We’ve just recovered from the worst drought in living memory.
You know it’s serious times when you open the tap one morning, and nothing comes out. We had no house water for two weeks before it finally rained. It was scary times indeed! We’ve since had magnificent rains the whole of February, the dams are full, the veld is lush and plentiful and the whole land heaved a big sigh of relief.
Then everything seemed to go back to normal, as if this near natural disaster never happened. I suppose the saying you don’t miss the water till the well runs dry couldn’t be more true. So even though now life is back to normal, and everything is plump and juicy again I’m choosing to keep the mindset I adopted through the dry spell, as water is definitely becoming a scarce commodity as a result of climate change.
Whether you’re in a drought risk area or not we should all be taking our water usage extremely seriously if we want it’s supply to be sustainable. So here are a few things I tweaked during the drought, and now continue to do during the good times:
Change your taps
Not that any woman needs an excuse to redecorate, but even just updating your taps to aerated mixer taps is a great water wise move. This makes it easier to turn the tap on and off only when you actually need the water, and it keeps your preferred ratio between hot and cold. Long gone are the days I would leave the water running through an entire shower. The thought of that now seems ridiculous, but I never used to give it much thought a few years ago. It’s called a military shower, or “soap and saves”. Which entail running the shower water to get wet, turning it off to soap yourself up and then only turning the water back on again to rinse yourself down. While less feasible in frosty winter weather, a military shower in the summer months can save you up to 40 litres of water per person per day! Same goes for only turning the tap when water is needed while brushing teeth, washing hands etc. I only turn the tap on when I actually need to use water.
Methodical dish washing
I fully admit that I am a total geek when it comes to cleaning, my kitchen in particular. I try and find all sorts of super efficient ways to beat the clock, by stacking dirty dishes destined for the dishwasher on a tray so that I’m not doing countless trips backwards and forwards with odd teaspoons and cups to load the dishwasher multiple times. The same goes for hand washing dishes, I try and beat the system and use as few sink-fulls of water as I can. Anyone who did Home-Ec in high school this will bring back memories. Here are my tips for water-wise dishwashing:
- Soak, soak, soak. I have to laugh, as my Hubberoo’s idea of doing the dishes is to submerge everything in a giant sink of hot soapy water and then claim to be “soaking” everything. Until it gets to that gross disgusting point two days later where I can’t handle the grey stagnant water anymore and just wash them myself. But if you soak the really dirty stuff first, it reduces washing time and effort and therefore water by the time you come to wash it.
- Wash the cleanest stuff first. Glasses, pot lids, side plates, teaspoons etc and continue washing in order of how grimey it is, leaving the dirtiest stuff till the end. This will make the sink of water and soap last that much longer. Then once the water is starting to go a bit rank, take all those gnarly pots that have been soaking and even though the water is filthy by this point, still wash them in it to get most of the dirty bits off. Then put them to one side while you fill the sink with fresh water and soap. Repeat the process of washing the cleanest things first, and before you know it your dishes are all done, and you’ve used less sinks of water.
- A dishwasher uses a lot less water believe it or not and is more hygienic, so if you have one then try and wash as many dishes in there, making sure to only put it on for a wash cycle when it’s completely full.
Catch surplus water
Leave a bucket of water in the shower and once it’s mostly full use that to water your garden or lawn, wash the car, cleaning the floors etc. This is another great reason to convert to eco-friendly toiletries so that the water you catch that might contain a bit of soap or shampoo won’t harm your plants. Capturing the “warm-up” water when you wash dishes or do any of your hand washing can be easily achieved by placing a bowl or bucket under the tap while you let the water run to warm up. This “warm-up water” can then be used to rinse the dishes, water a plant, flush a toilet, or even be put in the fridge as cold drinking water.
Shower don’t bath and not every day
If you want to be really water-wise, always choose a shower over a bath. An average bath will set you back 80 litres of hot water. The average 8-minute shower uses only approximately 60 litres of hot water. Dermatologists agree that daily showering can lead to dry skin and a host of associated evils as the hot water and conventional soap products strip our skin of essential oils. The same goes for your scalp and that’s why hair washing should never be a daily activity – in fact, daily hair washing can cause an oily scalp as your body tries to compensate for the essential oils stripped by over-shampooing your hair!
Don’t flush the toilet until you have to
Every time you flush the loo it takes 7 litres of water! So think twice, ideally three times before you flush! Invest in biodegradable eco-toilet paper that requires less water and flush force to dispose of it, and then just use less squares to compensate for the extra expense.
Fix up your gutters and catch rain water
This is a fairly standard thing to do in the southern hemisphere, but even if it rains a lot and you’re not in a drought prone area, catching rain water from your roof is a really eco-friendly supply, even if you only use it for bathroom and kitchen purposes.
Check for leaks
To check for a leak in your toilet, drop a couple of drops of food colouring into your toilet tank or cistern and wait 24 hours. If after 24 hours the water in the toilet bowl has changed colour and matches the colour of the water in the cistern without having flushed the toilet, it means you have a leak. Leave a bowl underneath taps, or the plug in the sink, overnight and check if any water has accumulated by the morning, if so, you have a leak.
Make the most of the water for your garden
I had to completely abandon my garden and veggie patch when things got critical, but when I did have the odd bucket caught from surplus water when we manually filled our tanks I tried to make it go as far as possible. Watering your garden before 10:00 or after 16:00 allows for optimal absorption before evaporation starts. Also make sure to mulch like crazy with grass cuttings and dried leaves to help retain the moisture in the soil. Avoid watering your garden at night during winter if you are in a frost region. Also, avoid watering your garden at night in the summer months as it can encourage fungal diseases.
What ways are you and your family being water wise? We can and should all make a difference regardless of where in the world we live, let me know your top tips.