17 July 2008

Water conservation and water tanks

There is so much one could write concerning water conservation. Everyone uses water. We all need it to survive and yet it's one of those things that we don't take a lot of notice of until we have to. As you know, we harvest and store as much water as we can on our property. It is used outside on the animals, chickens and garden. Inside, we use our town water supply but we are extremely frugal with every drop. Water is easy to use and waste. I found this list that shows just how much common household activities use. That is a lot of water running down the drain.

Brushing teeth with tap running 5 litres 1.1 gallons
Flushing toilet on a dual single flush 5 litres 1.1 gallons
Flushing toilet on a dual full flush 10 litres 2.2 gallons
A load in the dishwasher 50 litres 10.9 gallons
A 5 minute shower 100 litres 21.9 gallons
Hosing the driveway 100 litres 21.9 gallons
A load in the washing machine 150 litres 32.9 gallons
Washing car with hose 200 litres 43.9 gallons
Garden sprinkler per hour 1000 litres 210 gallons

There is another list of water usage here. There are level 5 water restriction in our capital city of Brisbane. People are required to use less than 140 litres per person. We use much less than that and we have found it quite easy to do it.

I think there are three ways you can go on this:
  1. If you don't have a garden and only use water indoors, then the obvious thing to do is to work out a good way to cut down on your water usage inside your home.
  2. Like us, you could harvest your rainwater, store it in tanks and use it for all your outdoor needs and team this with a water conservation program inside.
  3. You could harvest rainwater and have your tank water plumbed into your home to flush toilets, or if you have enough water, for all your indoor needs. You would probably also team this with frugal water usage.
You can monitor how much water you use by learning how to read your water meter. If you're in Australia you can learn how here and here. There is information here and here for my USA friends, and here and here for my UK friends.

If you are living in an area with high air pollution or there are a lot of birds or wildlife that can get on your roof, you may be able to install a first flush diverter that will run-off the first flush of water from your roof, then divert the flow after that to your tank. This will help you with water purity if you intend to drink the water you harvest. Here is a guide to maintaining a healthy water tank.

General maintenance requires that you check for leaks and make sure your mosquito screens are in place and not blocked with leaves or other debris. You'll also need to keep your roof guttering clear of debris. If you own a plastic tank, every few years, whenever your tank is empty, or close to it, you should tip the tank over, hose it out and reconnect it. There is information about desludging and cleaning your tank here.

Size of various types of Australian water tanks are here, check the Slimline and Transport types too. The links are on the right. Mrs T, although these might not be available in Israel, it will give you and Mr T an idea of what is in common use here. There are space saving water tanks here.

How can I make sure that my water is safe to drink? from here.
The following simple precautionary measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of harmful
microorganisms or chemicals being a problem in your water supply.
  • Collect and store your water so that contamination from human, chemical or animal sources is minimised. If possible, store drinking water in an above ground tank rather than in an underground tank.
  • Ensure that surface runoff, channel water, irrigation water, leakage from sewer pipes, sullage drainage or shallow underground seepage cannot enter your drinking water supply.
  • Make sure that any deep bore used as a source of drinking water is properly encased, with an above ground wellhead. A deep bore should ideally be located at least 250 metres away from any sources of pollution likely to affect groundwater quality.
  • Do not collect water for drinking from recently painted roofs, timber roofs preserved with chemicals, roofs coated with lead-based paints or tar-based coatings, or parts of roofs near flues from solid wood heaters. Most other roof types will normally be safe for water collection, provided they are kept clean.
  • Regularly clean your roof and gutter to remove leaves, animal or bird remains, dust and other debris. Install simple screens between your roof and the water tank.
  • The first rainfall after a dry period usually collects most of the contaminants on your roof.
  • Installing a ‘first flush’ or other diversion system will prevent this water from entering your water tank. This ‘first flush’ water can be stored separately and used for yard washing, garden watering or fire fighting.
  • If your house is in an agricultural area where there is a risk of being oversprayed by aerial chemical spraying, divert the collection pipe from your rainwater tank to prevent any pesticides from entering the tank. Clean the roof or wait until after the next rainfall before reconnecting your drinking water tank to your roof.
  • Maintain screens on the inlet and overflow openings of your water tank so that insects, small animals, birds and sunlight can not enter (this will also help to minimise the growth of algae).
  • Regularly maintain your water tank and clean out accumulated sludge from the floor.
  • Ensure that your domestic drinking water plumbing is completely separate from all other plumbing or pipe systems on your property. Use approved safe plumbing materials and ensure that all pipe joints are properly sealed.
  • Disinfect your water supply to kill any harmful microorganisms.
If you live in a bushfire zone, you'll need to give your tank some care after each fire. There is information about that here.

You should cover your water tank as algae will grow in water that is allowed to sit in the sun. All openings should be protected from mosquitoes with fine screening.

How many of you are monitoring your water usage now? Can you read your meter? Although water meters are on most Australian homes I am aware that this is not the case in all homes. Do you have access to your meter? This is an important part of every simple life and I'd be very interested knowing how you intend cutting back your water usage.



  1. Thanks for a most informative tutorial on water usage Rhonda. I'm always looking for ways to cut back on water, your links are great. I'll be back to this post several times.

    Enjoy your at home day.

  2. Hi Rhonda,

    If the trends in rainfall here in southern Australia continue, or worsen as predicted, then we've all got to conserve as much as we can. I truly can't understand why we're not on harsher restrictions in Melbourne at the moment.

    My DH has been reading and recording our daily useage of power, gas and water for almost two years now in what was almost a desparate attempt to reduce the extravagant consumption, mainly by our two adult daughters still living at home. Thankfully everyone has been able to cut back.

    Water has been the easiest one to conserve as there are so many things we've found we can do even though we don't have much in the way of tank water or grey water plumbing systems.

    Every bit of grey water I can get is collected in buckets to rinse or soak dirty pots and pans, tipped down the toilet as a "free" flush (we don't flush for urine) or used in the garden. Our shower and washing machine are "jerry-plumbed" to drain into a bathtub which I bucket (uphill!) to water the vegie garden. I also challenge myself by seeing how little water I can use to wash up the dishes in, and use a plastic tub for the rinse water so it's not wasted. We have a jug kept in the shower so that when the hot tap is turned on and you're waiting for it to run hot, the water is collected for "clean" use. A sponge wash instead of a shower (on colder days when you're not totally sweaty) takes only 2-4 litres. Taking a moment to think about what we're doing every single time a tap is turned on has helped enormously.

    It was, however, mighty interesting to note that the week one of our DD's was away the three remaining adults collectively used only 214 litres per day. Iknow we could even do better than this. When she's home it jumps to 355 litres per day, a difference of 141 litres just for her personal use! It looks like she'd have a hard time surviving on level 5 restrictions!

    Regards, Marilyn

  3. I so agree with you on the water issue. Here in south Texas, it gets blazing hot most of the year, and we rarely get rain. I have really begun to see how valuable it would be to have rain barrels for collecting. Wish our city would get with the program in giving rebates and such for people wishing to conserve.

  4. we do not have water meters here in Lower Hutt - NZ. Our water here comes from a big aquifer under the valley and from the local Hutt River. We are very blessed by our water though with the weather changing - we are getting some dry summers and even occaisional dry winters.
    I am careful about our water use and try to catch some rain from the downpipes during summer. Dont really have any decent tanks but several 30- 50 litre containers. I have a small vege garden and either water by hand with a hose or using stored water and the watering can.
    I would like to get a larger tank one day but my DH is not that supportive of this.
    I am sure that I heard that in the next decades, water will become the new gold. So so precious and very scarce!

  5. I've been posting about water issues too lately, after reading the book Blue Gold and reviewing it for the Blogging Bookworm. It just doesn't get any more basic than water!

    Thanks for all this very thorough information - I will certainly incorporate it into my own conservation and water collection efforts.

  6. We currently have a 23,000L tank, and have been running our whole house (or shed rather) off it since November without having to resort to mains water at all. We are on the outskirts of a main city, but filter all our water just in case of polution. Soon we'll have another tank of the same size, so we hopefully will be able to be totally self sufficient for water.

    Another suggestion for saving water is to use AAA rated appliances etc. For example, our AAA rated dishwasher only uses 11L for a normal wash, and our front loader washing machine only uses 54L for a wash. This helps considerably in keeping our water usage down.

  7. I'm in the UK, and we don't have a water meter.
    Water consumption is something we need to look at - we garden, and we don't even have a water butt as yet.
    We use a lot of water (four kids....one of those a teenage boy who insists on getting two showers a day)
    We do share baths (or the kids do) most times hub and I will get a shower or a strip wash.
    Obviously, our toilet gets some hammer. I'm trying to encourage the kids not to flush every time they go for a wee, only when they go for a number two, but being in a hard water area I'm finding we're getting a charming bright yellow limescale - the only thing that shifts this effectively is a good brand bleach/limescale remover. This is expensive, and I know it's harmful to the environment. I just haven't found anything that works as well.

  8. Thank you for this Rhonda. As ever, a very thought provoking post. Near where I live, Coca Cola bottles the water that flows from the hillsides and sells it as 'Malvern Water'. Some of the more rural locals have springs and boreholes. However the town I live in relies on the public water supply from Welsh Water. I am horrified at the thought of being rationed to 140ltrs a day, given that it takes such a lot for a load of washing or a five minute shower. I'm going to investigate buying some tall, narrow storage tanks I have seen advertised, to collect water from the roof. Normal water butts near the house would block side access.

    It's ironic that this week last year we had the worst floods in recorded history in this region. The city of Gloucester had no tap water for two weeks.


  9. Hi Rhonda, and thanks for addressing our question! It seems Australia is far, far ahead on water conservation than Israel. It's simple madness how underground aquifers are used up more and more each year and no one thinks what will happen next. My husband clucks his tongue whenever it's raining and he sees all the water that goes to waste.

  10. I do try to conserve water as much as I can but haven't gone the extra step of getting water tanks, which I think are going to be more and more essential as time goes on.

    Society, I think, is complacent about the water supply and people think its endless. Like we have magic taps that will just go on and on churning out water until the end of time.

    Maybe if we had to walk miles every day to fetch our water as people in many drought-ridden countries do, we'd be forced to think about it much more.

    Luckily, in the UK we have tons of rainfall, but with the climate changing I wonder how long that will last. Last year's floods topped up the reservoirs temporarily, but its been much drier this year so who knows what will happen?

    Blessings to all x

  11. I don't have a meter. :)

    I know I mentioned it before, sorry! But I just find it a fascinating way of doing things. We have a closed system. Water comes from our well. Wastewater goes into our septic tank, which lets it out slowly into our leachfield, which purifies it as it sinks hundreds of feet into the ground and ends up.. you've guessed it.. in our well.

    No meter, and the only thing that costs money about the system is electricity for the well pump. We've looked into finding an alternate power source for the well pump so that we can have running water if the power goes out.

  12. We don't have a water metre and the frequent rain makes it easy not to think about the amount we use. Thanks for the excellent info, I'm going to be more water aware in future, but wouldn't mind a few rain free days to pretend we are having a summer in England this year!

  13. I just found your blog via Allie's Answers. What a great resource and love what you are doing. Thanks for the information as I too just did a post on the water issue!


  14. I don't have any idea how to check our water consumption. We live in a rental house and I'm sure the landlord gets that information. When we get our own house I want to put in a rainwater collection system and buy low-flow appliances. Here in the "pacific northwest" region of north america, we get a LOT of rain and it's a real shame not to harvest it.

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