Our new normal water use in Cape Town's drought

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

We watch the clouds and check weather forecasts till we find one which says - rain. Dam levels on 19th June at 23% (but then minus the inaccessible bottom 10%) The city's target is 600 megalitres a day, but YAY rain has tipped the city's consumption to 640 Ml/d sadly. Level 4 water restrictions.

Moon and clouds
Moon and clouds

From the 1st of July we will be paying for the 6 kilolitres we now get free. We are encouraged to use less than one hundred litres a day per person (wherever we are, home, work, school, shopping) Next target 80 litres a day!

Harvesting grey water in March
Harvesting grey water in March

We began with storing my bath water overnight. Bad start as we promptly realised that my bath would become a quick shower. In March before the autumn rain, we kept the washing machine water - to flush the loo, and to water the garden.

A plague of plastic for grey water
A plague of plastic for grey water

We have a basin in the kitchen sink to catch the cleanish water from washing fruit and veg to top up the summer pond.

Patio roof
Patio roof

We have a covered patio, about 10 square metres. Without a gutter and downpipe, so we ran a gauntlet of drips if we went out in the rain. Steady dripping damaged the brick paving. The Ungardener added a gutter and downpipe. We began with a bucket, then the tank for harvesting shower water. Thomas appreciates a raised and full bowl of fresh rain.

Bucket for Thomas
Bucket for Thomas

Among the global weirding climate change denialists, the contrail conspiracy rears its silly head. I saw the evidence bowed over our house!

Contrail conspiracy
Contrail conspiracy

When we began to be thoughtful about our (ab)use of water, 67 litres per person in a day seemed a ridiculous and impossible goal.

In January we (two adults) used 457 litres, double what we are asked to. February we began to try, down to 414 litres, still double. March we stopped flushing with drinking water and down to 321 litres. April trying harder and down to 241 litres, almost there. May - success - 182 litres. In June, with the rain water tank, daily use is down to 140 litres of municipal water, but 180 litres altogether is what we need to be carefully comfortable.

PS Our June municipal account, which includes only one week of supplementing with rain water, shows 167 litres per day. July will be interesting as we will begin to pay for all water used. No more 6 free kilolitres.

Standing in a baby bath to shower didn't supply us with enough to fill the dual-flush cistern. We added plastic bowls to our bathroom hand basins. That works well.

Plastic basins for cisterns
Plastic basins for cisterns

Since Porterville days we have discovered first flush diverters to remove gravel and bird shit, before the rain goes into the tank via a metal mesh filter. The tank requires a level, strong base.

Rain water tank with first flush diverter
Rain water tank
with first flush diverter

It overflows to Froggy Pond, and then the garden, ultimately hoping to use our stormwater to recharge the groundwater slightly. Those white pipes will be painted house colour. The last section will aestivate, once any hope of rain overflowing is gone.

Overflow to Froggy Pond
Overflow to Froggy Pond

We are enjoying a season of good sunsets.

June sunset
June sunset

Rain expected but our tank is full. 750 litres. How to use that water instead of the municipal supply? We can use 45L in each load of washing, and use for flushing (but we could have used grey water!) We have ordered a second tank, which is going to be much more difficult to shoehorn into the established garden. Then a pump and we can go off-grid for our water while we have full tanks. But next summer??

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Pictures by Diana Studer

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Comments

  1. Congrats on your 1st rainwater tank 😀 May it always be full.

    Question - why is your overflow pipe also attached to the tank just above your outlet valve?

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    1. The tank came with that outflow, which he has converted into a gauge - how many litres?

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    2. Ah, L-O-V-E that 😁

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  2. P.S. I see your first flush draining end is situated above your drain - you do know you can also use the water (and debris) that collects in your first flush pipe? 😉

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    Replies
    1. Learning curve. We need to redo that. It has a screw-on cap and needs a tap.

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    2. Diana - I would leave the screw on cap - t'will be easier to remove the "large" debris through a wider opening than a tap. Alternatively perhaps install the grey / red valve similar to that on your washing machine outlet pipe.

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    3. He is working on a better way. There is a ball floating at the top ... and if it drains abruptly that ball gets wedged at the bottom.

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  3. Oh, Diana, how I empathize! Your situation is tougher by far than that we faced, I think. We were lucky that the house came with substantial gutters, which made our rain collection somewhat easier, although my husband added more gutters when we got our third, 265-gallon tank, and I still bring out my plastic trugs to collect rain falling down the rainchain in an area without gutters when I can. It 's infuriating when I can't get every drop available! My rain barrels are empty now as we generally only get rain in winter but, as our drought has been declared "over" (for now), our water restrictions are far less than they were. However, I still collect water from the shower and the kitchen sink and out washing machine water is diverted to the back slope. Best wishes and my fingers are crossed for a long series of good rain storms coming your way!

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    1. On the Facebook Watershedding group we are agreed - now we have learnt to rethink our water use, we will have new habits going forward.

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  4. You have worked so hard to reduce your water consumption. It sounds an on going challenge. It makes our water use in comparison seem very wasteful. Sarah x

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    1. I miss my daily bubble baths - but I have a good excuse today.

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  5. Our lives are so spoilt compared to yours. Occasionally we are reminded not to water gardens with mains water, but certainly not in recent months. We do use rain water butts to water the garden. Our water is now metered and has made us a lot more aware but I can only imagine the difficulty you have. Here's hoping for some good rain soon. B x

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    1. Difficult to monitor or motivate usage without a meter.

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  6. Congratulations on your water tank, it looks very well organised. We have only just got a pump for our tank to get the water to various parts of the garden. Since we had our tank installed we have had torrential rain (wouldn't you know it?) and the tank overflow at first, but no harm done, we are still grateful to have a tank. I hope it helps your garden, but ultimately I hope you have rain...then everyone is smiling, including the plants!

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    1. Our garden only needs water for pots or new plants - so that is easily covered with cleanish grey water.

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  7. We have rain water butts to collect water in the rainy season, seven 50 gallon trash barrels. They have come in handy. Your's look so professional! Thanks for mentioning the face book group. Need to go have a look.

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    1. That FB group has been my inspiration and encouragment, together with the "Next Summer" ShowMePaarl link at the end.

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  8. That's quite an accomplishment! Interesting to track the used over the months as you continued your efforts toward success. We have never faced water restrictions that tight, but during the drought a few years ago we installed rain barrels. If it happens again, we'll be more prepared. You have some ingenious set-ups there!

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    1. It is reassuring to have a cushion if or when we do face watershedding in summer. Good grief!

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  9. Good on you Diana and Ungardener for your efforts. This post made me think of the shocking abuse of water in fracking and mining generally. Some people here use groundwater when they don't need drinking water, but I think that needs to be protected as a public not a private resource. It was because of severe restrictions here that I decided never to water the garden (except for newbies and movers).

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    1. On the West Coast they have approved groundwater for mining - next to a national park and Langebaan Lagoon and a huge number of holiday homes in a town desperate for water! Only recently have Capetonians been politely asked to register their boreholes. NOT sustainable.

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  10. The lengths to which you are going to meet your water use goals are both impressive and sobering -- especially for someone like me, who lives in a water-rich region. I think climate-change driven drought will catch up with us eventually as my town's biggest company (Poland Spring Water, a subsidiary of Nestle) exports more and more water to keep up with world demand and we find our aquifers being drawn down more quickly than they can recharge.

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  11. Your drought situation seems worse than ours. You are making extraordinary efforts to conserve, more than most people I would think. I wish you much rain and another big storage tank.

    Our human population numbers are not sustainable.

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    1. Capetonians have been asked to bring their daily water consumption down to 80 litres (including work, school, mall etc.) Reducing mains pressure targets the ones who don't know don't care. We are using 140 litres a day, 70 l each at home - and yet others say they are only using 50 litres!

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  12. Wow! I am shamed to think how we complained about our 3 month drought last year. Your situation is long term and very serious. I admire your creativity and commitment and to wise water usage.

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    1. As we make changes step by step with the emptying dams, I regret how much water I wasted even while 'calling myself green'. I wonder how much or little water we will be using come next summer?

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  13. Great detail on how you're diligently using each drop of water. This reminds me of Bill Mollison's permaculture book, and it's inspiring to some of us in the US desert southwest. And thank goodness for the ungardener and gutters / additional tanks, with Thomas' approval no doubt.

    Chemtrails - our NPR has recently talked about doing this and seeding clouds, too!

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    1. Apparently our clouds are the wrong sort, not thunderstorm clouds. But since they veer off South and miss Africa altogether - there ISN'T anything to seed!

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  14. I never realized how much water a person uses a day. And I didn't know about contrail conspiracy theories (how weird). I learn something new every time I visit your blog. Hopefully your rain water tanks will provide all the water you need to live comfortably.

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  15. Such an insightful post Diana. We are up in Johannesburg & every day I think about how much water we are using (wasting). Thank you for reminding me that we can & SHOULD we saving water in every way we can. x

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