A weak La Niña is currently bringing South Africa some wet weather. However, according to prof Francois Engelbrecht (Climate change specialist at the CSIR), this is not solving our water problems yet. South Africa is more vulnerable than many other countries with regard to climate change, as here, temperatures tend to soar at twice the speed as that of the rest of the world.

While South Africans are boasting that we are in the 30th position on a list of 200 countries with the least water, we are actually in a precarious 15th place as far as guaranteed water delivery is concerned. According to Fred van Zyl (Director of Strategic Planning at the Department of Water and Sanitation’s head office in Pretoria), our water run-off is inconstant and erratic. Moreover, our rainfall is less than the long-term average 60% of the time, with 70% during the recent drought. So, we were in a dorught situation 70% of the time. South Africa currently has 200 dams – but building more dams will not solve our water problems. The main reason for our concern about water security is bad risk management, a lack of expertise, and infrastructure that is not maintained or regenerated. Every year, up to 1 580 milliard litres of water is wasted as a result of leakages and theft – nearly twice as much water as that of the Vaal Dam! Although 96% of South Africans have access to a tap, only about 42% of these taps are in a working condition. Moreover, according to the Blue Drop Report, South Africa’s drinking water quality had declined sharply from 2013, especially in the country’s poorest provinces, and hundreds of millions of rands that had been budgeted for improving water quality had not been spent. The Green Drop Report that measures the quality of waste water, showed that water plants had deteriorated seriously since 2013-14.

Since water restrictions had been instituted in recent months, and made stricter recently, there had been a sharp increase in the demand for boreholes. According to Colin Rice (President of the Borehole Society of South Africa), there was a waiting list of about nine months, especially in affluent Gauteng and Cape residential areas, where people were desperate to get water for their designer gardens. In the Cape Peninsula, the water situation was a matter of great concern, as on 15 February, there was only sufficient water left 10 days. According to hydrogeologist, Andrew Johnstone, underground water levels do not decrease as quickly as dam levels, because there is no evaporation. Depending on weather conditions, groundwater is also replenished by leakages in municipal systems. About 10% of the water used to water gardens also flows back to the water table. Sales of pool tarpaulins had also increased. Depending on the quality, this will decrease water loss with anything from 70% to 95%. (Leanne George, Jan de Lange and Aldi Schoeman, Rapport, 29 January 2017).

On 11 February, one of our members, Rob Villarini, observed a beautiful feathered friend that is quite common to our area.

A Blackheaded Oriole (Oriolus larvatus; Zulu name umBhicongo) decided to come and enjoy a late afternoon snack in their garden. The photo, taken by well known bird photographer, Albert Froneman, was kindly provided by his father, Willie Froneman, birding expert and friend of our Conservancy. Currently, 87 different bird species are listed on the Conservancy’s species observation list. Hearfelt thanks to all our members and readers who send us birding information and photos regularly.

If you install a bat box near your stables and encourage bats into your environment you might have a fighting chance of preventing your horses from contracting the deadly African Horse Sickness (AHS).

The AHS virus is spread by a tiny midge named Culicoides imicola that is active in the early morning from around dawn and late afternoon towards sunset. C.imicola is only one of an estimated 1 000 varieties of midge occurring worldwide. Insect-eating bats feed from early evening to early morning, when they consume a vast number of insects. They require masses of insects daily to sustain their high-metabolism systems (about 3 000 midges per night). Being opportunistic feeders, they go after just about anything in their path. Thus, they constitute another weapon in your war against mosquitoes, flies and other flying bugs- cost-free and completely natural. C.imicola is also a transmitter of the bluetongue virus, a serious disease of sheep and goats, so keepers of sheep should also install a bat box near their animal housing. If you would like to introduce bats to your property, you should offer them decent housing. For more information on installing bat boxes, contact Eco Solutions: 011 791 7326. (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).

From the second week in January, our valley has had soft, soaking rain, which resulted in the Magalies River running again from 8 January.

We are very thankful for this, as it means that ground water levels will start rising again. A section of the Hartebeestfontein Road (near Saddle Creek) was practically impassable, and a number of vehicles got stuck there on 9 January. This road was graded on 17 January, which means that it will be very dusty until it rains again (seeing that people tend to speed on this road), and, if it rains again any time soon, one will have to drive very carefully on this stretch of road.

In other parts of the country, dam levels have been rising steadily. The effect of the drought will, however, be experienced for a while still, and water restrictions will remain in place for the time being. Depending on specific areas, the lifting of restrictions will only be considered if dam levels reach an average of 70% capacity. On 24 January, the Vaal Dam’s level was 63,2% compared to only about 30%, before it started raining in the catchment area (RSG News). Dam levels in Natal and the Cape Province are, however, alarmingly low, and at the time of compiling this newsletter, a number of serious veld fires were ravaging large parts of the Cape Province in mainly mountainous areas, amid heat wave conditions. Although all municipalities in the affected areas don’t have sufficient resources, they cooperated in fighting the fires. However, as soon as a fire was brought under control, the strong winds would cause it to flare up again. The strong winds also prevented the helicopters from helping with the fire fighting, as they could not take to the air. In the Calvinia area, where dense, bushy plants burned like wildfire, due to their ceraceous and oily nature, about 10 000 hectares of grazing were destroyed, this amid one of the worst droughts in decades.

Did you know? One out of every five South Africans (about 12 million people) get water from the Vaal Dam (DSTV News, 4 January 2017). All rain that falls to the south of the Witwatersrand Ridge flows into the Vaal River. Many visitors to Gauteng wonder why, even in times of drought when other rivers might run dry, the Vaal River near Vereeniging and Van der Bijl Park is always full of water to the same level. That’s because the river, as it flows past those two towns, is effectively a 64km long dam itself, its waters held there by the Barrage, a 10m high spillway across the river between Van der Bijl Park and Parys, completed in 1923.

A busy time in and around the hives: With good rains upon us there will be plenty of honey for well managed bee swarms. Activity around the hives now becomes very busy, when only a short while ago during the heat waves and dry air, all looked doom and gloom. The nectar secreted by flowers in the mornings no longer dries up by 09:00, as during drought times, and the bees are able to forage practically all day (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).

Increase in frog populations: As a result of the soft, soaking rain and mostly cloudy weather, frog populations have increased at some speed. So, at dawn and dusk, we’re able to see a hive of activity, and every night we’re treated to a wonderful chorus. A while ago, a tiny little frog made its home in Lourie Laatz’s cement garden frog. Unfortunately, frogs also attract snakes, and Lourie thinks that the little frog might have fallen prey to a large Snouted Cobra that they found close by, which also bit their one dog. 

On New Year’s day, two dogs of one of our members, Margot Stephen, was poisoned when they went with her to the gate that morning and ate something outside the gate.

One of the dogs died instantly, but the other one fortunately pulled through. The veterinarian who treated this dog, identified the poison as Aldicarb (Temik), also known as “Two Step”. A number of such incidents have already taken place in our Conservancy. Our members are requested to be on the lookout for odd bits of meat lying around which may contain the poison. This poison is deadly and causes resparatory problems, among others.

Important: Toll free number of the Poison Information Centre: 0861 555 777

We have often reported about the fact that, as soon as one has established a sorting system for glass, plastic, tins, organic waste, paper and card board, the problem of dealing with household rubbish becomes much less of a burden.

Reducing the impact of organic waste: Fruit and vegetable peelings, unused stems and stalks, pips, eggshells, teabags, mouldy bread and just about any dry foodstuff that has gone stale, or is found to contain weevils, can be composted, or added to a worm farm. Coffee grounds and the dregs from your coffee plunger or percolator can be used as a gentle acidifying agent on loving plants such as strawberries. Meat and fish bones, fish skin, heads and entrails, and limited quantities of fat, which attract flies if not dealt with promptly, can be buried in a progressive trench which, when filled will become a nutrition-rich planting bed. Dig a trench at least two shovels-ful deep, and enclose it in a dog-proof fence. Add the day’s bones, etc., and cover them with a couple of shovels-ful of soil. Sprinkling the bones with a handful of agricultural lime before covering them with soil will speed up their disintegration. Continue to add waste atop your earlier contributions until you are about a shovel-depth from the surface, when you add soil to fill to the top.

Miscellaneous paper and cardboard is often left out of the recycling equation: If you set aside a separate box for this material, and flatten it before adding to the box, you will be surprised by how much can be diverted from your bedroom or study waste paper baskets and recycled. This includes envelopes, discarded magazines and newspapers, flyers delivered through the mail, the little boxes which contain your medication, and those that contain dry kitchen products such as herbs and spices, light bulbs and cosmetics, toilet roll and paper towel cores, and the blister packaging in which you buy a myriad small products such as batteries, razors, USB sticks, etc., not to mention the packaging attached to kitchen utensils and many other supermarket products. A separate box can be used to contain much clean plastic and cellphone packaging, including muesli and seed packets, torn bank coin bags and the like. (Gauteng Smallholder, Vol 17 (11), November 2016).

Recycle your old printers, computers and ink cartridges – visit www.ewasa.org

With reference to our article about water saving, some grey water facts: Calculate your grey water production before you spend money recycling it, because you probably generate less re-usable water than you think. A simple set of numbers will help you calculate your domestic grey water production:

  • A five-minute shower will generate about 35 litres. This can be reduced considerably by using a modern water-saving shower head.
  • A standard bathroom basin holds eight litres if filled to just below the overflow hole.
  • A standard kitchen sink holds 15 litres if not filled to the brim.
  • Modern water-efficient dishwashers use as little as 15 litres per cycle.
  • A modern washing machine uses between 50 and 120 litres per cycle (depending on the duration of the cycle used).
  • If you still use a bath for your daily hygiene, bank on using 300 or more litres per tub, depending on how full you make it.
  • Water used for mopping and scrubbing floors can be added at a rate of eight to ten litres per bucket. Similarly, a few litres can be added for the water used to rinse basins, showers, etc.

Thus, a household of three people, showering, using a dishwasher and washing machine once daily, will only generate about 250 litres of grey water (just more than a drum-full) daily, not including drinking water and toilet flushing. If you use grey water for irrigation, you should keep a watch on the pH of your soil and adjust if necessary. Better still, rotate the area you use grey water on frequently, giving parts of your garden a break from receiving a constant dose of what is in effect a weak liquid chemical fetilizer. (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).