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Cape Town water crisis--ideas that can help?

 
pollinator
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I have only a second, but a friend told me the government will shut off muincipal water in Cape Town in May, and they are still using water for sanitation (!).  Buying huge quantities of bottled water.  

I am sure the crisis is an opportunity to do things in new ways.  Anyone want to throw in some thoughts?   WE have a few Cape Town folks on the forum, you want to comment?  Thanks!
 
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I have heard it could be sooner, i.e., April. What are the logistics of evacuating the city, one wonders... Something on the scale of Phnom Penh in '75?
 
steward
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Cape Town Africa ?

WIKI article.

I was once a plant operator for a company that pumped water into an underground soda formation. Then brought the brine up and boiled it, which separated the soda from the water. The water came out pretty clean. The article above talks about desalination plants being held up in bureaucracy. I have never understood why any large city by the ocean would not be using this technology. They can use solar concentrators to heat the water and power the plant.

Other than that it seems that there are just to many folks in that drainage wasting too much water.

Never been there but looking at a Google map tells a lot of the story? Massive amounts of farm land under conventional modern farm management. Lots of plowing, dry land left fallow, etc. Do the irrigate all of that?
 
Miles Flansburg
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Sounds like they do not know, or do not want to know, about permaculture. Might be time to let Wilna Malan in on our secrets ?

Dept of ag water concerns.
 
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My family is practicing permaculture here in Cape Town-- on an acre within city limits. We're beginners and are also doing many other things, but I read a lot of permies.com and keep learning and practicing. The water crisis is complex so I won't delve into the political and planning dimensions of getting additional water for the city here (desal projects are underway but it's important to acknowledge they're very expensive).

Instead, I am really interested in what permaculture has to offer in terms of water savings and curtailing demand, especially among more wealthy households (less wealthy households already tend to have communal taps, and use very little water). The moment is perfect for motivating people to think carefully and differently about water: for example, those abiding by restrictions are only flushing toilets with greywater from their shower or washing machine. Suddenly those who have resources are also collecting rainwater, which was not very common previously. We've been getting a lot of questions about our composting toilet! And people are more aware of climate change than previously, though they don't necessarily think about growing food as a necessary part of the picture-- it seems we will avoid Day Zero, but mainly because farmers' water has been cut off.

For our household, we have actually been affected by the drought less than many people, and I think this is partly thanks to permaculture principles. We have only used a composting bucket toilet for a couple of years now, we collect and store all our rainwater, we use only drip irrigation (via our wellpoint) for our fruit trees and mulch heavily, and we have a low-pressure (gravity) hot water solar water heater (geyser) on our roof. The low pressure geyser means that hot water comes out of our taps extraordinarily slowly, making it harder to waste water while showering or washing dishes.

We use our rainwater for a pretty large vegetable garden (hugelbeds), and wellpoint for irrigating fruit trees-- so households not growing as much food (or without as much space) would not need water for these things. Within our house, we only use municipal (potable, city) water (this is partly because we have limited solar panels and not enough electricity for complex systems with pumps etc). Our greywater goes through reed beds to fruit trees, and we've been occasionally saving some of this water to put on veggies, as our rainwater has more or less run out at this point.

All this means as a household of 5 we use less than 1kL of water within our house a month without much effort, and have for several years. This is including relatively unusual water needs: eg. washing of cloth diapers. Even with the most stringent restrictions (Level 6B) in place, the City of Cape Town is only asking households (presumed to be 4 people) to limit their water use to 6kL/month. From my perspective, this is a ridiculously generous amount of water, and if people kept to this generous limit, there would be no Day Zero and no need to cut farmers off. With pretty simple interventions and small lifestyle changes, household water use can be much, much less, over a long period, to the point where even in the current circumstance (the worst drought on record), the current water supply could easily supply the city and more. One might suggest that the money spent on augmentation such as even one small desalination plant could supply half a million households with rainwater tanks, low-pressure solar geysers, and/or composting toilets-- these are relatively inexpensive with only positive environmental consequences.

While in non-drought times, our lives are a bit less convenient than the average person, during the drought our lives are actually a lot easier and perhaps even involve less risk of disease, as we don't have to keep standing grey and black water around for flushing toilets.

Not everyone has space for a composting toilet (i.e. the composting space in their garden), but many, many do. The low pressure solar geyser is incredibly effective at heating water, and having hot water come out of the tap in a trickle has been something we got used to quite quickly. Having rain water storage can make vegetable gardens feasible without access to municipal water. I think these kinds of simple solutions at the household level are highly actionable. There are questions of how to make industry less water-intensive, but I think that might be another comment! P.S. I do try to write about the water crisis a bit on my blog, linked to below, but these tends to be rushed thoughts so take with a large grain of salt.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Beautiful, thanks for this reply!  It's so great to see a citizen relinquishing 5/6ths of their water share to the community, and without austerity.

What would you tell someone who's really in a panic to do as their first step?  what's one really small modification a person can make that can save them a trip to the store for bottled water, for example?  

What would you tell a wealthy person who wanted to do better by the community?
A person who had no extra money to spend?

and where do you get the materials for your systems (sawdust? buckets? etc.)?
 
Jo Hunter
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What would you tell someone who's really in a panic to do as their first step?  what's one really small modification a person can make that can save them a trip to the store for bottled water, for example?  

What would you tell a wealthy person who wanted to do better by the community?
A person who had no extra money to spend?

and where do you get the materials for your systems (sawdust? buckets? etc.)?



Hey Joshua!

I am honestly not too sure. The panic waxes and wanes according to shifting dates for water shutoff- I feel one shouldn't buy into the panic or feel that one is a victim (particularly if you're on the internet, which makes you quite wealthy). There's no need to go to the shops for water right now-- it's a waste of energy, time, and money. One simple thing would be to maintain basic food hygiene-- there's a lot of listeria this year and I think it's partly due to drought practices. I'd encourage people to take a breath and think long-term if at all possible. This drought will end (i believe without a day zero, this year at least), but there will be another drought. Don't stockpile water from the shops (or taps) or do stuff (being unkind to neighbours, or elbowing people out of the way for water bottles) that will make you look back with embarrassment. Focus on the long-term.

For the wealthy, (1) not overusing boreholes/wellpoints-- having green lawns and full swimming pools right now is not cool. Don't sink/use a wellpoint to insulate yourself from the drought, do it because you want a better, more sustainable system for the long-term. (2) composting toilets are cool! (3) rainwater collection is a necessity. (4) convert swimming pools into rainwater storage -- i.e. natural swimming pools. I could go on...

A person who has no extra money to spend: it's going to be ok. Do your best to save water by not flushing with municipal water, bathing in the ocean or using a bucket for basic hygiene.  

Buckets for composting toilet are abundant-- we just use old 25L paint buckets. For cover material, it's potentially a little more challenging, depending on resources. We use waste hay as our cover materials, which we pick up weekly from a nearby farm that doesn't have a use for it. But there is a lot of dry grass around at the moment that would work just fine. There are also often bags of leaves that are left on the street for a bit after the street is cleaned-- I usually grab these for compost/mulch, but they also work well as cover material.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Thanks, Jo!

It really did sound a lot more dramatic from the Time magazine perspective, and I appreciate your voice of calm.  The numbers my friend had recalled were far more alarming than what the article says, sounds much less dire than I'd first thought.  But it's good to have new thinking before a crisis too.

How does the idea of writing a letter to the Time editor feel to you?  

http://time.com/5103259/cape-town-water-crisis/

 
Jo Hunter
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The article was written at probably the most serious moment in the crisis-- there were about 3 weeks in Jan when it seemed very likely we would run out of water.

Since then, two major things have happened, which partly speak to the dynamics of national versus city governance: farms reached their quota of water for the year, and were cut off (with devastating consequences). I don't think national cutting off agricultural water was anticipated in water projections, as typically this does not happen-- partcularly right near harvest time for many fruits etc.

Second, some additional water has been made available, including from a private dam (built by a group of farmers) close to the city.

These two things make it much more likely that we will make it to winter rain-- though it is not a certainty and we still need to drastically curtail domestic usage.
 
Jo Hunter
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Never been there but looking at a Google map tells a lot of the story? Massive amounts of farm land under conventional modern farm management. Lots of plowing, dry land left fallow, etc. Do the irrigate all of that?



Hey Miles-- I wanted respond to this, as i think this is definitely a part of the problem, but the drought is still a very significant event and the growth in population has shaped it, at least partly. For farm practices: I feel very low global food prices, and lack of bargaining power, as a major root cause of conventional farm practices. These farms are major employers and tend to supply a very large export market at relatively low profit. The largest segment of vegetable farms supplying Cape Town largely do use an underground aquifer (not municipal water) which is somewhat (depending on urban development) more resilient during a drought than dams, so a lot of our vegetables are locally grown. But the grape farms (producing wine- organic, fair trade, or not) and the other kinds of fruit farms (apple, pear, stone fruits) tend to be for export. We do not have food sovereignty by any stretch-- it's quite complex and challenging to change practices in the context of very limited leeway to supply, say, staple crops to a South African market (where global prices on staples are often impossible to compete with.)
 
Miles Flansburg
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Thanks Jo ! Ye it sounds like a very complicated problem, hope you all can find a way out of it with advancements in permacultural practices.
 
pollinator
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For the life of me, I can't understand why local and even regional governments are not mandating that all new construction utilize grey-water recycling, and that older homes be retrofitted for grey water irrigation and other uses.

I live in Los Angeles county, and 2 years ago during a severe drought we finally got serious about shutting off needless irrigation.  Then last winter we had a lot of rain and the snow pack rebounded to the point where it was well above the expected annual mean.  All of a sudden, people are laying sod again and flushing the toilets like there is no tomorrow.  Now, another very dry winter, and we're back discussing water restrictions and watering bans.  There has been little to no new thinking in the past 2 years, so we lurch from drought to drought, with people assuming that we just need to build larger and larger pipelines to steal water from further and further away.  Sad.

Simple steps:

1.  Subsidize home plumbing retrofitting so that grey water is captured and put into the landscape rather than run it down a sewer to be co-mingled with human waste.

2.  Subsidize roof-water rain catchment systems.  Not piddly-little barrels, but significant roof-runoff catchment systems that would significantly help decrease purchased water usage for landscaping and other uses.  For homeowners, this would be a relatively simple operation --- just returning water to lawns, gardens, and areas where the trees can use it.  For larger buildings (schools, retail, governmental, industrial, etc.), we need to find a way to turn millions of square feet of rooftops and parking lots into rainwater positive systems.  The last resort should be overflow into storm drains.  For large urban areas (like the one I live in), this will be building thousands of little surge ponds to capture the rainwater during the ebbs and flows of storms.

3.  Embark on a massive program of curb-cutting and water infiltration projects for streetscapes.  Brad Lancaster has shown us how millions and millions of gallons of precious rainwater can be infiltrated into the ground rather than quickly flushed out into storm channels and taken away.  Impermeable paving must stop.  We need to pave our streets in ways that encourage rainwater to infiltrate and recharge our soils.  We need to build thousands of little infiltration basins to water tens of thousands of new trees along our streets, yards and parks.

4.   Why are we trucking chipped wood from street trees and other landscaping to the landfill when it could be used locally as water saving mulch?  Local municipalities need to mandate that all carbon stays local.  Composting facilities should capture all local green waste and return it to local homeowners or use in local parks.  Any tree that is trimmed and chipped should then be made available to anyone who wants those chips for mulch.  There are vacant spaces all over that could be converted to mulch yards and composting facilities.  Mulch dramatically decreases water usage even as it builds soil fertility.

5.  Trees please.  On the whole, reforestation captures water and infiltrates it.  While some may think this counter-intuitive, planting more trees would help us capture and save millions of gallons of water with every rain event. Trees lower the ambient temperature of urban ecosystems, thus decreasing the need for irrigation.  Trees "exhale" water back into the atmosphere, thus moving water that follows close to the coast to slowly be transferred further and further inland.  We need to reforest our urban spaces on a massive scale.  

6.  And then more trees.

7.  Zero-flush urinals in all men's bathrooms.  Just one urinal like that can save 10,000 gallons a year.  If we replaced thousands of then, the net effect would be very significant.

8.  Can we reforest all municipal golf courses?  And then create a new version of golf based upon natural forest landscapes, not acres and acres of lush, chemically bombed green grass that require thousands of gallons of water weekly to keep artificially lush.  Private golf courses would then be required to reduce their water usage by 75%.  You know those surge ponds I mentioned above in point # 2?  Hey golf courses -- you guys want free water?  We'll retrofit our storm water systems to channel that water to the ponds you build into your courses.  Every time it rains, you can collect millions of free gallons.  Win, win.

9.  I'd like an outdoor shower.  In my climate, I could shower out there 9 months of the year.  Incentivise it and people will build them, thus returning even more water to the landscape.

10.  Yellow is the new green.  How about a public campaign to get people to pee outside in a variety of locations and ways.  In Los Angeles, if every citizen (all 4 million of them) found a way to flush one time less per day (like peeing outside once a day), it would save over 8,000,000 gallons of water per day.  That's the equivalent of about 3.5 football fields covered with water 10 feet deep.  Day after day.  For any home that has a yard, provide some sort of mobile urine relief structure (like a chicken tractor, but for taking a wiz in) that people could move around weekly.  With all that wonderful mulch from point # 4 above, we could capture tremendous fertility and reduce significant water usage.

That's all I've got.
 
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In Australia where water saving is a thing promoted everywhere there are some novel approaches
- don't leave the tap running when you clean your teeth
- toilets,
If its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down
I think this is self explanatory.

These two save enormous amounts.
 
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I recently watched a video, I think on Youtube, about a "water sail", that collects moisture from the air with a large special fabric thing, and gathers it into a pipe or container for drinking. Intended for water-starved populations.

As for the expense of desal, the ongoing cost is in the energy expended to vaporize the water and drive the process through the tubes. I once saw a documentary about a kind of "Death Ray" that was proposed by an ancient mathematician (Archemedes?) in which several soldiers standing in an array would hold highly polished mirrors to catch the rays of the sun, and reflect them onto a single object--a ship--causing a fire, which would sink the ship without losing a single soldier. Experiment repeated at an American university, and was successful.

This could be applied to a boiler, or radiator arrangement: the business end of a desal plant. The second half is getting the condensing end cool, which could be achieved in a well insulated chamber with a low-voltage window unit airconditioner governed by a Cool Bot-like secondary regulator to bring the temp down to near freezing--and hopefully a small enough machine that it, too, could be powered by a solar array.
 
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I like what some of this guy has done in grey water system where it is run through many filtrations and eventually back to a swimming pool then pumped into house for drinking again.  Many areas do need to change on how they water for sure my area out here in West Texas is one that needs to change too.  It's getting bad enough year after year with the fires,  but need to hold back more here to keep it green and not get into this situation of constant brown brushy land.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzHlI4B6iBHbaw7a9j4ZgLA
 
John C Daley
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In Australia, we always have a brown landscape.
When I went to France for along time in their summer, I could not get used to greeness everywhere in summer.
Also, I have problems with the sun here with my eyes, but there is enough dust in the air to take the sharpness off, unless it rains.
Then its very difficult for me, and I had the same problem in France.
They don't have any dust in the air, so my eyes suffered with the continual brightness!!!
 
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Jo Hunter-Adams wrote:The article was written at probably the most serious moment in the crisis-- there were about 3 weeks in Jan when it seemed very likely we would run out of water.

Since then, two major things have happened...

...These two things make it much more likely that we will make it to winter rain-- though it is not a certainty and we still need to drastically curtail domestic usage.




How is the water situation there now, Jo?
 
pollinator
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I know Cape town isn't down to "need water, or we'll all die of dehydration" yet, but, taking a nice walk to the ocean and filling one of these every day could ameliorate some of the agony - your own personal, de-sal plant!

Watercone
 
Dustin Rhodes
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I also found two very academic papers about aerial condensers (collecting water from the humidity in the air):

Passive vs Active Condensers

Radiative Condenser

TL;DR - this is why AC units come with water pans and can get icy(when not maintained) - so there's a scosh more water at your disposal each day!  
(Not that I recommend AC, I just realize most people see them as an inevitability)
 
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