Sewing doesn’t help

Yesterday was nice. Really nice. A couple of light showers and drizzle for most of the day. A miserable Sunday at any other time or in any other place, but we loved it. The garden was sighing with relief, the rainwater tanks were refilled, and we got at least another 1200 litres into the pool, whose situation had, in all honesty, been looking a little precarious.

It was like someone had pressed a reset button. Wonderful.

But this was small scale, of course. Yesterday won’t have made any meaningful difference to our water crisis. It just made my lawn feel a bit happier. We need real, heavy, prolonged, regular rain to sort out our water problems.

But yesterday was nice. Really nice.

While I’m on the subject of the water crisis (but then actually, when am I ever not?), let me remind you that sewing doesn’t help the situation. Not sewing as in stitching a couple of pieces of fabric together (although that won’t assist us either), but SEWing.

SEW stands for Someone Else’s Water, and SEWing is a new concept that I have noted recently and named, like the Stable Genius™ I can like to be.

Saving water has become, in some circles at least, intensely competitive.

Bring it on, I say.

If my triumphant, vaguely arrogant assertion at a braai that “We’re down to 50 litres a day” somehow spurs you into trying to reduce your daily water usage, then that’s great. Everyone benefits.
But your reduction must be a genuine one, made by saving water in your own home. It’s no use merely SEWing. That doesn’t help anyone.

SEWing is the act of ostensibly saving water, but merely doing so by diverting your actual usage onto someone else’s account. There appear to be many ways to SEW, all of which will lower your household water bill, but won’t help the overall water crisis situation in any way. Handing your washing over to a local laundry. Watering your garden using a hosepipe attached to next door’s tap while they’re away on holiday. Showering at the gym. Washing your car at a local car wash. Saving that big poo for work.

Spoiler alert: Just because that water doesn’t appear on your municipal bill doesn’t mean it isn’t getting used. It’s all coming from the same worryingly empty dams.

Your rates bill may look good, your car may look good, your garden may even look good if (in an entirely hypothetical situation) your neighbour asked you to keep an eye on their property while they went to Europe for Christmas [nervous cough], but it’s a hollow victory.

So if you’re a closet SEWer, you’ve been rumbled. I’m on to you and your despicable, duplicitous, deceitful actions. It’s time to think again. Because you’re not moving Day Zero out by dropping the kids off at the pool at the office.
And your colleagues hate you for it too.

Siemens AirDrop initiative – a bit of reality

I’m sorry to have to do this. I already did it on Twitter, but clearly very few people saw that, so now I’m doing it here as well.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Gauteng travellers are being encouraged to swop their baggage allowance for water.
During a one-day activation at OR Tambo and Cape Town International airports, travellers can participate by having their luggage weighed at the Siemens AirDrop stand, located in the check-in hall opposite the self-service check-in counters (directly next to ACSA Info Desk at OR Tambo). Any travellers whose luggage is five (or more) kilos under the weight limit will be able to ‘exchange’ their unused kilograms for litres of water that will be delivered to Cape Town on their behalf.

Sounds great, because:

This social challenge is the perfect example of how South Africans can do something helpful for their fellow citizens’. So if you are travelling to the Mother City, show them some love and donate some water to help alleviate the pressure.

And let’s make this very clear right now: anything that alerts visitors to our current plight here, anything that raises awareness, anything that jogs their memory is a good thing.

But…

I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and other than the raising awareness thing, this really isn’t going to help.

Around 2.2 million people fly from Joburg to Cape Town each year. It’s the 10th busiest route in the world. So it’s a good place to go if you want to find big numbers of people for a stunt an activation like this. But even if every single one of those annual travellers brought down 5 litres of lovely, fresh Gautengy water with them, it would only amount to…

11 million litres.

And while that sounds like a lot, there are a couple of other things to take into consideration before you get excited.
Right now, Capetonians are using 630 million litres of water each day. That’s 26.25 million litres an hour.

And now remember that this is “a one-day activation”, meaning that this offer will only apply to a maximum of just about 6000 people who will be flying that route that day. If every single one of them coming down that day donates 5 litres of water, that comes to 30000 litres.

That’s enough to keep us going for 4 seconds.

Four. Seconds. 

Four.

So yes, as a tool for raising awareness around the drought (and of Siemens, obviously), it’s great.

Siemens say:

It’s this kind of ingenuity that has made us the global leader in intelligent water management.

But as a way of intelligently managing water, this simply doesn’t work.

At all.

Sorry.

As I was saying…

right here.

It’s HOT.

And then God hath spake unto the people of Cape Town and He hath said:
“And lo, now I am going to evaporate whatever puddles of muddy water there may be left in your dams!”
And the people did not rejoice and they were not joyful.

They were rather sweaty though.

Water plan

So it seems that Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille didn’t go for my amazing plan which would have solved Cape Town’s water worries for the next 25,000 years.  Who on earth knows why, but never mind. I’m not about to give up just yet.

Using some of the science from that post, but leaving the chunk of ice the size of Wales out of the equation, I’ve come up with another idea. Obviously, this one won’t help us out for quite as long as the whole 25,000 years thing, but if you’re going to leave a chunk of ice the size of Wales out of the equation, there are clearly going to have to be a few compromises made.

So here goes…

We’ve all popped a bottle of wine or a can of beer into the freezer to get it chilled quickly, and then forgotten about it. The result is both upsetting and messy – wasted beverage, exploded glass, split can, sticky freezer.
That happens because the major constituent in both wine and beer is (sadly) water. And chemistry tells us that water increases in volume by 9.05% when it’s frozen, whereas bottles and cans just… don’t. Oops.

That increase in volume is key to my plan though. The Cape dams are short of water volume at the moment – that’s literally the issue which is concerning us all going into the summer – so why not freeze all the water that’s in there, and get us an extra 9.05% of volume straight away?

I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations, and I’ve worked out that with the current liquid volume of stored water standing at 324,455Ml, freezing it all  would give us an extra 29,363,177,500 litres in solid volume. Best bit – we don’t even have to destroy Franschhoek like we were going to do with the iceberg – this extra icy volume will easily fit within our existing dams.

It’s certainly not 25,000 years worth of water, but equally, it’s not to be sniffed at either.

I’m going to pop into the CBD this afternoon and present this plan to Ms de Lille. This is neither rocket science, nor brain surgery. In fact, my biggest issue is which music to do my presentation to: I wondered about Ice, Ice Baby, but I think that Pump Up The Volume suits it better.

If Patricia wasn’t willing to listen before maybe she will now. I can’t be reasonably expected to keep coming up with plans of this level of genius forever.

Down one

Latest news from the City of Cape Town water dashboard:

Here are a few takeaways from  this week’s numbers and the information provided therein.

We are still using too much water. And by “we”, I mean people who aren’t me or my family. But even so, even with those people who aren’t me and my family, Cape Town has cut its water use by almost 50% when compared with similar periods a few years back.
Can “we” do better? Well, “we” should be able to, but interestingly, “we” have been stuck at this sort of level for a while now. Could this be some sort of impasse, and if so, why is it happening and what can the City do to get past it? There are already plenty of measures in place, but are they actually having enough effect?

582 million litres x 7 days = 4,060 million litres, but actual volume stored in the dams dropped by 8,739 million litres. That discrepancy is mainly due to evaporation because of the hot weather and strong winds we’ve seen this week over the Winelands area. So, in the last 7 days, we’ve lost an additional 8 days at 582 million litres back up to the sky. And let’s face it – it’s going to be hot and windy a lot more over the summer.

The good news is that even with this continuing overuse and huge evaporation, the dam levels “only” dropped by 1%. Simple maths suggests that with 26% of usable water still available, and using/losing 1% a week, we can last another 26 weeks. I’ve been doing some (more) rudimentary calculations and I reckon that takes us to the middle of May. We might just make it. Or not. I actually have no idea.

Because historically, water usage goes up at this time of year into summer.
However, there is some good evidence that water restrictions will curb this increase:

Taking 2014/15 as an example of unrestricted use, and comparing it with last summer (when restrictions were in force), we can see that there has been a reduction of maybe 400 million litres a day. And yes, production (blue line) is still above where we need it to be (pink line), but that graph tells a good story, and with more draconian measures in place this year, will hopefully continue to do so. Addition of temporary small scale desalination plants and tapping into local aquifers will mitigate supply issues a little too.

It rained this morning, which ruined the kids’ sports day, but at least I got another 100 litres or so from my sausages. And I’m only concentrating on that latter fact, because we’re really not in any position to complain about any negative effects of precipitation in Cape Town right now.

Chin up. We might just survive this yet. Keep saving. Every little helps.