By Lew Blank
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 1 of VARSITY News.
As Cape Town prepares for Day Zero — a potentially catastrophic event in which the city could be forced to turn off water taps — University of Cape Town students are regularly exceeding the university’s 50 litres per day water guidelines.
According to data released to VARSITY Newspaper by UCT Water Management, students living in Smuts Hall used an average of 72 litres of water per day last February, nearly 50% more than what UCT’s guidelines recommend. This figure does not include water used outside of the residence, including bottled water and toilets located in buildings other than Smuts Hall.
Although the students’ usage of 72 litres per day complies with the city’s Level Three guidelines, which allow for 105 litres of water use per day, it falls short of the 50 litre target set out by UCT administrators.
One of the largest obstacles preventing students from complying with UCT’s guidelines is the university’s recommendation of one 90 second shower per day. Many students feel that limiting their showers to one minute and a half, including time spent waiting for the water to heat up, is an unreasonable request.
Abby, who requested that her last name be concealed to avoid potential embarrassment, said that she finds it impossible to spend only 90 seconds in the shower each day.
“A two minute shower I can do, [but] not on days when I wash my hair,” she said. “I take two showers per day, sometimes more…on a normal schoolday, what will happen is I’ll get up, shower, then go to school…come home, and shower.”
Abby also expressed that, in an attempt to stay healthy, she sometimes exceeds UCT’s guidelines for drinking water and washing hands. However, she has had more success at conserving water when washing the dishes, typically staying within UCT’s four litre guidelines, according to her own estimations.
When she arrived at UCT, Abby’s parents told her to be extremely conservative with water use. However, when she saw many fellow students at her residence regularly exceeding UCT’s water use guidelines, she felt less worried about her own water consumption.
“Seeing that people weren’t that stressed about it [made me feel less] stressed about it,” she said.
Many UCT students felt even less concerned about their water intake when the City of Cape Town lowered its water restrictions on 1 October, 2018, which coincided directly with a large spike in water use. October 2018 had the highest levels of water usage on record at Smuts Hall, according to UCT Water Management data.
The university hopes to use the data on water use to spot leaks and encourage students to be more thoughtful with how they consume water.
“The next challenge is to use the data to improve the management of water [and to] invest time in giving users feedback,” said Kevin Winter, the chair of UCT’s Water Task Team.