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Posts Tagged ‘water shortage’

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
People come with plastic bottles and jugs to collect free water in Cape Town, South Africa, where a dire shortage spurred residents to cut water usage in half.

You may have read about the dire water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a situation resulting from lack of public funds to do the work that would have protected the supply.

But this story shows how much people can accomplish when faced with a life or death challenge.

Ryan Lenora Brown reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “A year ago, [Musa] Baba and [Helen] Moffett had almost nothing in common, and in many ways, they still live in two different universes. Moffett lives in a manicured gated community flanked by mountains. Baba’s house is two tin rooms she built herself that grip the side of a hill cluttered with other small shacks.

“But these days, the two women, along with millions of others here, share a common preoccupation: how to save water. For Baba and many others, that’s been a lifelong project of necessity. But for another population of Cape Town residents, including Moffett, it’s part of a massive lifestyle pivot that has helped bring the city on the southwestern tip of South Africa back from the brink of the unthinkable.

“As recently as March, Cape Town’s government was instructing residents to prepare for an imminent ‘Day Zero,’ when taps across most of the city would be shut off indefinitely. …

“Newspaper headlines across the world blared [Cape Town] was about to become the first developed city in the world to completely run out of water.

“But behind the scenes, a tectonic shift was under way. As the city bartered for water with local farmers and hustled to build desalination plants, its residents simply started using less water. A lot less.

“And it has worked – at least for now. … Using a combination of sticks and carrots to coax residents on board, the city has cut its water use by half. Its biggest customers now use 80 percent less. Today, every Capetonian is allowed just 13 gallons of municipal water per day – a little less than the amount it takes to flush a toilet four times. Use more, and the city reduces your pressure to a trickle, and your water bill can turn into a mortgage payment. …

“Here in Cape Town, suburban residents have become connoisseurs of taking 90-second showers and then flushing their toilets with the water they collected while doing it.

“On popular water-saving Facebook groups, city residents debate the best way to wash their dog ‘off the grid’ (bottled water, one woman suggests. Scrub him down with used bath water, offers another.) They swap the names of local companies that will sink a personal well in your backyard. Local police, meanwhile, receive a steady stream of tips from concerned residents who’ve seen their neighbors committing the ultimate middle-class drought crime: watering their lawns. …

“Says Kirsty Carden, an engineer at the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, ‘Yes, it’s been a crisis, but it’s also good to learn these lessons now. Cape Town isn’t the only city in the world that’s going to need them for the future.’ …

“Water restrictions have had another, less obvious effect: They have given the rich a small but rare experience of how the poor have always gotten by.

“ ‘It’s humbling, learning to think about water the way most South Africans have been doing for a long time,’ Moffett says, arranging two gallon jugs of water from another local spring in the trunk of her car. ‘Every household chore takes three times as much thought, and three times as long.’ …

” ‘We have always lived like this – nothing has changed because of the drought,’ says Baba, sloshing a T-shirt in a sudsy bucket outside her house. ‘If now rich people can understand better what that’s like, I think that’s a good thing.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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It was good to have a little lawn when Suzanne and John were kids, but we gave up the hassle after they grew up. In place of a lawn we have a lovely ground cover called vinca. In spring the yard is entirely purple.

On the East Coast as fall approaches, many homeowners are thinking about taking advantage of cooler weather to rev up their lawns. But in the Southwest there’s a concerted effort to move away from the green carpet.

Ian Lovett writes at the NY Times that since 2009, Los Angeles “has paid $1.4 million to homeowners willing to rip out their front lawns and plant less thirsty landscaping.

“At least the lawns are still legal [there]. Grass front yards are banned at new developments in Las Vegas, where even the grass medians on the Strip have been replaced with synthetic turf.

“In Austin, Tex., lawns are allowed; watering them, however, is not — at least not before sunset. Police units cruise through middle-class neighborhoods hunting for sprinklers running in daylight and issuing $475 fines to their owners.”

In Las Vegas “in the last decade, 9.2 billion gallons of water have been saved through turf removal, and water use in Southern Nevada has been cut by a third, even as the population has continued to grow. …

“The idea that extensive grass lawns are wasteful has now taken hold with many people in this region, especially the young and environmentally conscious.

“And municipalities, hoping [the] savings can be expanded, have tried to entice more residents to dig up their lawns by offering more money. Last month, Los Angeles raised its rebate to $2 from $1.50 a square foot of grass removed. Long Beach now offers $3 a square foot.” Read more here.

Photos: Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Top, Flowering artichoke plants in Mitch and Leslie Aiken’s drought-tolerant yard in Pasadena, Calif. Below, the couple survey the effect of desert plantings.

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