Water, or ‘liquid gold’, is the most important ingredient for life. Homeowners are reminded to be more aware than ever of the critical water shortages that face South Africa, the 30th driest county in the world, and, if the current rate of water usage continues, demand is likely to exceed supply. Some projections estimate that South Africa already exploits about 98% of its available water supply resources.
According to the Living Planet report of 2012, Johannesburg is likely to run short of water should a severe drought occur in the next 10 years, as water wastage has not been stemmed and new sources of supply are still 10 years away. The second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is expected to come online by 2020 – and will supply Gauteng with water. According to experts, however, South Africa’s two major river systems – the Vaal and the Umgeni – are already in deficit. These two river systems supply water to regions that generate two-thirds of the country’s gross national product.
“To some countries, saving water loss is a nice-to-have green idea,” says Chris de Wet Steyn, a local expert on water wastage. “In a country like South Africa, it is not just a question of leaving a green footprint for future generations, it is an essential component of our being able to survive and thrive!”
According to recent reports, nearly half of all of tap water in SA is being stolen, wasted or simply leaking away every year.
The big question is, What can homeowners do to contribute to a solution? Perhaps the most logical answer to this question is that if we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future. “While a growing number of people and organisations have realised the importance of conserving energy and water, and recycle bins and reusable products are becoming more commonplace, it still seems that not enough is being done to conserve water,” notes Craig Hutchison, CEO of Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.
There are a number of ways to save water, and they all start with you. Here are some ideas of what you can do:
- If your dishwasher is new, cut back on rinsing. Newer models clean more thoroughly than older ones.
- Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.
- Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap. Use this water to water house plants.
- Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap. This way, every drop goes down you and not the drain.
- If you accidentally drop ice cubes, don’t throw them in the sink. Drop them in a house plant instead.
- Have a plumber re-route your greywater to trees and plants rather than the sewer line.
- If your shower fills a 5l bucket in less than 20 seconds, replace the showerhead with a water saving model.
- Time your shower to keep it under 5 minutes. You’ll save up to 3800l per month.
- Toilet leaks can be silent! Be sure to test your toilet for leaks at least once a year. Put food colouring in your toilet tank. If it seeps into the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak. Fix it and start saving litres.
- Turn off the water while you brush your teeth and save up to 15l a minute. That’s up to 800l a week for a family of four.
- Consider buying a dual-flush toilet. It has two flush options: a half-flush for liquid waste and a full-flush for solid waste.
- Plug the sink instead of running the water to rinse your razor and save up to 1200l a month.
- Turn off the water while washing your hair and save up to 600l a month.
- When washing your hands, turn the water off while you lather.
- Take 5-minute showers instead of baths. A full bathtub requires up to 250l of water.
- Drop tissues in the trash instead of flushing them and save water every time.
- One drip every second adds up to 15l per day! Check your faucets and showerheads for leaks.
- While you wait for hot water, collect the running water and use it to water plants.
- At home or while staying in a hotel, reuse your towels.
- Run your washer and dishwasher only when they are full. You can save up to 4000la month.
- When cleaning out fish tanks, give the nutrient-rich water to your non-edible plants.
- When you give your pet fresh water, don’t throw the old water down the drain. Use it to water your trees or shrubs.
- When the kids want to cool off, use the sprinkler in an area where your lawn needs it most.
- We’re more likely to notice leaky faucets indoors, but don’t forget to check outdoor faucets, pipes, and hoses.
- Adjust your lawn mower to the height of 3-5cm. Taller grass shades roots and holds soil moisture better than short grass.
- Leave lawn clippings on your grass, this cools the ground and holds in moisture.
- If installing a lawn, select a lawn mix or blend that matches your climate and site conditions.
- Aerate your lawn periodically. Holes every 15 cm will allow water to reach the roots, rather than run off the surface.
- If walking across the lawn leaves footprints (blades don’t spring back up), then it is time to water.
- Remember to weed your lawn and garden regularly. Weeds compete with other plants for nutrients, light and water.
- While fertilizers promote plant growth, they also increase water consumption. Apply the minimum amount of fertilizer needed.
- Water your summer lawns once every three days and your winter lawn once every five days.
- Catch water in an empty tuna can to measure sprinkler output. 75-100mm of water is enough to apply each time you irrigate.
- Use a trowel, shovel, or soil probe to examine soil moisture depth. If the top 7 to 8 cms of soil are dry, it’s time to water.
- Set a kitchen timer when using the hose as a reminder to turn it off. A running hose can discharge up to 40L per minute.
- Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk or street.
- Minimise evaporation by watering during the early morning hours when temperatures are cooler and winds are lighter.
- Timing is everything when it comes to irrigation. Learn how to set your controller properly.
- Apply water only as fast as the soil can absorb it.
- If water runs off your lawn easily, split your watering time into shorter periods to allow for better absorption.
- Water only when necessary. More plants die from over-watering than from under-watering.
- Signs of overwatering: Leaves turn lighter shades of green or yellow, young shoots wilt, and sometimes algae or fungi grow
ADJUST YOUR WATERING SCHEDULE EACH MONTH:
- Match seasonal weather conditions and landscape requirements.
- Water dry spots by hand instead of running the whole irrigation system longer.
- Use drip irrigation for shrubs and trees to apply water directly to the roots, where it’s needed.
- Water your plants deeply but less frequently to encourage deep root growth and drought tolerance.
- Use sprinklers that deliver big drops of water close to the ground. Smaller drops and mist often evaporate before hitting the ground.
- Use a rain barrel to harvest rainwater from gutters for watering gardens and landscapes.
- For hanging baskets, planters and pots, put ice cubes on top of the soil to give your plants a cool drink of water without overflow.
- Can help your plants use water more efficiently.
- Wash your pets outdoors, in an area of your lawn that needs water.
- If you have an evaporative cooler, direct the water drain to plants in your landscape.
- Use porous material for walkways and patios to prevent wasteful runoff and keep water in your yard.
- Group them with the same watering needs to avoid overwatering some while underwatering others.
REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF LAWN:
- Planting shrubs and ground covers appropriate to your site and region.
- Plant species native to your region.
- Plant in the spring and fall, when the watering requirements are lower.
- When sprucing up your front or backyard, consider xeriscaping. This landscape method uses low-water-use plants to limit your water use.
- Avoid planting grass in areas that are hard to water, such as steep inclines and isolated strips along sidewalks and driveways.
- Leave lower branches on trees and shrubs and allow leaf litter to accumulate on the soil. This keeps the soil cooler and reduces evaporation.
- Use a layer of organic mulch on the surface of your planting beds to minimise weed growth that competes for water. It also helps to retain moisture, saving water, time and money.
- Collect water from your roof by installing gutters and downspouts. Direct the runoff to plants and trees.
SOME INDIGENOUS SPECIES TO CONSIDER IN A WATER-WISE GARDEN:
- Wild clematis (Clematis brachiata)
- Blue squill (Scilla natalensis)
- African potato (Hypoxis hererocallidea)
- Pineapple lily (Eucomis)
- Red hot pokers (Kniphofia)
- Thatching reed (Chondropetalum tectorum)
- Indigenous impatiens (Impatiens hochstetteri)
- Bush lilies (Clivia miniata)
- Ploughbreakers (Erythrina zeyheri)