As dam levels in the Western Cape hover at around 20 percent, the water crisis in the Eastern Cape deepens and KwaZulu-Natal continues with its own water restrictions, home owners and businesses need to completely rethink their lifestyles and water usage habits for the long term, according to Herve (Trigger)Truniger, the national accounts manager for Easigrass South Africa.
As one of the Western Cape residents counting down to day zero when the taps run dry in the Mother City, he believes that South Africans will never look at water the same way again.
As day zero looms, residents have been urged to reduce their water usage from the already low 50 litres (13 gallons) of water per person, per day in an effort to secure what little reserves are left.
According to Truniger, in contrast, the average American uses 378 litres of water per day. That means 90 second showers, one toilet flush, one tooth brushing and two bottles of water to drink for Capetonians. Their US counterparts can indulge in 20 minute showers, flush the loo five times, brush their teeth at least twice and drink a minimum of five bottles of water.
Even in Canada and Europe, people are using eight times as much water has those living in Cape Town.
There’s no mention of luxuries like landscaping and gardening.
Yet, he believes it’s still possible to enjoy living in a beautiful urban environment in a water scarce country – provided that gardeners realise that there could be further day zeros to come if they don’t change their habits.
“We believe that drought friendly landscaping is critical when it comes to saving water. Many municipalities are still imposing stringent water restrictions with massive penalties for those overstepping their water usage allowances. In Cape Town, we have already been told to prepare for similar water constraints next summer, especially if there is not adequate winter rainfall. Droughts are cyclical and, in a country where water is in short supply and the population is growing, dry periods are likely to return more and more often,” he warns.
He admits that it has been alarming to watch lawns and plants dying and looks forward to both homeowners and businesses being able to replant and restore green areas.
“However, in the green space, landscapers and homeowners must seek alternatives such as laying artificial turf rather than replanting water guzzling lawns which they will need to replant again and again as droughts return. Artificial grass is not only aesthetically pleasing but means you can keep pace with inevitable water tariff increases, reduce overall garden maintenance costs whilst still saving water. It’s a win win,” he says.
Easigrass, the world’s leading artificial grass brand, is based in the United Kingdom and has been researching, developing and designing artificial grass for over 30 years. Recognized by horticultural and design associations across the world, it’s the geo-friendly alternative for gardens, playgrounds, sports facilities, balconies, rooftops, pools or interiors.
On home soil, Easigrass is backed by Van Dyck Floors which applies the same high international standards when it comes to quality, design excellence, product back up and guarantees.
Because European and South African grasses are completely different, Easigrass South Africa has researched, designed and launched nine artificial grasses that resemble popular local varieties. This means that Easigrass blends with indigenous and drought tolerant plants to produce attractive contemporary outdoor areas.
Although switching to Easigrass means an upfront investment, this will quickly be offset by reduced water bills and savings on garden services, mowing, fertilisers and weed killers. It will also ultimately provide safe and healthy areas for pets and children to play whilst improving drainage and layout of your garden.
Easigrass is fully perforated and, if installed with the correct base work, the water will drain through and penetrate the soil through the crusher dust base which is made from organic material and compacted. Easigrass is also fully recyclable.
“Your Easigrass investment, if installed correctly, will last you 15 to20 years. Two years ago, breakeven was within four to five years. The current water tariffs have upped this period to just one to two years,” explains Truniger.
Meanwhile, as people in Cape Town and beyond struggle to cope with drought conditions, here are some tips on keeping gardens alive from Easigrass:
- Rather than wasting water on lawn, rather keep precious supplies for your shrubs and trees , this in turn helps the birds and the bees.
- Use river pebbles and rock under shrubs and trees to stave off the heat and keep the ground damp. There are great advantages in using pebbles or rock as opposed to normal mulch which absorbs a huge percentage of your precious water.
- Water at the stem of the plant.
- Rainwater and grey water harvesting is now a must. When you do not have to water your garden at all, your harvested rainwater and grey water will go a long way. Harvested rainwater can also be used to clean patios and outdoor areas.
- Add a filter to your rainwater system and run it over dripline irrigation. This is the best form of irrigations as there is no water wastage and it sits underneath the mulch / pebbles / rock in your garden.
- ry not to use brick paving or bitumen surfaces as they are often harsh and hot. Rainwater flows away as it cannot seep into the soil beneath.
- Pots remain a great element to add to your garden as they retain water and nutrients very well. Prepare pots correctly. Use pre-fertilised potting soil, in your pots knowing that the nutrients will not leech away as when used open soil. Use pebbles on top to retain the moisture. Three or four large pots, planted with colour, will quickly brighten up your garden.
- When planting new plants add products that absorb water, such as hydrogel, to your soil. This will absorb the water and release it over time.
- Use boreholes and well points sparingly. The next trend will be to use this water as drinking water. There is however, not an infinite supply through these sources.
- When choosing plants always be water wise. Although it is good to look for indigenous plants, they are not always water wise. Therefore, be vigilant when making your plant choses. Aloes and succulents have become hugely popular. Mixed with water boulders and water wise trees this combination can create a lovely garden.
Source: Leadership Magazine
A moral based decision, valuable for the environment
South Africa has been hit by a severe drought that the authorities recently declared a national disaster. The situation in Cape Town is particularly harsh. But South Africa Tourism says the government has taken steps to mitigate the impact on residents and tourists alike.
Faced with a severe drought, that has been classified as one in 1,000-year occurrence, tourism related establishments across South Africa and notably Cape Town, in collaboration with the authorities, have put in place a number of preventive initiatives to ensure adequate water supply for residents as well as tourists’ essential daily needs.
“The tourism sector supports approximately 300 000 jobs across the Western Cape and it is vital to preserve these jobs. During peak season (November – January), international tourists only add 1% to the population of the Western Cape. Majority of tourism establishments have rolled out measures to ensure their water usage is controlled, while many have developed plans for alternative supplies,’’ says Kim Emmanuel, Communication Officer at the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association.
The drought has been due to insufficient rainfall which led to a severe drop in the water stored in the dams. The South African Tourism officials say that due to extensive media coverage of the drought, there are several fears amongst the tourists, but which are completely misplaced. Most of the travellers worry about the ‘Day 0’, concretely the date when Cape Town’s taps are expected to run dry. Currently, Cape Town is fed by six dams catering to its 4 million inhabitants.
Among the steps taken by the hotels and civic authorities in Cape Town is the advice to limit shower time and not use bath. But the decision is moral based and is valuable for the environment, Hanneli Slabber, Regional General Manager, Asia/Australasia/Middle East, South African Tourism, told India Outbound at a recent event in New Delhi. “South Africa and Cape Town are open for business. Tourism activities are happening. There are certain things we need to be competitive on, and there are certain things that are a moral duty. And even if it rains buckets, we are still going to tell people to be more responsible when it comes to usage of water !’’ she added.
“The need of the moment”
In the past few years, South Africa has emerged as the preferred destination for Indian tourists in Africa. Indian leisure visitors numbers to South Africa surged 21.7% last year to close at an arrivals total of 95 377 and 42% of the total tourist arrival from India is return.
“While our guests have expressed concern regarding the water situation in Cape Town, they do understand that water is a very precious resource and must be used with thought and care. Since water scarcity is a global issue the situation in Cape Town brings it to the forefront and hopefully, encourages people to be more aware and governments to be proactive in taking corrective measures,’’ added Smita Srivastava, Director of Chalo South Africa, a TO based in Delhi, adding that the drought has had practically no impact on the tourism traffic from India to South Africa.
South Africa is not an isolated case in terms of facing water scarcity. California, Australia and Sao Paulo have faced similar issues. “We are learning from them. As citizens of planet earth, this is the need of the moment,’’ added Slabber.
Perhaps very appropriately, Cape Town is hosting, in May this year, the world’s largest water loss conference where 500 participants, from more than 50 countries are expected. Innovation and good practices should come out from the global meeting. By then, the locals hope that the rain gods would have showered their blessings on the city as it heads into the winter.
As the drought now afflicting most of the agricultural and many of the urban sites of the Western and Eastern Cape cuts ever deeper into the fabric of communities, all non-essential consumption is being assessed to determine its relative priority status.
Those who still enjoy access to any water and whose need is commercial – rather than for the sustenance of human life – are already finding themselves in some kind of a competitive pitch, either in the court of public opinion or for priority once the water tenders come trundling in.
In this, the wine industry finds itself in a better position than Cape Town’s restaurants, hairdressers and hotels – if only because, for the time being at least, it’s not facing a certain Day Zero. When the taps go dry in the Mother City, the vines won’t die (at least, not overnight) and there will be years worth of maturing stock to sustain wine producers (as opposed to grape growers) till the rains come, as one day they will.
Where the growers will face some mid- to long-term concerns will be when it comes to prioritising grape farming in the overall context of agriculture. The wine industry may be a major contributor to the economy of the Western Cape, but it is politically alienated. It’s going to have a tough time arguing for its water rights in the face of the demands of other consumers, whether those who seek potable water, those providing more essential foodstuffs, those who can produce evidence that litre for litre (to parody the late Clive Weil’s “trolley for trolley”) they generate more revenue, more employment, or a better fiscal contribution than other competitors for this resource.
Some regions and districts are better off than others: Elgin, around an hour’s drive from Cape Town, catches more precipitation than many of the coastal appellations and has adequate water supplies for fruit growing and wine-making – for the moment. On the other hand, this year the high-volume, irrigation-dependent growers along the banks of the Olifant’s River could see well over 50% of their potential crop lost – simply because their operations have been designed around optimising crop size (rather than quality) by massively hydrating their vines.
The Clanwilliam dam level is so low that grape growers will be allocated a mere 17% of their normal uptake. While for such large-scale farming operations the drought spells bad news, their crisis will have a relatively small impact on consumers of fine wines. The price of cask wine would go up, as would the price of those beverages which depend on this low-cost grape-based alcohol. The fruit juice industry would also have to look elsewhere for the concentrate with which they create their particular brand of sugary drink.
Vines, as viticulturists constantly remind us, are weeds. They may not thrive on neglect, but unlike roses, for example, they are hardy andrelatively drought-resistant. (In France it is illegal to irrigate vineyards producing appellation contrôlée wines). Vines will not necessarily produce their best fruit under arid conditions, but they will survive, and in some circumstances they might do very well. The best two Coastal Region vintage years in recent memory in South Africa were 2015 and 2017, while 2016 produced some very good wines. This trio of vintages (particularly the latter two) sit firmly in the era of constrained water supply. The 2018 crop will certainly be smaller – even in the areas which are not as dependent on irrigation as the Olifants River – but the smaller berry size could lead to more concentrated flavours. The concerns for now are the potential for excessive vine stress during the ripening season, as well as heat spikes going into the key weeks leading up to the vintage. The next month or two will provide empirical results.
The much more serious effect of the water shortage could be in its impact on wine producers – in other words, those who convert the fruit into wine. Wineries are food factories and consume an enormous amount of water. Many were built in an era when water conservation wasn’t front of mind. In the past couple of decades planning permission has been linked to waste water management, but even here this has generally meant containing the chemicals and waste removed in cleaning and flushing the tanks, barrels and winery buildings. In a situation which is not unlike the one presently confronting hairdressers and restaurateurs, winery owners may have to find a way of performing the processes which define their economic activity without the supplies of water that they have, until now, taken for granted. Recycling what they are able to obtain would certainly be a key component of whatever strategy they devise – but they would have to be more willing (than the Western Cape authorities, for example) to work on the assumption that water shortages are here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.
Small-scale water recycling plants – of the kind which enable rural real estate developers to provide proper water-borne sewerage management (rather than the more old-fashioned septic tank treatments) cost around R900,000 and turn waste into potable water. This is not an investment lightly undertaken if you believe that by the 2019 vintage the dams will be full. However, if you need to plan the continued existence of a business whose real window of opportunity is a three-month period between the time the grapes come into your cellar, and the fermentation has been complete, you can’t disregard the importance of making the investment: it’s no different from installing generators, inverters and UPS back-ups in a time of load shedding.
The 2018 water crisis is going to have a significant impact on the Cape wine industry. Its primary impact – looking at the whole value chain from vineyards to the distribution of finished wine – will initially be a marginal decline in fine wine availability, a more significant decline (with a commensurate increase in price) in the vin ordinaire sector, with higher average costs per litre produced. These initial shortages may help the industry achieve its objective of a structural re-pricing exercise (though I wouldn’t hold my breath). The bigger question of whether the production sector will be able to adjust to an environment in which supplies of water are semi-permanently constrained will depend on the availability of financial resources, as well as the willingness to invest.
There is a final consideration, seemingly unimportant in the face of more pressing needs, which does need to factored into the industry’s long-term planning: its lobbyists constantly remind government that wine is a key driver of international tourism, which in turn makes an important contribution to the GDP of the Western Cape. If there are fewer tourists because of the long-term effects of the drought, less wine will be sold. Likewise, if the wine industry declines, so might the number of tourists. There will of course be a new equilibrium – but it will come with less employment and more hardship, spread through a population whose prospects are already looking pretty grim.