Justin Bonello_Greenhouse

Water is a precious commodity. We can survive without food for 3 weeks, possibly longer, but can only last for 3 or 4 days without water. We need to learn how to use water frugally…

As I write this, Cape Town is in the depths of the worst drought of my memory (possibly in recorded history). I’ve been trying to do my bit by harvesting rainwater, my ‘grey water’ is being recycled to keep my vegetable garden going and I’ve been working really-hard at reducing my and my family’s consumption. We’ve become very mindful of every drop we use, so thought I’d do some amateur science and spent a week working out what my family of 4 uses on a monthly basis, to see how we’re actually doing. Let’s break it down:

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TOTAL OF 5250 liters a month, 63000 liters a year

That’s a total of 5250l a month – approx. 63000l a year. So I’m looking ok! Or am I? There’s a hidden water cost to everything I consume and it’s called my water footprint. This includes what I use at home (out of the tap), but includes the water it took to produce the food I eat, the products I buy, the energy I consume. I may not drink, feel or see this virtual water – but it actually makes up the majority of my water footprint, and even worse, the food I eat is responsible for more than 2/3rds of this  footprint.

When I add my families virtual water cost to our out of the tap consumption, our water use rockets exponentially. As example, let’s take a look at what it costs for a beef and cheese sarmie without butter.

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Virtual water cost of a Beef and Cheese sandwich: 610 liters

 

One sandwich has a virtual water cost of more than 600l. Now the maths becomes horrible and my amateur science less sure – but the principle is right. Assuming that we only eat beef and cheese sarmies, 3 times a day, x 4 family members  x 365 days, our virtual water bill is 876000 liters – that’s more than a 1000% of my families out of the tap annual usage. It takes 2.5 million litres to fill an Olympic size swimming pool, and with a little of my bad science, and without taking into account the virtual water cost of fuel, electricity and a whole plethora of other criteria, I could fill this pool with my virtual water usage by just eating the above-mentioned sarmies in 3 years. 3 years….

If we ever do get out of this water crisis, we need to plan and live like disaster is always around the corner…

In the words of my mate Graham Brookman, ‘we don’t value water because it’s so cheap, because it’s invisible.’ And he’s right. We don’t value that that we get for ‘free’. It has no value because we no longer harvest it for ourselves and don’t have to manage what we have harvested for own sustainable use. We don’t grow, harvest and process our own food; we’ve become increasingly reliant on the system to provide for us (instead of providing for ourselves) and in doing so, we have all proven to ourselves that we are fools. We are to blame for our current water crisis. Not government. Not council, not the DA, not the ANC. US.

We are to blame for our current water crisis. Not government. Not council, not the DA, not the ANC. US.

Fresh water is scarce and rare, yet we treat it like it’s abundant. We should’ve planned for disaster.

All of us. Should’ve installed rainwater tanks to harvest rain. Should’ve reduced our consumption years ago (not just when there’s a crisis). Should’ve replaced European imports with water-wise indigenous plants. Should’ve got rid of that egotistical monoculture, the useless inedible green lawn years ago. Should’ve planted our own edible gardens…

Fresh water is scarce and rare, and we need to look after it…

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve…

Instead of flushing it away post haste we need to re-think how we see water in the Urban biome. When the rains do come (and I’m on my knees now), we should be harvesting every drop that we can. We should be recycling our grey water. We need to grow our own food. We need to lobby our local councils to sink the water into the ground and into our backup systems, the aquifers of Cape Town, instead of flushing it out to sea as quickly as possible through storm water drains. We need to bring our springs up to the surface where we can all use nature’s bounty and if we ever do get out of this water crisis, we need to plan and live like disaster is always around the corner. Fresh water is scarce and rare, and we need to look after it.

If we do this, then maybe just maybe, we can avoid a future crisis.

 

 

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Eben – Image courtesy of the Urban Caracal Project.

 

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