water one day. Right now, we have rethink each drop of water – here are a few ideas.
I recently overheard a Cape Town dad saying to another – and I’m not making this up: "Ja so we had a well point installed in our garden, and now no-one can be on my case and my kids can run through the sprinkler anytime they wish." He made it sound as if:
There was a conspiracy against his family with the nasty council wanting to spoil their fun;
There’s an endless supply of underground water that will never dry up.
But hey peeps, what we once took for granted – a steady supply of fresh water – is under threat. Blame this one, blame that one, fact is the world’s population is using up the earth's fresh water, including the underground streams and deeper aquifers, and we need to start thinking about water completely differently.
Of course, South Africa is one of the very last places on earth where we can drink straight from the tap. In many other countries the locals already have no choice but to drink bottled water.
Years ago we met this lovely couple who grew up on Ibiza. They told us how there used to be 7 fresh water lakes (aquifers) underneath the island but the hotels had depleted all but 6, and the last one’s water was reserved for hotels only. This was the year 2000 and the local Ibizans already had salty water coming out of their taps.
According to The Water Project, 783 million people don’t have access to clean and safe water worldwide, many of whom is in our neck of the woods. Or how is this: 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water.
The Aqueduct Project of the World Resources Institute made this cool interactive map, showing the water risk for different countries – you may surprised that South Africa is not the only one facing a severe drought risk in future.
Now take a deep breath and simply decide to start thinking about water in a different light. I mean, it is kind of unimaginable that we still flush our toilets with fresh drinking water, isn’t it?
Earlier this year we posted a few wacky ideas to save water in your family home:
13 weird by absolutely necessary ways your family can save water
Can we take it a step further? Here's what I'm thinking.
Maybe I don’t need to shower every day
Eek! Did I say that out loud? Fact is, I’ve been resorting to a “varkiebad” (“piggy bath”) every other day – just topping and tailing. Job done.
RIP the power shower
No more waking up in the shower. Just opening the shower tap halfway douses me with enough water to lather up and rinse. I’m out of the shower in under a minute. On the days I wash my hair, I do that over the washing basin with a showerhead.
Do the kids need to bath every day?
Well I’m afraid so. Maybe your kids smell better than mine after a long day of playing. But for us, we make do with the tiniest amount of bath water, which the girls share. We keep it in afterwards too and use in other ways or on the few surviving plants outside.
Will I let my kids go out with unwashed clothes?
Visibly dirty and smelly clothes? No. But if it’s been worn yet it’s okay to wear again, we hang it up to air and wear again tomorrow.
Washing hands while leaving enough water for the fish
One kiddies TV channel runs cute inserts to show how keeping a tap running drains water from the little fish’s pond. If not strictly true, it’s a powerful image I use to encourage my 3-year-old – who just finally discovered hand-washing is a thing – to use only the tiniest amount of water. I also keep some waterless hand sanitiser in my handbag.
Take the plunge with rainwater tanks
We’re going to have to start relying on rainwater more and more. Rainwater systems, including tank and pump and plumbing, can be expensive and you need to have space. But increasingly more products catering for the urban household are becoming available. It really is worth making this permanent move. The tank will probably not see us through the dry seasons but at least we can use our own rainwater during the rainy season and help the dam levels.
Disposable things aren't generally not cool
This is an abstract thought for smaller kids. But truth is, every factory uses water to make stuff. Paper towels, toilet paper, cling film, ear buds, plastic cutlery, straws – their production processes all require big amounts of water. Recycling plants also use water. If it’s disposable, say no thank you. And that brings us to…
Ditch the plastic water bottle
Yes that miniral water is sourced at a mountain spring and sounds like an elixir to long life, but it takes two to three times (depending on who you’re quoting) the amount of water to produce one plastic bottle of water. Drink water from the tap, and filter it if you need to.
Don’t buy new clothes all the time
Our kids may outgrow their clothes faster than the seasons change, but there’s nothing wrong with second- and third-hand clothes, provided they’ve been cared for. It takes more than 2 650 litres to produce 1 new cotton shirt. Let that sink in for a moment.
Rethink your garden
This one hurts. I’ve spent hundreds (let’s say just hundreds…) over the last 8 years on new waterwise plants for our garden, with only a few survivors. In the last few years, we went on a mission to only plant vegetables and fruit trees in the gaps in our tiny garden. But without water, 70% of these died too. The motto now is: if you can’t survive without water, my little bud, it’s the end of the line for you.
Don't replace lawn with concrete
The days of big lawns are counted. But ripping it all out and paving it means the rain water will run off into stormwater pipes, ending up in the sea. You want to keep some areas where the water can run into the soil and filter down into our aquifers. Did you know aquifers take 100 to 200 years to replenish?
Shoo water guns, sprinklers and jumping castles with water slides
Well. I wouldn’t want my kids to drink bath water so there’s no ways I’ll use our grey water for this kind of fun in the sun. Will baking mud pies and water squirters be relegated to tales of the old days?
Swimming pools, oh man
Tricky one, because there it is now. If you can, fill up your pool from an extra rainwater tank. I was tempted to use grey water and just clean it with chlorine – it’s not like the kids don't wee in the pool and bath anyway. But for hygiene reasons that’s actually a big no, so don’t. Do however cover the pool with a strong child-safety sail to prevent evaporation. Or replace the pool with a trampoline. But for the love of rainbows, don’t fill it up from the garden tap.
Will you judge me if my car is dirty?
I've never fussed over a clean car. Judge me. But I have thought of having a chamois or two in the boot for a rainy day. When I get to the parking garage at work, I can wipe off the rain drops and dirt in one clever swoop.
Going forward, we’ll have to reshape the way we think about every drop of water: drink enough water; cook with water; and do use it sparingly and cleverly to do washing and stay hygienic.
But the days of using water with utter abandon, like Austin Powers rolling in the millions of dollar bills, are over. It’s not too late to teach our kids that there’s a new status quo.
So are you prepared to rewire your brain to rethink water?
As a friend recently pointed out, just as we can look back at the previous generations and Apartheid and wonder why they were thinking, so our children may one day look back and ask us what we did to save water.
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