How do you run a household on 50% or 80% less water? Can you keep a pool with no water at your disposal? These are the questions that homeowners are grappling with as South Africa suffers from the biggest drought in 30 years. Caused by the extreme weather system, El Nino, five of our provinces have been declared drought disaster areas and all municipalities have implemented water restrictions. The South African Weather Service predicts that this heat wave will continue for most of 2016, with no significant rainfall expected until late autumn.
Let’s look at smart ways to preserve your home and garden investments during this unusually dry time.
Understanding water restrictions
During a drought, most local councils will move to Level 2 water restrictions – which, typically, require businesses and homeowners not to use water to irrigate their gardens during daylight hours, not to fill their swimming pools and not to use hosepipes to wash their cars or paved areas.
Be sure to check with your local municipality what the specific restrictions are in your area. For example, in the City of Cape Town, watering is only allowed only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays before 9am and after 4pm. Depending on the municipality, if you are caught watering outside of those times, you will be penalised with a hefty fine and your home may be fitted with a water restriction device.
If water consumption doesn’t decline for your area, your municipality might move to Level 3 water restrictions or ‘water shedding’ – similar to load shedding – where water will be only be available at certain times of the day.
What alternative water sources are available?
There are many ways to get more water for your property, in addition to municipal water:
- Borehole or well water: This is quite an expensive investment to make and you have no guarantee that water will be found or that it won’t run out in a few years’ time. Count yourself very lucky if your property has a borehole.
- Rain harvest: If you live in an area that is still experiencing some rainfall, you could invest in rainwater harvesting – a system of pipes, pumps and tanks that harvest the rain that falls onto your roof and into your gutters.
- Grey water: Reusing and filtering the water from your shower, bath and laundry and then using it to irrigate your garden. This can be set up to work automatically, in conjunction with a rain water system.
- Manually collecting water: At the very least, we should all see where we can save a bucket of water to reuse. For example, emptying an ice bucket or vase of flowers onto flowerbeds, reusing cooled down cooking water from vegetables, or collecting bath and shower water.
Please note: Grey water should never ever be stored. This will spread disease and smell particularly badly!
Making the most of your grey water
One of the easiest ways to reduce your water consumption is to recycle the water that you already use. There are two types of water in your home:
- Black water, which is your kitchen sink, dishwasher and toilet water, and
- Grey water, which is any relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines and other household appliances.
Using drinking water for irrigation is a luxury we can no longer afford, while safely reusing grey water is really easy. You could invest in a grey water system, with potential savings of up to 600 litres of water a day. These systems work best with bath, shower and washing machine water – provided that you use biodegradable washing powder. Typically, a DIY system costs between R4200 for a small to medium-sized garden to R5500 for a large garden. The filtered water is then best used with a pyramid-type sprinkler head, which delivers large water droplets. Always speak to your local garden centre to check which plants and soil can best handle grey water.
What about kitchen water?
It is not recommended that water from the kitchen be utilised for irrigation without a professional filtering system. This includes kitchen sink water as well as water from an automatic dish washer. Kitchen water often contains animal and vegetable matter which could affect your garden soil negatively. Chemicals used in your dishwasher are also very alkaline and, this too, could have negative effects on the garden.
Survival tips for your garden
If you find yourself in a situation where you simply don’t have enough water to keep all your plants alive, follow these tips:
- Where possible, replace plants with hardier, drought resistant species. This article: Plants that tolerate dry South African conditions can help you find lists of drought tolerant ground covers, trees, shrubs and more.
- Review your lawns: Lawn areas are high water users so you may have to let it go for a while or replace it with artificial grass.
- Prioritise areas and plants: You may have to replant exotic plants into pots until conditions improve, or – sadly – let certain areas wither while focussing your water on your most prized plants or sections.
- Add mulch and compost: Compost increases the soil’s nutrient and water-retaining capability while mulch minimises evaporation and keeps the soil cooler.
- Keep an eye on your sprinklers: Use the precious water you are allowed wisely by staying close to your sprinklers and watching out for watering walls or paving.
Tips for maintaining your pool in a drought
Keeping your pool in shape is quite the challenge during water restrictions. Here’s what the experts recommend:
- Invest in a quality pool cover – this can reduce evaporation by 90% and will keep water levels constant.
- Turn off any fountains or jets as bubbles increase water evaporation.
- Don’t empty your pool – it may crack or rise to the surface without the weight of the water to keep it in place.
- Don’t let water lie stagnant – it’s a drowning and health risk.
- Don’t use recycled kitchen or bath water in your pool – the ammonia found in cleaning agents and detergents can wreak havoc on a pool’s pH. Rainwater is best for use in your pool.
- If you have a water heating system, remember to always cover your pool after swimming as warm water evaporates more quickly.
- Keep your pool as clean as possible – in other words, no muddy feet or dogs swimming with you! As a result, your filtration system has to work even harder.
- No water bombs – Without spoiling all the fun, remind kids to not splash water unnecessarily.