Water is a remarkable substance – central to life, it feeds our nations, drives our industry, washes away our troubles, quenches our thirst, and brings beauty and pleasure into our lives. Barbara Schreiner
South Africa is a country that, contrary to belief, does not have an abundant supply of water and could well be described as a semi desert region with a water shortage. The average rainfall of South Africa is 397mm, compared with a world average of 860mm.
|The distribution of water on the earth
- Ground Water
(Water found underground)
- Rivers, Lakes
From the table above, only 0,60% fresh water on earth is available for human consumption and the environment. It will therefore be a wise decision to use this resource efficiently.
Nelson Mandela once said:
“We in South Africa have ourselves faced hard questions and had to make hard choices in this regard. We know that political freedom alone is still not enough if you lack clean water. Freedom alone is not enough without light to read at night, without time or access to water to irrigate your farm, without the ability to catch fish to feed your family. For this reason the struggle for sustainable development nearly equals the struggle for political freedom. They can grow together or they can unravel each other. Threats to our governments in the century ahead will come from poverty, if anything.”
(Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs and aspirations of the current generation without compromising the ability to meet those of future generations).
To overcome this struggle between sustainable development and political freedom we have a responsibility to use our limited water resources equitably, and in ways that will not reduce their quality and usefulness for future users, or cause harm to the environment.
Factors contributing to a serious water crisis in South Africa are:
- Our increasing human population leads to an increase in water consumption – many of whom who do not have adequate access to water.
- Water loss through a high evaporation rate.
- Siltation of dams.
- An increase in droughts (Maybe a cause of global climate change, due to pollution?)
Situations will change and decisions in strategic matters will need to take our natural resources into consideration. Responsible management is the core of sustainable development.
The question arises whether water consumers in South Africa appreciate its relative scarcity in our country and exercise appropriate responsibility in its use and minimize the negative impacts of our activities.
Pollution as a negative Impact on Water quality
Pollution takes place as a result of point sources such as the discarding of waste through the end of a pipe, and diffuse sources such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fuel, diesel, oil, etc., finding their way into groundwater sources.
The usage of bulk fuel tanks underground, where leakages can occur is also an example of a point source where pollution can take place. In the past incidents of the groundwater having been irreversibly polluted have occurred; costing millions of rands to remediate the pollution by pumping out the polluted ground water over a period of time, treating it and replacing it with clean water. Waste dumps as well as leaking chemicals (example 210 L drums of fuel placed directly on soil) can also be pollution sources.A few every-day activities at your base that may cause water pollution:
- Refueling: a diesel, fuel spill.
- Usage of equipment and chemicals
- Waste: Littering.
- Storage of vehicles.
- Washing of vehicles and aircraft at an area with no separator pit.
- Usage and storage of chemicals oil, fuel, tar, etc.
- Storage and usage of pesticides and herbicides.
- Disposal of contaminated oil.
- The disposal of chemicals down the drain.
- Storage and disposal of hazardous waste (ex. used fluorescent light tubes.)
Our activities will always have impacts, but the requirement is for such impacts to be minimal, manageable and within acceptable limits, according to relevant Environmental legislation.
The National Environmental Management Act (Act no 107 of 1998, chapter 7 section 28) as well as the National Water Act (Act no 36 of 1998, chapter 3, part 4 section 19)
deal with pollution prevention.
To comply with legislation we must take reasonable measures to prevent pollution from happening.
Prevention of pollution
- Storage of chemicals (fuel, diesel, etc):
“Bunded” walls or an area build (according to South African National Standards- SANS) to contain the source, when leaking occurs.
Have drip trays and fuel spill kits ready! Be alert while refueling and focus on the job at hand. (Major spills have occurred in the past while refueling.)
Ensure the necessary standard oil /grease traps or separator pits are in place at wash bays, refueling areas, workshops, fuel sidings, kitchens, etc. (Refer to SANS)
- Hazardous Waste ex Fluorescent Light Tubes:
A waste company must dispose off hazardous waste (ex. fluorescent light tubes). The company must give a disposal certificate to the relevant member dealing with the waste company.
- Waste: Litter
Don’t litter! In the biodegrading process of waste, chemical reactions take place that may have a negative impact on groundwater.
- Usage of equipment and chemicals:
Be responsible in your actions and try to avoid any negative impact your activity may have on the environment.
Humans are always the last receptors in environmental pollution and pollution will therefore affect human health!
Water resources available must be used in an efficient way at our Air Force Bases as to ensure the availability of this scarce resource for generations to come.
There are essentially three ways to save water: Reduce, Re-use and Repair.
1. Water Efficiency at work:
Reduce your daily usage of water and identify ways in which you can be efficient in water usage. Be more water wise:
- Put a 1 litre plastic bottle filled with water in a toilet’s cistern to reduce the amount of water used when flushed. A toilet uses 11 litres of water every time it is flushed and is the biggest user of indoor water. If a toilet is used 16 times a day at a section it will use 176 litres of water per day. If a 1 litre plastic bottle is placed in the cistern, the section can save 16 litres of water per day by being water wise.
- Sections can also refit their toilets with a dual flush system that uses less water every time when flushed. A dual-flush system uses less water (4 litres per flush) for liquid wastes and more water (9 litres per flush) for solid wastes.
- Sweeping the paving instead of washing it down with water.
Reduce your daily usage of electricity. (Water is used in the generation process of electricity). Switch off the lights as well as other electrical appliances when no one is present in the office for a long period of time.
Re-use water wherever possible. Virtually all water coming out of a tap can be used at least twice and is called grey water. Identify water that you can re-use elsewhere. Some plants don’t respond well to soaps and detergents, but grey water can be re-used on most lawns.
Repair leaking pipes, taps and toilets cisterns or report to the Facility & Environmental Management Section (FEMS) at your base. A dripping tap can waste as much as 60 litres of water per day or 1 800 litres per month. A leaking toilet can waste up to 100 000 liters of water per year.
Outside the office area we can also have an indirect impact on water usage. Whether it is the eradication of alien invasive plants or water wise gardening.
2. Invasive plants and the environment
Invading alien plants have become established in over 10 million hectares of land in South Africa and are the single biggest threat to plant and animal biodiversity. These plants waste 7% of our water resources, intensify flooding and fires; cause erosion, destruction of rivers, siltation of dams and estuaries, poor water quality and can cause a mass extinction of indigenous plants and animals. These plants consume more water than indigenous plants and therefore lead to the loss of water in catchments.
This is the reason why alien invader plants must be removed from our Air Force Bases! Focus more on planting indigenous and water wise plants. The Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA) provides for the control of weeds and invader plants.
3. Water Wise Gardening on Air Force Bases:
Gardens are one of the biggest water consumers and can be designed and maintained in a water efficient way.
a. Water at the right time
(Watering at the right time of the day saves water and money.)
- Avoid watering on windy days, as evaporation rates are higher than on a calm day.
- Water less often in winter and more often in summer.
- Water less often in cool weather and more frequently in hot weather.
- Water at a cool time of the day to reduce evaporation – evening or early morning. Watering in the morning decreases the chance of mildew.
- When good rains fall, stop watering for a few days.
Water deeply but less often. Deep soaking encourages roots to utilize moisture deep in the ground and enable plants to thrive between watering and in times of drought.
b. The amount of water needed depends on the soil type.
- Water clay soils heavily but slowly and less often.
- Water sandy soils frequently with less water.
- Water loamy soils with a moderate amount of water but less often than sandy soils.
c. Zone the garden
Group plants together according to their water requirements. The Low – or
No- water zones will contain plants, which use very little water and essentially survive on the rainfall available in the region. The medium water zone will contain plants that will need some extra watering. The high water zone will contain plants that require regular frequent watering.
Keep flowerbeds well mulched. Mulch keeps the roots of plants cool and moist, and also saves water by preventing evaporation. Mulching also reduces erosion by allowing water to penetrate the soil. Types of mulch are large bark chips, pine needles, partially decomposed compost, fallen leaves and lawn clippings.
e. Choosing the right plant
Another way of conserving water is to choose climate-appropriate plants. This includes all indigenous plants that are endemic to your region, as well as plants from other parts of the world with a similar climate to your own regional climate. Planting indigenous plants is always more of an advantage with regards to the conservation of South Africa’s indigenous flora and by preserving ecosystems in the garden. Naturally drought –resistant plants: some water-efficient characteristics:
- Grey foliage
Water efficient plants often have grey or blue-green leaves. The light colour reflects the sun’s rays away from the plant, thereby keeping the plant cooler, which in turn reduces transpiration. Examples are some succulents and the African daisy (Arctotis spp.)
- Hairy leaves
Hairs surrounding the stomata (minute openings, through which water is transpired) slow down air movement past the stomata, thereby reducing water loss. Examples are Lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina) and Gazanias or Gousblom.
- Closing leaves
The leaves of some plants close when they are water stressed. This reduces the number of stomata exposed to sunlight, and reduces water loss through transpiration.
- Waxy cuticle
A waxy coating to the leaf helps to prevent moisture loss. Kalanchoe spp. and wild figs (Ficus spp.) are examples.
- Plants with lighter colours on the undersides of their leaves
When stressed, they turn the lighter side upwards to reflect the sun away. Examples are Gazanias and Wild olive (Olea europaea susp. africana).
- Reduced number of leaves
Some plants reduce moisture loss by dispensing with them. Other plants start shedding their leaves during drought periods, in order to reduce moisture loss. Examples are the karee (Rhus lancea), Acacia spp., Buffalo thorn (Zizziphus mucronata).
- Sturdy internal structures
Soft-stemmed plants wilt easily in the heat. Water wise plants have a strong internal skeleton, which supports the leaf and prevents wilting, enabling them to survive for longer periods without water. Examples are the Crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) and Thatching reed (Chondropetalum tectorum).
- Leaf size and shape
Many water wise plants have small or needlelike leaves. This minimizes the surface area from which water is lost by evaporation. Examples are the Blue marguerite (Felicia amelloides) and Erica spp.
- Succulent leaves
Water is stored in thick fleshly leaves to be available when necessary. Examples are Aloe spp. and Vygies.
These were just a few ideas on how to be water efficient. In the end we will all benefit from being water wise as well as ensure the availability of this precious resource for ourselves… and most importantly for our children.
Although our country does have the National Water Act to regulate all matters relating to water, the saving of water should not be seen as a nuisance and something we have to do. It should be part of our daily routine and a way of life.
The Limpopo river, according to
the National State of the
Environment in 1996 is one of the
Rivers that exceeded the amount of
Information obtained from Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Rand Water, Department of Agriculture, Tshwane University of Technology and Northwest University – Centre for Environmental Management.
For ways on how to prevent pollution and to be water efficient on your base, contact your Base Environmental Manager for more information.
Lt. D. Naidoo at (012) 312-2568 Air command Unit – DBSS