Tighter water restrictions on the cards

Water levels at the Theewaterskloof dam near Villiersdorp are at an alarmingly low level as a result of the scorchng heat and drought conditions in the Western Cape.

Constantia is home to many of the top 20 000 water wasters in the City.

Other suburbs not doing their bit to save water, according to the City of Cape Town, are Athlone, Kraaifontein, Lansdowne, Manenberg, Newlands, Newfields and Somerset West.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, says the City will be coming after these households as they need to drastically reduce consumption. “Formal residential properties use 65 percent of the City’s water supply,” she said.

As of Monday January 30, dam levels have dropped to approximately 39.2 percent, which is 1.3 percent down from a week ago. With the last 10 percent of a dam’s water being unusable, City supply dam levels could be seen as effectively around 29.2 percent.

From yesterday, Wednesday February 1, the City implemented tougher Level 3B water restrictions, and it is already talking of bringing in even tighter restrictions including spot fines of R5 000.

The City is also urging residents with boreholes or well-points to use groundwater sparingly and to restrict their watering to the hours prescribed in the restrictions, or at the very least limit their watering to the early mornings and late evenings to avoid evaporation. Groundwater is not an unlimited resource and if too much is extracted too quickly, it may become depleted.

Dr Tony Rebelo of Bergvliet has found out the hard way: his well-point dried up in November and he had no water, so he put in a borehole, costing more than R50 000. That’s not the end of his story. “At 45m, it was still dry. But we got water at 55m by putting a borehole within the borehole at an extra
R7 000. Fingers crossed, we hope to have the pumps commissioned before the February restrictions,” he said.

Dr Rebelo has been hand watering a new bed of plants planted before the restrictions, but most have died. “Twice a week is not enough,” he said.

Otherwise, most of the fynbos plants have survived with the exception of a few protea erica species.

“The conebushes, buchus and pelargoniums were already established enough. When the borehole is working, both beds will be watered using drips. We’ve had to let the grass die and we’ve stopped watering vegetables as that section is barren and dry,” he said.

They use all shower, basin, bath, sink and washing machine water on the lawn using pipes and moving them around every day.

“We only occasionally use the dishwasher, but discard this water into the sewers as it is too salty.

“We cannot use grey water for the fynbos because of the nutrients in the soap. The compost heap has also suffered, but should quickly break down when the rains come, so we, and our plants, are waiting for the rains,” he said.

Asked about using grey water on veggies, he said it depended on levels of shampoo and soap. “If not much, then it’s okay, but washing machine water would be a no no for most species. But provided plants are ‘trained’ there is not a major issue. It’s when it happens suddenly that it’s an issue: the plants simply get poisoned. However, environmentally friendly soaps are okay.”

Soil For Life founder Pat Featherstone says she uses grey water all the time on all her plants and veggies: shower, washing machine and dishwater.

“However, I only use natural products for all cleaning,” she says. “Most cleaning products have foaming agents, fragrances and fillers which will eventually, and quite quickly, have an effect on soil life, like microbes and earthworms. If you’re using grey water on vegetables, it’s not a good idea to water root crops or leaf and fruit crops. All watering should happen on the soil only, and one needs to be careful that you water with fresh water frequently to prevent a harmful build-up of salts,” she says.

Wynberg Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (WRRA) posted water-wise tips to their members after speaking to Hedda Inderthal of UCT’s Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research. She uses a range of friendly detergents and gives their pros and cons. She also has a fynbos alert saying plants such as ericas and buchu may not take too kindly to the grey water because they are sensitive to phosphorus and live on nutrient-poor sand.

Brannon Meyer of Tokai has a borehole, which provides crystal clear water.They store boiled borehole water in a glass container for drinking and for making coffee and Brannon adds that they have not suffered any side effects. If they need warm water for washing, they heat borehole water in the electric kettle or on a gas stove.

They also use the borehole water in a bathroom hand basin to wash faces and hands and then use it on their pot plants or flush the toilets.

Ms Featherstone offers a tip for creating pit beds using kitchen and shower water. The pit is about 2m wide and the topsoil is removed to create a dish shape with ridges on the outside.

The pit should be about 50 or 60cm deep with a small channel for the kitchen and shower water to run into from the outlet pipe.

The circle is then covered with wet paper or cardboard, wood chips, leaves, some manure, wood ash and a bit of dolomite. Fill the hole
with all your veggie peelings, dry grass. Plant around the edges of the bed.

* For more information about Soil For Life call 021 794 4982.

* To report water wasters call 0860 103 089, SMS 31373, or email contact.us@capetown.gov.za or water.restrictions@capetown.gov.za