Story & image Mary Gardner
What is this sunburnt country
Of smoke and threatening flames…
[they] ask us what we did to help
The water, land and sky…
This summer, every conversation goes back to the fires and drought. Veterinarian Dr Jonathan Happold spoke for many of us, writing about how he struggles with ‘thoughts of hopelessness and dread’. He worries that, ‘we’re doing bugger all to help this dehydrated land.’
Water supply still vulnerable
Yes, the recent rain is wonderful, but acting on water use restrictions must become our usual way of life, at least until the drought is over. Above average rainfall for months or even a year is needed, not only for our region but also throughout NSW and South East Queensland, to replenish the water table.
The government agency WaterNSW posts weekly updates about regional water availability. On January 20, active storage supplies for rural supply was 23.4 per cent of capacity. The urban supply totalled 42.6 per cent of capacity. All Sydney supply is averaging 42.5 per cent, while Brisbane is at 56.1 per cent capacity. In spite of recent rain, all show decreases since last week.
Against these sobering numbers, our own figures seem a little better. But at our Rocky Creek Dam, managed by Rous County Council (RCC), the levels are still only 70 per cent of capacity, and Emigrant Creek is only at 64 per cent capacity. Although Laverty’s Gap Weir is overflowing now, this is likely temporary. Tweed’s supply at Clarrie Hall Dam is at 81 per cent, but the Toonumbar Dam, in the Richmond Valley, is at 19.2 per cent capacity and due to run dry in March 2020.
Tenterfield dam is at 35 per cent capacity and the town is quickly drilling a new bore. Their water also had contamination issues, and many rely on emergency supplies of bottled water. Southern Downs Regional Council is trucking in 100 per cent of their water supply. Restrictions mean household users must manage with 80L per person, per day.
By contrast, here in the RCC supply region, householders are advised to get down to 160L per person, per day. Tweed is aiming for 144L per person, per day. Both of these require savings of at least 50 litres per person, per day.
Water savings actions
Whatever level restrictions are set, how about getting your household to change some routines? Saving water saves you some money and builds a sense of teamwork for everyone. Water we save here might soon be a supply for somewhere else. How can we make such savings? How can we use even less?
The secret is attitude and buckets. Make the effort. Aim, as much as possible, to use indoor household tap water twice. A bucket per person in the shower will collect at least a full 12–15 litres of water during a one to three minute shower – save it for flushing the toilet. Every bucket holds about four half-flushes.
More savings can be made by delaying the flush of healthy urine, which is sterile. A bucket of shower water might then be freed up for the garden. Ladies, please set up a basket to collect your few squares of toilet paper (which are compostable). Soggy paper can block pipes. Experiment: more savings can be made with some toilets that can dispose of faeces with a half flush.
Collect a bucket of shower water for hair washing. You can do this over the empty bathtub or laundry sink.
Give everyone a cup for the total amount of tap water they can use for brushing their teeth. Invent methods for shaving and soaping-up using a maximum of 2L per person, per day.
Collect buckets of shower water to rinse that surfboard or snorkel gear. Tweed has already turned off the public showers on their beaches. Byron Shire is also doing that soon.
More attitude and buckets work in the kitchen too. Learn to use a small basin in the sink for quick washing up. Save that water for a house plant or somewhere in the garden. Use the dishwasher only when it is full.
Cut back on use of the washing machine. Using around 60L per wash, cleaning clothes is a water intensive luxury. Put aside dress-up clothes ‘to go out’. Around the house, keep laundry at a minimum by using aprons, house dresses and home work-clothes.
Of course, ensure everyone has their own refillable water bottle. Filling up at home or at fountains is healthier, cheaper and is quickly becoming a political message about water conservation.
For all the savings at home, spare a thought for our local wildlife too. Keep up the bird bath or set up a new one. Place dishes of water in quiet parts of the garden for reptiles and insects. Put a few stones in the middle so that smaller animals can perch rather than drown.
Finally, when you visit the beaches or wander along the Tallow, Belongil or other waterways, remember that many birds, wallabies and other wildlife are stressed. Drought, heat, wind and smoke all worry resident animals.
Many other animals are new arrivals, refugees needing a rest, shelter and food. So keep your cat inside, especially at night. Except in designated off-lead areas, keep your dog on a lead. Nothing poetic about stirring up flocks of weary birds or harassing wallabies to death.
…more than that, they’ll question
Why we didn’t make a start
They’ll sense the rot went deeper –
Melanoma of the heart.