Cape Town Water Crisis – Tips on How to Prepare Your Property and Garden for Rainfall After Drought

Updated on January 27, 2018
Heidi Smulders profile image

Heidi is a homemaker with two young boys. She currently compiles educational material and edits academic reports.

When looking at the advice, tips and ideas currently being shared on how to save water in the Western Cape during the drought, I realised that there is little or no information available on how to maximise the amount of water that is retained on your property and garden when rain eventually does fall.

For those fortunate enough to have homes and gardens, there are some other things that can be done in addition to installing water tanks to prepare for the first rainfalls that will, at some point, arrive to break this extended period of drought.

Water tanks set up to harvest roof-water.
Water tanks set up to harvest roof-water.

While there is still no sign of rain…

  • Clean all your gutters and remove new debris regularly. This with maximise the flow of water into your tanks and prevent water-loss from gutter overflow (especially if it falls onto a concrete surface and drains away). Water overflowing from gutters can also cause erosion in the soil below.

Debris and dust should be removed from gutters
Debris and dust should be removed from gutters

  • Improve your soil drainage. After extended periods of drought the soil can become so compact that it can’t absorb water quickly, often resulting in erosion or heavy runoff when the first rain arrives. Minimise this by de-compacting exposed soil (use a spade, fork or hoe to loosen as much topsoil as possible). Mix in compost or mulch to improve absorption into the soil.

Compacted soil
Compacted soil
Compacted soil which has been loosed using a garden fork
Compacted soil which has been loosed using a garden fork
Loosened soil mixed with mulch (dry grass and bark chips)
Loosened soil mixed with mulch (dry grass and bark chips)

  • Cover bare dirt with gravel or building stone. This is a relatively cheap way to prevent erosion and improve drainage. A layer of gravel will also slow down runoff from gently-sloping surfaces (e.g. unpaved driveways).

Gravel on hard soil
Gravel on hard soil
  • Collect and/or prepare mulch (see below). Dry leaves, grass, thatching, newspaper, gravel, flat stones etc. can be used.
  • Make sandbags (see below). Use strong bin bags to make sausage-shaped sandbags (make sure the sand is wrapped tightly and sealed well). Look at all your outside concrete surfaces and estimate how many bags you will need to direct rainfall from these surfaces into your garden. Make and store enough to use during the first rainfall/s. I made one quickly to take a picture - ideally, they should be wrapped more tightly.

Bin bag filled with sand.
Bin bag filled with sand.
  • Dig broad, shallow trenches around areas of concrete and fill them with gravel or stones (see below). These will help prevent erosion or water-logging and will increase soil infiltration.

A (pretend) broad, shallow trench next to sloping concrete.
A (pretend) broad, shallow trench next to sloping concrete.

When rain is imminent…

  • Add a thick layer of mulch around your plants. This will improve water retention in the soil and help protect plant root systems.

Thick mulch around a plant.
Thick mulch around a plant.
  • Spike the lawn heavily with a garden fork/pitchfork to help water infiltration. Some serious effort and motivation is required, especially if the soil is hard.

Spiking the lawn
Spiking the lawn

Just before the rain falls…

  • Direct water runoff from concrete surfaces (e.g. driveways and outside patios) into your garden. Place your sandbags in positions that enable them to direct water from concrete surfaces into the trenches you've prepared. While the picture below shows only one bag, you can use a few and pile them up in case of heavy rain. You can also place them intermittently down concrete slopes to slow down and divert the runoff as it goes down.

Place the bags so that water is diverted to the side instead of being lost down the driveway.
Place the bags so that water is diverted to the side instead of being lost down the driveway.
  • Put all houseplants outside.
  • Double-check your gutters and drains are clear.
  • Put additional water storage containers under all gutter outlets not connected to tanks, as well as to tank overflows (in case rainfall is heavy). Put out buckets, tubs, etc. to collect additional water.

It will take a fair amount of time and effort to use some of the ideas above, but they are all cost-free or relatively inexpensive water harvesting and conservation (WHC) methods which can be implemented now to make the most of any future rainfall. There are also many other WHC methods which can be used in your garden and home regardless of the rainfall in your area, and a multitude of excellent water-harvesting resources are available online from organisations such as the Water Research Commission and the FAO.

Questions & Answers

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      • Heidi Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

        Heidi Smulders 

        10 months ago from South Africa

        Thanks. Yes, we all do.

      • Johan Smulders profile image

        Johan Smulders 

        10 months ago from East London, South Africa

        Good advice but we usually take water very much for granted and so we need a lot of education.

      • Heidi Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

        Heidi Smulders 

        10 months ago from South Africa

        Thanks Alicia. It's a terrible situation for everyone there, let's hope the rains come soon!

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        These sound like great tips. I hope rain does come to Cape Town soon. The situation there sounds horrible. Your advice is important for making the best use of the rain when it does arrive.

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