Lessons from Australia: Conserving Water Down Under

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Blue Australia

The driest continent on the planet needs serious water conservation in serious drought. What can we learn from their ways? Read on!


Climate change is on my mind a lot these days, and for most folks who live where I do — on Vancouver Island (not to be confused with Vancouver, the city, on the Mainland).

A little north of me lies the wettest region of North America, bonafide temperate rainforest, and this summer it has unprecedented forest fires. The rainforest is burning.

Drought, it seems, happens in rainforests too, which means nowhere on this continent is safe from shifting weather fortunes.

We’re “getting it”

Most of us here on the coast are quickly “getting it” — water is a precious resource. Some remain indignant, insisting it’s foolish to have strict water measures, because “grass is meant to be green,” and that water goes “back into the ecosystem.”

My friend’s Australian boyfriend thinks we’re positively wasteful with water. He believes grass’s natural state is to be brown, that cars should always be dirty, and water should be reserved for food gardens only.

And why not? That’s the law in much of his country.

With our northern rainforests burning and weather shifting here, it’s a good time to talk about what “water conservation” means down in Australia.

All regions are not equal

Some regions get more water than others, and that’s how it goes, so there are no universal restrictions in Australia. They’re all set by each state or territory.

Within those areas, there are “stages” or levels of water restriction. Some have as few as three levels, others as many as seven. Failure to adhere to those restrictions can result in fines.

Since most of us probably don’t know what’s where in Australia, I’ll avoid bogging things down to specific regions. So, in general, here are some ways Australians need to conserve.

Watering lawns

In many areas, watering the lawn with sprinklers is almost always regulated with time slots. In others, there can be no sprinklers used even in the lightest of restrictions. That’s where it’s hand-watering only, and even using a hose can be verboten.

Forget sprinklers — sometimes it’s forbidden to water the lawn in any way. Even watering planters can be illegal. A stage 4 restriction in the capital region can mean not even edible plants get freshwater — greywater only can be used for plants, and nada for grass. “Greywater” means recycling the bath water, using pasta water, and more.

Washing the car

Most areas of Australia insist on only washing cars with a bucket and a trigger hose, but a lot of them regulate the frequency this can occur. When the world gets dry, car-washing gets clamped down on. Love a clean car? It’ll cost you at a commercial car wash, because you won’t be allowed to do it at home. It gets so bad in some areas that all you’re allowed to wash on the car are windows, lights, and mirrors.

Swimming pools

There are laws against unfilling a swimming pool in many areas, let alone filling them. Drought restrictions mean having to have a permit to fill a pool at all. Often topping-up is allowed, but when the heat is on, that’s when filling, topping up, and emptying pools all become illegal. Some areas require all new pools to have a cover to protect that water supply.

Hosing hard surfaces

From spray-cleaning sidewalks to house siding, this is considered a massive waste and is prohibited in most regions as soon as any water restrictions come on. It’s a sidewalk, people. It’s supposed to be dirty.

Stage 7: When things get real

In Queensland, “stage seven” is when nothing at all can be done with water outside the home. Nothing is watered. Nothing is filled. Nothing is cleaned. Nothing.

Do you really need to water?

We’re pretty spoiled with water in North America. California is our canary in the coal mine. The warning bell has been rung this summer, thanks to fires in my beloved coastal rainforests.

Our golden age of water is over, folks. Every year, reservoir levels begin the season at a lower point. Every year, we learn something new about climate change.

Instead of waiting for things to get bad, the time to change our own habits is now. Turn to native grasses that don’t require as much watering. Lower your use. Rethink water waste. Harvest your greywater for yard use.

We have many solutions we’re simply not turning to because why make the effort if it’s not really needed, right? Well, things are changing. Just look to the rainforests.

Soon, I’ll talk more about some of the creative ways to get serious about water conservation at home. In the meantime, are you using any conservation methods already? What’s working for you?

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.