Off the grid

Saving water is a unified effort

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The worst drought in 100 years has gripped the Western Cape and the province continues to experience dire water shortages. Extreme water restrictions are officially in place and Cape Town Mayor, Patricia de Lille, released the city’s Critical Water Shortages Disaster Plan, which in effect means water rationing is underway.

In her address to media in October 2017, the Mayor explained the three phases of her disaster plan as such: phase 1: water rationing through extreme pressure reduction (currently in effect); phase 2: disaster stage – residents will be allowed to collect a ‘predefined quantity’ of water from collection sites and phase 3: extreme disaster phase – when the city is no longer able to extract water from its dams, and non-surface supplies sourced from ground water abstraction will only be available for drinking purposes.

Let’s be honest, we can do very little, if anything without water, and in the last few months especially, as this crisis intensified, simple ways to conserve this much-needed resource have been placed under the microscope. After all, every little bit helps. These simple, yet highly effective methods have become the new normal for Capetonians. The bucket system in the shower, two-minute showers overall and rainwater harvesting during the already departed winter months are some of the few, yet meaningful water-saving techniques we now have in place around some homes.

That’s still not enough. Ticking the water-saving boxes requires a cohesive approach. It takes commitment and hard work from all industries and individuals alike. At home in particular, we need to elevate our water-smart techniques and do more. As it stands, 65 % of the city’s water consumption is believed to be directly from the home; that’s astronomical and very concerning, as there is still not sufficient urgency, particularly in the, so called leafy suburbs.

But water-saving methods should not be reserved for the home alone. We have an equal responsibility to implement these measures in businesses and associations throughout the Western Cape. The hospitality industry in the Mother City, which includes hotels and small accommodation establishments like boutique hotels and guest houses, as well as restaurants, have heard this call and have been doing their bit in a big way. The sector is committed to increasing its water-wise efforts and to decreasing its overall water consumption. Great strides have already been made.

We’ve been forced to think out-of-the-box and continue to work hard towards implementing some innovative water-saving measures, some of which include: installing low flow technology to save water; investing in Reverse Osmosis plants to reduce dependency on municipal water supply and investing in water-from-air machines to generate potable water. Several of our members are currently investigating the introduction of water desalination plants in some of the larger hotels, which will hopefully take them off the water grid, and allow for smaller establishments and the City of Cape Town to benefit from the reduced demand on City water. It doesn’t get more creative than that.

The basics remain firmly in place. Some restaurants have resorted to replacing table linen with placemats and using good quality paper serviettes instead of linen napkins, we encourage more of these establishments to follow suit. In hotels, removing bath plugs from bathrooms to discourage guests from taking a bath; only changing linen on guests’ departure; enforcing the use of half flush buttons on all toilets and installing water restrictors on shower heads and basins, are just a few of the water-smart techniques already in place. The impact has been significant—Tsogo Sun Hotels Cape Town for example reduced its water usage by nearly 300 000 litres in the last six months. The Hotel Verde at the Cape Town International Airport, designed specifically with keeping environmental sustainable features in mind, only uses 35% of water required by a hotel of the same size, saving around 65% of water a day.

Despite these efforts, we agree that there’s more to be done. And to solidify the industry’s commitment to adopting a water-smart approach, member establishments have signed the FEDHASA Cape Water Wise Pledge, which states that establishments are committed to both short and long-term improvement with its water conservation measures as a part of its commitment to responsible tourism practices that protect and enhance the natural, cultural, social and economic environment. Work doesn’t stop here, a Water Wise Task Team, made-up of key industry role-players has also been established and will look at developing a water-wise policy and implementation plan and assist members with the capturing and monitoring process.

Day zero is not an option, and with the holiday season on our doorstep and very little rain forecasted, members have increased awareness campaigns for guests, especially tourists, to prevent this crisis from extending further. But the responsibility does not rest solely on the shoulders of the hospitality industry, we can’t do it alone. We challenge all businesses and associations to come on-board and to be robust in their efforts; together we can make a difference.

Jeff Rosenberg, chairperson, Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA), Cape region.

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