Water guzzlers need to play the game

Borehole water should be used for one hour only early on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

The drought in Cape Town was officially declared a disaster by the City of Cape Town last week, with approximately 102 days of usable water left and dam levels dropping to an effective 20 percent of useable water, which is 1.5 percent down from a week ago.

While consumption has continued to decline and is now at 751 million litres a day – it is still 51 million litres above the collective usage target of 700 million litres a day.

Mayor Patricia de Lille declared a local disaster, in terms of Section 55 of the Disaster Management Act, valid for a period of three months but can be extended on a month-to-month basis by notice in the Provincial Gazette. A council decision is not required.

The City recently released a list of the streets where the top 100 water guzzlers live. Based on the actual water readings, the name-and-shame list included streets in Constantia and Tokai, among other neighbourhoods. According to the list, Constantia alone uses an average of 2.6 million litres of water a month, with a property in Pear Lane using 461 000 litres in one month. The average household uses about 20 000 litres a month. This would be less than 1 000 litres a day.

At number 10 on the list is a house in Charnwood Avenue in Tokai that uses 431 000 litres, and at numbers 16 and 17 is a property in Ridge Walk using about 378 000 litres followed by 370 000 litres at a house in Monterey Drive, both in Constantia.

When the Bulletin visited the leafy suburb last week, to find out why so much water was being used in the area, there was no one in the roads to speak to so we asked businesses and others what, if any, water saving methods they were using. They said most residents used boreholes to keep their gardens so green.

Angela Gorman, who runs a Constantia bed and breakfast, said she had American clients staying with her for three days. They said they had stayed at two well-known Waterfront hotels and none of the group of 50 were told of Cape Town’s water crisis. “They say there is the usual ‘save the planet and hang towels up if you don’t want them cleaned, otherwise leave them on the floor’ sign in the bathroom, but that’s all. And – regardless of what they do – the towels are washed every day anyway,” said Ms Gorman.

“They say California had severe droughts for five years and so they’re aware of how to save water,” she says.

Manager of Cellars Hohenort Hotel, Dominic Prendergast, says they have a letter in every guest room explaining the serious situation and how they can assist by reusing towels and showering instead of bathing.

Asked if they have any idea of what their water usage was before the drought compared to what it is now, Mr Prendergast says they have been able to reduce their consumption, per room occupied, despite the escalation in hotel occupancy. “We’ve spent additional capital to increase our borehole water storage and use this resource sparingly – we stick to the watering times despite having received an exemption certificate,” says Mr Prendergast.

The Bulletin approached the three hospitals in the valley but only Con-
stantiaberg Mediclinic responded. Melissa Abrahams the patient experience manager, says all leaking taps were reported and fixed immediately and also checked monthly.

Asked about signage, she says they have put up posters in public and staff restrooms. When it came to their water consumption, she says, it’s very similar to what it was before the drought because they have had water-saving plans in place for a while already. These include automatic taps in theatre, a water wise garden, and using recycled autoclave water.

Ms Abrahams says they hold monthly ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) 14001 training awareness on: water, electricity, waste, waste management and climate change.

In the theatre they are currently installing a water recycling system to reuse water from the autoclaves in the theatres. They anticipate an expected saving of 200 000 litres a month which is equal to about five percent of their total consumption and previously this water was used for irrigation.

She said upgrade projects include: heat pumps, solar panels and laundry.

From her inspection of her ward’s highest water users, ward councillor Liz Brunette says water leaks and swimming pools are consistently the reason for spikes in water consumption – and they are all residential properties.

Asked about the attitude of residents during her visit, she says they are making an effort to reduce their water consumption by installing grey water systems, installing swimming pool covers, not watering their garden, and limiting borehole use.

“In terms of the City’s Water By-law residents have a responsibility to ensure that their domestic plumbing is well maintained and that there are no leaks – this means both wilfully or through negligence,” says Ms Brunette.

She says that to check whether there is a water leak, turn off all the taps and other connections to the water main then check whether the meter is still moving. If it is, you have a leak. Call a plumber to find it on your property and fix the leak.

Ward councillor Penny East, whose ward includes Tokai, says the people she spoke to were cordial and co-operative. “Some explained what they are already doing to save water, and some explained that they had had a leak, or other unusual event in the previous month. In a couple of cases I could only speak to an employee. They, also, were aware of the water situation and sincere in their attempts to use less, both at their places of employment and in their own homes,” says Ms East.

She hopes that the awareness campaign will result in permanent changes in water usage patterns. “We need to use this precious resource carefully at all times, not just in severe drought situations,” says Ms East.

Constantia resident David Hill says during his daily dog walk in the Strawberry Lane area, he sees irrigation water being sprayed on several gardens every day. “Presumably these residents are borehole users but they are being selfish tapping into our underground resources so often and lowering the water table unnecessarily,” says Mr Hill.

“Their bright green lawns and verges are a dead giveaway that they’re not playing the game. They should water for one hour only on Tuesday and Saturday mornings – like the rest of us.”

Mr Hill was also surprised that on a visit to Harbour House at Constantia Nek they asked for tap water but the restaurant staff said they had had a memo from their management the previous day saying they would no longer serve tap water to patrons because it was undrinkable. “We had to buy bottled water. Meanwhile the City has reassured everyone that the tap water is fine to drink,” he says.

Lisa Carey, marketing manager for Harbour House Group, said no such notice has been issued by management and they apologise to the guest for this error.

Pat and John Cheetham of Wynberg sent pictures of their small garden and said residents do not need to let their garden die if they use their bath water.

To report contraventions (evidence should be provided to assist the City’s enforcement efforts), residents can contact the City at water.restrictions@capetown.gov.za or send an SMS to 31373.

For more information about water restrictions visit www.capetown.gov.za/thinkwater