We live on a blue planet. One whose surface is 70% covered by water. But of that water, only 3% is fresh water, and less than 1% is actually available to life on earth!
This fact was brought home quite dramatically to Cape Town when we experienced a severe drought. There was very low rainfall during the 2015-2017 winter seasons. In addition, the demand for water has been increasing steadily every year due to the Western Cape province’s rapidly growing population and economy. This, plus rapid climate change and unpredictability, has added significant pressure on the water supply.
Capetonians suddenly had to contend with level 6B water restrictions in their everyday life, i.e. individual use of municipal water was restricted to 50 litres per person per day. There was a very real risk that Cape Town would be the first major city in the world to run out of water if residents didn’t adhere to the limitations…
The drought severely affected the daily operations at the Shark Education Centre. Children need to use the loo! We started including the drought in the daily engagement with the children. We asked them to be part of the solution by employing the simple rhyme: if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.
We also installed rainwater tanks, with a combined storage capacity of 3,800 litres. This water was, and still is, used for flushing toilets, washing wetsuits and other equipment used in our education programmes; and for garden and household maintenance.
The way we use water has been one of the Shark Education Centre’s most successful environmentally conscious changes. Since restrictions have been relaxed in 2018, our water usage has continued to stay well below pre-drought consumption levels. Even with school groups visiting us almost daily!
Our relationship with water has fundamentally been altered: water doesn’t come from a tap. Water takes a long and arduous journey from the sea to the clouds (evaporation); to the catchment areas (precipitation); to the dams and municipal pipes (groundwater recharge and surface flow); and eventually to a tap which we open. It is time we give water the respect it deserves.