Water is not a single use resource

It has never been a more important to change the way we think about water. Today is World Water Day, and it serves as a good reminder that clean water is not something we can simply use once and flush away. This is a global challenge. The BBC recently reported that  drinking water supplies of major cities like London, Miami, Tokyo and Beijing, are under threat. And UN-backed research predicts that the global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030. 

Our ongoing experience in South Africa has shown us more than ever that water is a precious resource. And we must learn to conserve, reuse and recycle that resource.

South Africa’s Western Cape region has been suffering the worst drought in more than 100 years and the threat of Day Zero – when the area officially runs out of water – has been looming over the region since the beginning of the year. Climatologists estimate that it could take three years of above-average rainfall for freshwater levels to recover. 

Responding to the crisis, local businesses and communities have rallied around. By using less and finding innovative measures to conserve water they have helped push Day Zero back to 2018. Day Zero may not be imminent, but the imperative to rethink how we consume water remains.

I could not be prouder of how Virgin Active South Africa has responded to the crisis. With 30 clubs in and around Cape Town, the team saw first-hand just how dramatic the impact of the worsening water shortage on the community was and continues to be. In response, Virgin Active has taken a completely fresh look at water use and put innovative solutions in place to conserve water. The team is also working with many community organisations to help them become water secure.

The numbers speak for themselves – Virgin Active’s water consumption is down a huge 61% last month compared to February 2016. But that’s just a start. 

Virgin Active is now planning for the future, and the measures that have been rolled out in the Western Cape are useful even in times of abundant water.

The ongoing plan includes completing two pilot greywater systems - with remaining Western Cape clubs instillations to get underway in May. The grey water systems capture water from the showers. The water is filtered in a tank and then used to flush toilets. No drinking water will be used to flush toilets once all the grey water systems are installed.

This water crisis has really got us all thinking about how we can be doing things better and innovation will play a key role in conserving and reusing water.

At Virgin Active, the team have already drilled three boreholes. We have also invested in water treatment plants so that clubs with boreholes can process the water up to drinking standards through reverse osmosis. These boreholes and treatment plants have the potential to yield enough water for all 30 Western Cape clubs. 

We are also planning for the future and will be using a private desalination plant as potential alternative water source in the event of water shedding or Day Zero. In case you’ve been wondering how Virgin Active keeps water in its pools: the team sources run-off water from manufacturing plants to top up the pools.

Droughts like the one we are seeing in the Western Cape are likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change. This will put many of our life-sustaining resources under pressure.  On World Water Day, we are all called upon to rethink water use in our lives. The time to act is now. How do you conserve water?


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