Cape Town is poised to be the first modern city to run out of water. With a daily quota of 50 liters a day, I knew I would need to make some changes. If Toggl can help me become more productive, can it also make me water wise?
From above, the city appears water abundant; the sea stretches uninterrupted for miles to the south, west, and east. But as you move inland beyond the city center, suburbs, and townships, the drought becomes apparent. With the sun hanging in the sky for 14 hours at the hight of the summer months, the land has brittled and dried, unable to absorb rain even if it were to fall. The cities water supply has run down at Theewaterskloof dam, the largest reservoir in the supply system, revealing nearly 10 km of land that had been submerged for decades.
Cape Town relies on rain for its municipal water. The city may have been able to recover from a persistent dry season, however, months without rain have turned to years and potential for crisis is looming.
When I arrived, the city had implemented Level 6 water restrictions: 87 liters of water, per person, per day. By early February, restrictions had raised to level 7 and we had lost 37 liters a day. With the new quota of 50 liters, I began to ask – how do I really know what 50 liters looks like?
If I gave you a tub and a challenged you to fill it to the 50-liter point, I don’t think you’d be able to do it. I wouldn’t. We don’t generally think about water in terms of volume. But we do think about it in terms of time. How could I make sure I was following regulation? Easy – time it.
I’m not going to bore with all the details. My main need was a system where I could press a button and find the liters used according to the recorded time. The first thing I did was break down my water usage into categories: Shower, Laundry, Toilet, Hygiene, Cooking, and Dishes.
The next task was to calculate how many liters/ milliliters each category used. Since I would be entering the ML into Toggl’s billable hour area, I would have to calculate how many ML per hour each task would use.
Some activities use a set amount of water, such as Laundry and Flushing. For those, I found the fixed ML they used, multiplied it by 60 and would then just enter them manually as a minute in Toggl, irrespective of how much time they actually took.
The rest depended more strictly on time. For these, I would take the average amount per source (shower head or tap) and do the same calculation. From start to finish, it took about 25 minutes to find and enter all the data. These are the numbers I came up with:
Shower = 480 ML Per Hour/ 8 L Per Minute
Flush = 540 ML Per Hour/ 9 L Per Minute
Hygiene = 480 ML Per Hour/ 8 L Per Minute
Cooking = 480 ML Per Hour/ 8 L Per Minute
Dishes = 480 ML Per Hour/ 8 L Per Minute
Laundry = 42 ML Per Cycle
Since Hygiene, Cooking, and Dishes all share the same water source, a tap, I used the same rate.
I also chose a few simple rules for the experiment:
- I had to track a business week worth of water usage (5 Days).
- It didn’t matter how small the use was; everything had to be tracked.
- I would only track water I had direct control over and therefore could accurately measure.
- I wouldn’t track bottled water consumption (which was most of my drinking water). Any other drinking water was included in cooking.
The Water Experiment
Before I got to Cape Town, I wanted to get a baseline of how much water I was using on a daily basis. I started, and mostly failed, at tracking. One thing I did manage to track was showers. The week before I left, I had 2 shower entries: one for 14 minutes and 30 seconds and the other for 11 minutes and 12 seconds.
That works out to 200 Litres. For only 2 showers. No laundry, no cooking, no toilet. In Cape Town, I would have 350 L per week. I was in trouble.
After arriving, my biggest hurdle was actually timing all my use. I continued to track showers consistently but smaller uses, such as hand washing and cooking, were troublesome. I was determined to get at least a week of consistent tracking.
For my first week, I averaged 4 minutes and 35 seconds per shower. Much better than previous times, but still too long to put me within the 50L per day range. Eye Witness News released this infographic to break down the 50L:
I would need to keep my showers under 90 seconds to meet city guidelines.
I also needed to make sure I was hitting the start button with every use. I set several alarms on my phone with a reminder to track. I also started bringing my phone with me everywhere. Those methods aided my consistency.
For my first day of full tracking, I managed to come in at 22.59 L. Not too shabby. This wasn’t a huge challenge since I ate one meal out, had snacks for lunch and only cooked dinner. I also didn’t shower.
Eating out felt a bit like cheating. Even though I didn’t personally use the water, there was water used. Although it falls outside of the rules of this experiment, I began to consider how much water goes into almost everything we make and consume. For example, I had a glass of wine from a Cape Town vineyard with dinner. It takes an average of 128 liters of water to make 5 oz of wine.
It wouldn’t be realistic to measure this use, however, the experiment already had the byproduct of increasing my awareness of the environmental impact of what I consumed.
Day 2 had pretty similar stats: 36.33 liters. My routine remained mostly the same. I had leftovers for dinner, cooked a bit and snacked. I didn’t shower.
This was the day everything went wrong.
The day started out promising. I was on track with the usual water use and had the shortest shower time to date. I wish I could say this was a result of practice, however, it was a product of circumstance. I had moved places earlier in the week and the shower at the new place wasn’t working. I used the good ‘ol bucket of water method, which put my time well below the recommended 90 seconds.
After I had finished my work for the day, I headed over to Camps Bay, a popular beach area to stroll around and take some photos. While walking along a thick wall separating an enclosed pool from the ocean, there was an incident that resulted in a wave water-logging a fairly expensive camera.
I immediately got rice from a nearby grocer, struggled with a ride-sharing app that decided it would be a good day to malfunction, had my phone battery die, managed to find an ATM as it grew dark, took a taxi ride in cab that felt like it was moments away from engine failure and managed to get to my home on the other side of the city.
I felt defeated. I ordered a pizza and ate the whole thing. I know I used water later that evening for bedtime hygiene but I was too over the day to track it.
My tracked usage was 37.70 L. From what I’ve learned about water, I don’t think my evening usage would have put me over the 50 L point.
I spent most of day 4 going through the stages of grief (spoiler alert: the camera survived). I didn’t track any usage.
By day 5, I was ready to pick myself up and get back to tracking. Unfortunately for my water usage, it was laundry day. This was where all the unused water of day 1-3 would end up. A load of laundry on average takes 50L. I looked up the machine details and found that the eco setting would use 42L.
The shower was also fixed that day, so that added to the total. I did, however, manage to get the usage down to 2 minutes which was my lowest non-bucket shower time. My total for the day was 96.70 L
I added an extra day to compensate for not tracking on day 4. Day 6 was fairly uneventful. My usage was around the same as day 1-3, coming in at 27.34 L.
What I Learned
The total amount of water used over the 5 days was 219.66 L with 43.93 as my average usage per day. Assuming I continued with those habits on the last 2 days of the week, I would come in just under 350 L per week.
Checking out the data, I’m fairly pleased with my results. I’m sure there are ways I’ll be able to reduce my usage further, however, going from using 200 L in 2 showers to 200 L for 5 days feels like an accomplishment.
Water use is something I’m more aware of now. When I leave Cape Town, the new habits I’ve formed will follow. There are some I may need to drop. I’m not sure the ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow’ rule will be looked upon kindly in other places. However utilizing grey water – the relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines, etc – for other purposes is something I’m going to strongly consider implementing wherever and whenever possible.
I’ve also learned about the difficulties of actually getting started with time-tracking. I had more issues remembering to start my timer than actually saving water. This really enforced the need to make time tracking a habit. Doing this experiment has grown my curiosity about other unexpected aspects of my life I might be able to track with Toggl.
- The most water-consuming thing I cooked was hard-boiled eggs. This also became a point of frustration as I’d normally soak the eggs in cold water after boiling so I could peel and eat them sooner. This is likely the most mundane problem you could have, but it really was my biggest gripe of this process. It takes eggs a really long time to cool down.
- Along those lines, I’m surprised how little water I used in the cooking process. I would have expected this to be one of the major categories but it was generally one of the lowest.
- As an able-bodied, 20-something, bucket showering bothered me much less than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want it to be my everyday reality, but I did continue to use the method in the weeks after. Seriously, the egg thing bothered me way more than the bucket thing.