Water management - what's your strategy?

23 August 2010
Most of you know that we live in the sub tropics and one of the reasons we chose this area to live in was the annual rainfall. It wasn't the only factor in our choice of property when we bought our home, but it was one of the important ones. We knew when we came here that we'd grow vegetables and keep chickens, so we knew we'd need plenty of water. Our average rainfall here is 1800mm/70inches and that gives us good rain throughout the year, although most of it is in the summer storms we have. We have several dams near us and south of us that supply our state capital with drinking water. Happily, our dams have been almost full since be moved here 13 years ago, a product, no doubt, of our good rainfall. But now our State government has seen fit to build a pipeline that will take much of the water that falls here to supplement the rain that falls in the capital's catchment area. We are paying for that pipeline with our taxes, we are also now paying increased water and sewage charges.

Last week we received the first of these new water bills. Get this. Even though we consume less that half the average amount of household water (545 litres/143 gallons), our bill is still $388.80 for six months. An average water bill for this area mustbe about $600! According to our bill, we use 240 litres a day here, we're under the average because there are usually only two of us here and we are very frugal with our water consumption. One of the first things we installed when we moved in here was a 5000 litre water tank. We used that tank to establish our vegetable garden and to keep the vegetables growing during times of drought. When we could afford it, and with the help of a State government grant, we installed an additional, bigger tank which now gives us a 15,000 litre water holding capacity. That water is collected from the roof on the house and shed. We have pumps on both tanks so we can use hoses on them. The water in both tanks is used for everything that needs water outside. It waters the animals and chickens, the gardens, cleans the car and house and washes some of our clothes - Hanno hooked up our old front loader washing machine to one of the tanks and that does some of our washing out on the back verandah.

So why am I telling you all this? I think it's vitally important that we all have a water management plan for our homes. Even though you may think you've got the rainfall you need to manage your property, your government, like ours, may have other plans for it. Never believe that what you have now you will have next year - even something as vital or as seemingly predictable as water.

Hanno installed a rain gauge on the weekend. We use to have one but it died of old age and when it did, we didn't replace it. Getting this water bill has galvanised me into action again. We have to be even more cautious with our water now, not only because every drop of it costs us money but because, environmentally, it's a wise strategy. Our ecosystems need water to function properly so taking as little as we can for our own use helps provide a sustainable future for our wildlife and flora and our wider community.

You can see here that Hanno has rigged up a very simple water catchment system on the chook house roof. The roof is only small, but when it rains, it often fills or half fills that 200 litre black bin the pipe is emptying into. We fill the buckets and watering can from that bin when there's water in it, and get it from the water tanks when it's empty. That 200 litre bin, when full, will keep the garden going for at least a week.

Having a rain gauge helps me stay in touch with our rainfall. It makes me conscious of what we have falling as rain and how much we have stored. I used to keep a daily spreadsheet when we had our old rain gauge, but this new one has a nifty daily meter on the top and you take your monthly record from that. Most homes have their own water meter and it's sound environmental practice to measure your water usage and try to reduce it. You can do that by collecting rainfall and using that on your garden or to clean outside.

There are many other strategies to help you reduce the water you're using. Here is a chart showing average water consumption in Australia. Simple things like turning off the tap while you clean you teeth, not pre-rinsing your plates when you use a dishwasher, and for those, like me, who wash up by hand, don't use running water. Don't fill the kettle for just one cup of tea, have shorter showers and use a front loader for your clothes. All these actions save small amounts, but that's the key to this - it's small amounts that add up over the course of your six month water bill.

Water conservation is something we should all be focusing on. It's not just for countries like Australia. I'm sure many of you are already wisely using the water that falls or is piped to your homes. Please tell me how you manage your water. I am hoping to drop our consumption to 200 litres per day by Christmas.