Navigating Water Conservation

A South African case study – Navigating water conservation in your garden during the looming El Niño

As the sun takes centre stage and temperatures begin to increase, South Africa (SA) prepares to embrace its vibrant growing season. A time of renewal and transformation which holds a promise to abundant crops and blooming flora. However, with water scarcity and climate change ever-present in the country, it becomes imperative to adopt water conservation principles.

South Africa is classified as a water scarce country due to its semi-arid climate and high evaporation rates. Our annual average rainfall is about 450 mm/year which is below the world’s annual average rainfall of 860 mm/year. With the increase of climate change episodes, the rainfall volumes and atmospheric temperatures are predicated to be further impacted. On record, SA’s rainfall volume has decreased by 1.5 mm per month which is equivalent to 3.7 % decline per decade since 1960. To further exacerbate the issue – temperatures are predicted to increase by 1.1 °C to 2.4 °C by 2060 and 1.6 °C to 4.3 °C by 2090.

Recently, SA climate Scientists issued warnings to the government, businesses, and communities about the impending El Niño. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate phenomenon that is considered extremely important due to its ability to alter global atmospheric circulation. The El Niño and La Niña recurrent climate trends in the tropical Pacific are known as the cold and hot phases, respectively. South African Researchers have revealed that there is evidence pointing towards a moderateto-strong El Niño forming in 2023 based on regular monitoring of the ENSO system. These findings suggest that many gardeners, businesses, government, and the public should start preparing for the probable effects of El Niño.

Historical data taken from the SA Weather Service’s website indicated that between July 2022 – September 2022 most parts of the country experienced low average rainfall volumes ranging from 0 mm to 50 mm. This places us at a vulnerable position, because the El Niño effect could further delay the first rainfalls which are essential for our gardens. As the growing season is upon us, the need to increase water use to preserve young seedlings and encourage seed germination is inevitable. Thus, gardeners need to carefully consider what is required for the conservation of our limited water resources.

To navigate the potential effect of El Niño, these are some of the essential #WaterWise principles you can incorporate in your garden:

  • Hydrozoning: Group plants with similar watering requirements to reduce the needless use of water.
  • Greywater systems: Use treated greywater (reuse water collected from bathtubs, showers, etc.,) to water your garden.
  • Rainwater harvesting: During the rainy season, collect rainwater using rain barrels or rain tanks to water plants during the drier seasons.
  • Watering times: Water your garden early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is less intense.
  • Mulching: Applying a layer of organic mulch (bark chips or straw) around your plant helps preserve soil moisture.
The Gardener