The zero heroes making a splash amid Cape Town's drought

06 July 2017 - 08:21 By Petru Saal
Brian Brooks of Tokai explains the tank‚ filters and pumps that allow him to run his house off his borehole.
Brian Brooks of Tokai explains the tank‚ filters and pumps that allow him to run his house off his borehole.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

Brian Brooks’s home does not tell the tale of a city knee-deep in a water crisis. His grass is green‚ his enormous pool brimful. And his water bill? Zero.

Brooks‚ 68‚ is one of the many Capetonians innovating and adapting to water scarcity‚ and in his case that has meant spending R30,000 on storage‚ filtration and pumps so that his home can run on the plentiful flow from his borehole.

“I don’t think many people have done this before because it was such a mission to put the whole thing together‚” said Brooks‚ from Tokai. “At one shop you have to buy the tank. You have to buy the equipment somewhere else. You have to buy the pump somewhere else. But it’s worth it at the end.”

He began by having his borehole water analysed‚ and the two filters deal with the impurities it contained. He adjusts the pH by adding potash to his 900-litre storage tank‚ and an ultra-violet light deals with any microscopic bacteria that escape the filters.

Now family and friends are asking Brooks to build similar systems for them‚ but there’s a snag. “You can’t get tanks. Cape Town has gone mad.” he said.

De Wet Kotze‚ floor manager at a Brackenfell hardware store‚ admitted they were struggling to keep up with demand for tanks. “They were a hot seller even before the first rains started‚” he said.

Other items flying off the shelves include water-saving spouts‚ low-flow showerheads and greywater kits‚ which divert waste water from sinks‚ showers and washing machines into gardens.

Using greywater proved to be a steep learning-curve for the uninitiated whose stinky garden sprinklers got up neighbours’ noses. “Thou shalt not store grey water: This is the first law and may not be changed‚” warns the website of water specialists‚ Water Rhapsody Conservation Systems. Stored greywater produces methane and hydrogen sulphide. Various ways of eradicating the offensive smell have found their way to the market.

Mike Bekink‚ owner of Grey Water Systems‚ said he had a five-week waiting list for installations. “We have been going for about 10 years ... but our clientele has definitely increased since the start of the water crisis. Business has certainly picked up in the last two years‚” he said.

Andrew Sokolic‚ who runs the Water Shedding Western Cape Facebook page‚ said he had seen it grow to 55,000 members during the drought.

“I saw a massive increase in members from November last year when level 3 restrictions were announced‚” he said. Restrictions have since been escalated to level 4b‚ which bans all use of potable water outside‚ and Capetonians are being urged to limit individual water use to 87 litres a day.

Sokolic said group remembers reported six-month waits to have boreholes installed‚ and were even cleaning grey water so they could reuse it in washing machines. “Some have taken things to the extreme and have switched to showering only every third day‚” he said.

One Capetonian whose water bills have been zero‚ because her family kept its consumption within the City of Cape Town’s “lifeline” free supply of 200 litres a day‚ is Robyn Christenson‚ 41 from Edgemead. “We have had a zero bill since February this year‚” she said.

Christenson’s family of four disconnected the water supply to their toilets and refills them with water caught in buckets in the shower. “And we have short ‘cowboy’ showers‚ meaning we wet our bodies‚ switch off the shower and wash‚ then switch on the water to rinse‚” she said.

David Thomson‚ 57‚ from Bothasig said he had installed tanks totalling 4‚000 litres‚ which he fills from his borehole and with rainwater. “I use the water for showering‚ flushing the toilets‚ for everything except drinking.”

Catherine Pretorius‚ 54‚ from Durbanville‚ has also had a water bill of zero. “We bought two tanks with a volume of 1,000 litres each and use them to collect rain water. We collect our grey water and use it in the toilet. We shower every second night and take bird baths on the other days‚” she said.

But the days of a “zero bill” are over for many consumers. From July 1‚ the City of Cape Town is no longer supplying up to 6,000 litres of water a month‚ unless a household is indigent. Every litre of municipal water you use now has to be paid for.