Myopic mindset contributes to Cape water crisis

Precious water. Photo credit: Chesney Bradshaw

We experienced first hand the water crisis in the Western Cape at a small seaside town during the December-January holiday season.

On arrival, the friendly owner of the self-catering unit presented us with the municipality Level 6 Water Restrictions. He gave us an old-fashioned sand egg timer and told us to keep showers to under one minute.

At shopping centres and petrol service stations taps for hand washing were shut off. At friends’ homes in the Cape Peninsula grey water was collected to flush toilets and toilet bowls were left with urine as long as possible before flushing. Garden plants were dead or dying and grass areas were scorched into sand patches.

We read the long list of regulations implemented by the municipality to save water. Detailed punitive measures included fines for using water over the consumption limits. But there was not one single incentive or reward for using less water.

It makes one wonder why the municipality didn’t introduce incentives for water savings a few years ago. Warnings of climate change from scientists were ample and so was early evidence of erratic weather patterns.

In some countries departments in town water utilities are set up to assist home owners and businesses to save water and electricity. They do water audits for free. Incentives such as rebates or cash backs are available to assist home owners and businesses to invest in water-saving and energy-saving methods and technologies.

But the reality is that municipality revenues come from water and by encouraging water savings they lose significant revenue. The same applies to reliance on local property taxes and electricity consumption.

It’s all very well looking back, and one doesn’t want to come across as criticising anyone, but imagine how much water could have been saved through encouraging water savings investments.

Water for generations has been a public good. But with water crises increasing in many parts, home owners and businesses, need to look into harnessing water themselves. They can invest privately in rainwater harvesting, small-scale desalination plants and other technologies such as atmospheric water generators.

At some stage in our lives we have likely experienced what it feels like to suggest new ideas and be faced with blank stares and silence. New ideas, new concepts and new ways of thinking experience difficulty breaking through the myopic status quo.

In these turbulent times of ever increasing rapid change, innovation from whatever quarter should not be stymied, stifled, blocked out, dismissed, frowned upon, laughed at and ridiculed. Innovation is needed to anticipate crises and do something about it.

Chesney Bradshaw is a sustainability practitioner and ISO 22301 Business Continuity Lead Auditor and Lead Implementer.

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