Why save water? Why recycle it? Why use rainwater tanks?

I have blogged before about 'saving water' in the context of level 5 water restrictions here in Brisbane. I noted the irony that rather than being a cause to contain my activities the restrictions prompted a lateral shift in my perspectives and I was creating gardens in pots when I had not done so before.

While I was bucketing water from the kitchen I have now added a couple of buckets to the shower recess so that now we are drowning in fresh water which would normally flow to sewerage as excess.

But these experiments nag me because we are encouraged to go green by landscaping ecologically and programs like permaculture so often are premised by the rationale of self sufficiency and replication of pristine ecosystems within the urban environment.

But I don't live in 'the bush" or "the rain forest" and maybe I don't want to. So I've been wondering more and more about the Mediterranean experience where spaces are thoroughfares and plantings are contained with in allocated spaces -- as often as not in pots and such. Whether you go the whole food growing hog or not is beside the point, but it becomes self evident that our environmental adaptations -- either of the Australian suburban backyard or the edible landscape notion of the permaculturalists share quite a few limitations.

I was researching grey water use when I came upon the garden designs developed by Mel Bartholemew with his notion of square foot gardening.

So I'm experimenting and this image below is my cut down of some old Styrofoam boxes I had under the house. This gives me about 6 square feet to dirt up and trial.

Bartholemew employs a special 'soil' mix to grow annuals in shallow boxes no more than 8 inches high.

I think this concept is worthy of consideration because a lot of the presumptions driving grey water use, the installation of rain water tanks and the like are built on the notion that the 'outside' is made up of free form verdancy. But any idealised image of a Mediterranean town, village or the like is one of cobbled streets, patio style courtyards, of vegetation selected for use or shade but contained behind separating walls or pots.

I'm suggesting that maybe these peoples knew a thing or two about making the best use of what was on hand in conditions of limited rainfall.

While it may not be so evident, this massive, almost nation-wide, drought has the potential to change absolutely the nation's gardens and the nursery industry that supplies them. Similarly, it has to logically impact on the farming practices primarily of the irrigated agriculture sector.

If you haven't noticed , replicating nature may have its merits but the native flora on verdant land I see, is dying off sharply as everything without deep root systems wilts and begins to die for lack of moisture.

It's undoubtedly true that ecosystems have their symbiotic efficiencies and the factory level view of growing stuff is unsustainable, but we do have the ability to intervene and tweak the often limited capacities of our landscapes to improve our condition and make better use of the resources we harness.

But the sort of green thinking that wants to conscript everyone into soil toil is simply Utopian. So we have to start with our present problems and solve them not by the sort of self sufficiency manuals we may be prone to digest, but flexibly in the face of where we may seem to be at.

I'm not saying I've got answers, but the water crisis does throw up many issues and the one that bugs me the most is if we are to be asked to capture rain water in tanks attached to individualand separate domestic dwellings -- I have to ask, what then are we supposed to do, "individually", with the water?

Unless you have a very clear use for it -- assuming it 'happens' and the rains come , filling your tank as much as it may fill the emptying dams -- what's the point? It's water for water's sake isn't it?

I think it is the case that we can "save" much more water than we can by collecting it from roof run off. But there has to be a reason to save and a function in terms of a balance sheet for the litres you don't flush down the sewer.

That's one point. But the other is the most concerning one presently in play. Here in South East Queensland, the state government is going to "solve" the water crisis by recycling sewerage water, treating it and pumping it back in the dams so that there is at least a 10% volume gain that way.

Since they'll add a lot of chlorine and the like to the recycling recipe to "purify" the water to drinking standard --the water added to the dams is going to kill off fish and other aquatic life forms. Trust me. I know. I've kept pond fish for years.

Let's not make the mistake of presuming that that's a natural additive --especially when you consider the array of chemicals that will also be a feature in any sewerage drawn from industrial processes.

That goes into the dams and into your gullet too.

But because the governments are also insisting that we save water by reducing our use of it, the water we employ to add to the sewerage as a carrying agent in our rinses and flushes, etc will be less in total volume so that the chemical component of the sewerage will proportionally be much greater. So the treated sewerage 'water' we add back into the dams -will be of a greater chemical concentration that the sewerage we had been creating before we became so water wise.

People I know on septic tanks, who have been diligent in their water reductions are finding that because of the reduced water flow available to the processes, their septic tanks are closing down because they can't get enough water for the biological and chemical processes to fully kick in.

This you see, is the end result of our cultural adaption of the water closet.

So, I'm saying peoples: things ain't as easy as they seem no matter what baloney is proffered as a solution.

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