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Ed’s note: Water, drink it don’t flush it

Flash news: water is costly, and climate risks threaten this life-giving resource. Which part of that sentence is untrue?

It is the part announcing the statement as “flash news” because the cost of water and the impact of drought and floods is already widely discussed and heavily debated.

Even so, today, I want to talk about how we use our water resources. How can we still be flushing potable water away, which costs us dearly to produce and reticulate, while innovative solutions are available to use greywater for flushing?

In South Africa alone, over 5,000 megalitres of water flush away daily. This amount is according to Leonardo Manus, the chief director of infrastructure development at the Department of Water and Sanitation—and I believe him.

Many South African households consume more water (237 litres) per person per day than the world’s average of 173 litres. The numbers don’t look at how many have access to plumbed water, which is far less than desired but does give a picture of unsustainable “learned behaviour”. 

Has the fear that Capetonians lived through for 2018’s Day Zero – when the dams and taps would run dry – been forgotten? The drought and threat of no access to water made international headlines. The city and Western Cape region undertook a hugely successful campaign that saw people using water wisely and far less of it. 

Recap on:
#Day Zero

And then it rained; time passed, and we forgot the lessons and reverted to old habits.

Let’s be honest, when last did you check for leaking pipes, dripping taps and do you still use potable water to flush the toilet?

Manus addresses the elephant in the room. He explains that at the time of the flushing toilet design, water was abundant. However, we no longer have enough water and “the price we pay for the convenience of flushing a toilet is an expensive one that our future generations might not afford.”

Repositioning water

While new technologies are now available, William Moraka, the water services manager from the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), warned that municipalities must carefully select the best for their unique environments, whether rural or urban.

There are many best-case scenarios, such as adapted plumbing that uses greywater for flush toilets and renewable energy added to the mix to pump groundwater for small-holding irrigation.

Ideally, the way forward is to connect every roof to a water collection system and rebranding potable water as a ‘consume and sanitise’ only product. 

Not waiting to act, PepsiCo recently announced its ambition to become Net Water Positive by 2030, aiming to replenish more water than the company uses. This commitment would place the company among the most water-efficient manufacturers operating in high-risk watersheds.

What do you see as our best water practice to implement, and do you know of other companies taking steps to become net water positive?

While becoming net water positive is a worthy venture, there will always be wastewater in the system. As such, this topic will be addressed by industry experts at the Enlit Africa digital event on 28 October. Sign up for the session titled: Waste not, want no: reuse, recycle and reclaim your wastewater.

So, raise a glass of water with me to sustainable water practices, don’t flush it.

Until next week.
Editor, ESI Africa 

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.