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On a go-slow flow

With Day Zero looming and the Western Cape in the throes of its worst drought in 100 years, WWF staff endeavoured to ramp up the water-saving culture in the Cape Town office for #WatershedWednesday.

© Sue Ras
The Western Cape is experiencing its worst drought in 100 years. #WatershedWednesday reminded us that we can only save water while there's water to save.

I live in an urban city currently in the grips of its worst drought in 100 years.

A few weeks ago, as I reached to flush the toilet in my flat and it wouldn’t flush, an icy chill ran up my spine as the prospect that Day Zero - the day our taps run dry - had arrived.

Thankfully my toilet situation was an issue for the maintenance guy, but the water crisis had suddenly become very real in my life and my non-flushing toilet experience, a watershed moment.

In the days that followed I noticed a shift in my attitude towards water wasters as I realised that people who waste water were technically also messing with my water supply. I didn’t go around wagging fingers but I felt compelled to ask questions about boreholes and made an effort to find out what innovative things people had been doing to save water.

My household water-saving habits geared up a few levels and I was doing exceptionally well at letting it mellow and using grey water.

Walking the talk

My behaviour patterns took another turn when Cape Town’s local authorities announced that level five water restrictions were in effect and issued a serious call to businesses and the tourism sector to further reduce water usage by 20%.

WWF South Africa stepped up and took the lead in driving a day of drastic water disruption known as #WatershedWednesday - a call to action for everyone in shared spaces and corporate offices to experience a simulation of life with limited water.

We first tested the concept in a “dry run” of the concept on Wednesday, 15 November and again on 29 November in solidarity with corporate South Africa.

#WatershedWednesday

All staff in our Cape Town offices, including top management, wore the clothes they’d been wearing the day before to save on laundry loads. Our CEO, Dr Morné du Plessis was also spotted wearing his same beige trousers and lilac shirt.

I was allowed a maximum of two litres of water which I had to bring from home and all taps and urns were off limits for the day outside of an hour’s reprieve from 12 noon to 1pm. In the morning, toilets were deemed “permission cubicles” where staff let the yellow mellow while in the afternoon cubicles worked on a tag system allowing a flush after the fourth yellow.

This was a wee bit of a challenge because it’s easier to let it mellow at home it takes a bit of getting used when you face a yellow bowl in a public space. For many of peers, this kind of behaviour change had already been happening organically.

Adapting to change

In the corridors, some colleagues were throwing around catchy phrases like “our responsibility to adapt” and “the value of collective action” and “all actions add up” while the usually bustling kitchens and water cooler areas were eerily quiet.

Someone in the Freshwater Programme team remarked that the action of physically having two litres at their desks - something tangible and visible - kept water top of mind. Also, realising that those extra cups of tea and toilet flushes should also come from one’s daily quota of 87 litres became a watershed moment.

Take it with you everywhere you go

As the drought intensifies, I’m pretty sure that as a province, a country and individuals we’ll all experience an abundance of watershed moments.

Most importantly, we must remember to take our water-saving habits with us everywhere, because we can only save water while there is still water to save.

Natasha Prince Photo
Natasha Prince , Environmental Programmes Communications Officer

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