It is outrageously hot again in Adelaide today, and it has been for a few days now. 38 degrees (Celsius) yesterday, 36 for the two days before that, and a promised 36 again tomorrow, with nighttime temperatures only dropping to the mid-twenties. Our backyard is parched, and plants and the lawn are starting to die off. I’m hoping to keep the lawn alive, because it’s an important playing space for our children. But where to get the water from?
We are allowed to use one handheld hose for three hours each week. We have no restrictions on using rainwater from our tank, and none on using grey water. So I have been running off water from the tank, but it won’t last for much longer – it’s not a large tank, and we haven’t had significant rain ever since we arrived in the country.
We are trying to keep our water use down, primarily by using a front loading washing machine. It uses about 73 litres per load, about half the among the average top loader uses. (Captain Green – Water Conservation Educator has great chart showing how much water is used in everyday activities.) Plus we do the usual things – turning off taps while brushing teeth, fixing dripping taps, shallow shared baths for our younger daughters, short showers for us and our elder daughter, low-flow shower heads, only putting full loads of dishes through the dishwasher.
And, we have a primitive grey water system, comprising a water trolley, and water saving buckets. Here’s the bucket we keep on the kitchen bench. If you squint hard enough, you will see that it is supposed to be used for showers, but it happens to be a good size and shape for using on the kitchen bench. Some cooking water goes in there, as does any left over drinking water, and water from warming the french press in the morning. We seem to get four or five litres a day from this. The basic rule is that water than hasn’t had detergents in it can go in the grey water bucket.
Then there’s the shower bucket. You can buy specialist shower saver buckets (see the kitchen bench bucket above) but our ordinary old bucket will do. The specialist buckets are designed so that they can be pushed up against one side of the shower, to minimise the possibility that you will fall over them. However our shower is long and narrow (floor area, not height, for the pedants among you) so there’s enough space to push the bucket to one side and not endanger life and limb. The idea is to capture the water that runs through the shower while waiting for it to warm up. We seem to get about four or five litres a day from this too.
So most days, we can get eight to ten litres of water out of our primitive system. We could do more, by getting our washing machine and showers specially plumbed for grey water, but that would entail a whole lot of expenditure, and using up other scarce resources in order to do it.
Having collected the water, it gets sloshed into our water wheelie bin, a specially designed contraption with a funnel at the top, and a tap at the bottom. Once the bin is about half full, it gets wheeled into the garden, and emptied around the base of some plant that looks in need of a little TLC. So far, the lemon tree and the passionfruit vine have been the major beneficiaries of our water saving, on the grounds that they are fruit producing rather than just ornamental plants.
It’s all such a change to just turning on the tap. This is perhaps the one single thing that has thrown me the farthest off-balance in this move to a strange land – the huge and necessary emphasis on water, and how we use it. Most of the time, it simply isn’t an issue at all back in the old country. To be sure, all the water that is used there needs to be processed, and perhaps greater consideration could be given to the resources that are used in ensuring that water which is poured onto gardens and used for washing cars is potable, but when all is said and done, despite the drought conditions in some parts of the country, most of the time, in most parts of the country (the east cape of the North Island and Canterbury are notable exceptions) more water than we need just falls out of the sky, at very frequent intervals.
My daughters have entered into the spirit of things. The cat’s old drinking water gets emptied into the water trolley, and when it rains, the girls rush around putting buckets and their old, disused plastic swimming pool shell onto the paths, to collect water which they empty into the trolley. So far they have collected a massive one litre or so, but they have had a lot of fun doing it, and it reinforces the need to be careful with water.
There’s one other thing about the on-going heat and dry here. My daughters are used to staying inside on rainy days, and as soon as the sun comes out, throwing open the doors and racing outside. In the astonishing heat yesterday and today, they will have to stay inside, where it’s cool. If they head outside for a moment, we tell them to shut the door, to keep the heat out. As a mother, I so often say things to my daughters that my mother said to me when I was a child. But when I tell the girls to shut the door and keep the heat out, I can’t hear my mother’s voice echoing in my head. And that may be the most dislocating thing of all.