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Next-level water restrictions need next-level action

A colleague picked up a breaking news story that might have flown under the radar for most. For me, and hopefully at least half of Cape Town, it was a scary reminder that the worst of our water nightmares are yet to come.

© Natasha Prince / WWF
We can only save water while there is water to save.

It was another increase in Cape Town’s water restrictions to level 6, coming into effect from 1 January 2018, as stated in the Western Cape Provincial Government Gazette on 1 December.

This was a chilling reminder that as the Cape’s hot summer days set in, our dam levels will slip towards empty faster than most of us want to actually acknowledge.

Amongst colleagues we shared snippets from a level 6 article to make sense of what changes from level 5 to 6.

At an individual level, 87 litres remains the daily limit for every person – at home, work and beyond.

This out-of-home awareness of our daily water allocation was the focus of a very recent campaign that we pulled off in record time here at WWF South Africa. It was known as Watershed Wednesday. Within a few short weeks we mobilised over 30 South African companies to take part in a self-imposed day of extreme water rationing in shared office spaces

© Natasha Prince/ WWF-SA
Helen Stuart of the Freshwater Programme and her liquid gold.
A 900-litre saving in just one day

In our Cape Town office we did a dry run the week prior, and we participated on Watershed Wednesday in solidarity. Many staff members continue to follow the water saving ways in our daily actions since. We also surveyed our water use on a normal day and then on the dry run day to gauge our water savings. From this we ascertained that our biggest water saving actions are from reducing toilet flushing and stopping hand washing.

During our dry run, we reduced our water consumption from a daily average of 1,100 litres to 200 litres – a saving of 900 litres in just one day!

WWF has also launched a next phase of this water-saving campaign. It is still focused on companies and still on out-of-home water use. It is a video-based challenge with a competition element: the Bucket List Challenge.

In light of level 6 restrictions, the Bucket List Challenge is needed now more than ever. One of the biggest changes in level 6 restrictions concerns the increased reduction for non-residential properties. This includes businesses.

WWF is calling on water champions in teams, departments and entire organisations to state their group’s workplace #BucketList commitments and then to challenge another to do the same or more.

A water-saving message in a public bathroom
What's on your water-saving bucket list?
Will the other half of Cape Town please stand up?

Previously the City of Cape Town called for a 20% reduction year on year, whereas the new target is a 45% reduction from pre-drought use (2015). This means we need to do business using almost half the water we've been using.

In our WWF offices we let it mellow to cut unnecessary flushing away of perfectly good drinking water. We’ve also switched to hand sanitiser and we’ve encouraged the property manager to do so in the whole block too.

Yet only 50% of Capetonians have managed to make the desperately needed shift to below 87 litres each a day. My hope for our city is that amongst this 50% of awakened water saving citizens that they will also stand up as water leaders in their organisations to film themselves stating their workplace water-saving #BucketList commitments, and challenging another team or department, partner or supplier to do the same.

The saying might seem like a cliché, but we can only save water now while we have it.

Sue Northam-Ras Photo
Sue Northam-Ras, WWF Communications Manager

Sue believes in making information valuable by writing, editing and shaping content in a way that gives it meaning. She packages the environmental content for WWF South Africa.