Australia is one of the, if not the driest inhabited continent on Earth. More than a third of the country’s landmass is desert, receiving little to no rain; the rest that gets rain receives between 500 mm and 600 mm every year on average. Water is so precious here that the government has invested billions in a slew of projects to improve its supply.
As a result, droughts aren’t uncommon. Since the 1700s, various parts of the country have recorded seven major droughts, the most recent one being the Millennium Drought from 1997 to 2009. According to a State of the Environment Report published in 2011, Australia was only able to use 2/3 as much water as it did almost a decade ago. With climate change warming the Earth, future droughts will be more intense than ever and cover larger swathes of the country.
For the typical Aussie household, water conservation is the name of the game. Aside from the few natural sources the continent has, people are also looking to the sky for water. In fact, for most of the country’s history, rainwater harvesting has been a common practice. With today’s technology, it’s now easier for people to collect as much rainwater as the seasons allow.
To better prepare for future water shortages or survive during one, take note of these useful water-saving tips and tricks.
1. Turn off taps when not in use
Many people have a terrible habit of leaving the taps running while washing the dishes or brushing their teeth. As convenient as it seems, unused water becomes a waste in the bigger picture. There are better (and more convenient) alternatives to a running tap, such as using a glass of water for brushing teeth or a basin for washing dishes.
The greywater that’s generated can also reduce the need to use freshwater. You can use the basin from washing dishes to flush the toilet or water the plants (although not all greywater sources are suitable for plants). Not only does this cutsback on consumption, but it lessens the burden on treatment plants that process wastewater for repeated use.
2. Check for leaky plumbing
Leaky pipes can cascade into full-blown water crises. In 2014, Western Australia found out that it had been losing 30 billion liters of water annually, 10 billion above the acceptable amount, due to leaky pipes. The alarming loss negated virtually every water saving initiative the local population had done up to that point.
To know if your plumbing has sprung a leak, here’s what you need to do:
- Go to your water meter and write down the number shown.
- Go back to the house and turn off all taps for one hour.
- Check back on the meter after an hour. If the numbers have changed, there may be a leak.
- Check the toilet as it’s usually the most prone to leaks, and turn off the water valve.
- Repeat steps 1 to 3. If the numbers still change, there’s a leak somewhere.
Once a leak is confirmed, call your local plumber for a more extensive inspection and repair work. In most cases, the leak can be somewhere deep inside the building.
3. Collect rainwater
As mentioned earlier, rainwater harvesting has been a common practice in Australia for centuries. With the country’s water woes unlikely to go away anytime soon, consider investing in rainwater collection systems for your property. Every drop will be significant in the hard times now and hard times to come.
Many companies, like The Water Tank Factory, install and repair rainwater collection systems for homes and businesses. They work by routing drain pipes to an above-ground or underground tank connected to the property’s plumbing. They also come in a wide range of designs, allowing even properties with limited space to have one.
As water billing also considers the cost of delivering water, the system helps save such an expense. A substantial downpour provides rainwater basically for free, and the tank makes sure there’s water to use upon demand.
4. Replace water-hungry appliances
Regardless of the water-saving practices you implement, consider replacing appliances that use a lot of water, such as dishwashers and washing machines. It won’t matter if you’re consistent in doing your part; a water-hungry appliance will negate all that hard work.
Fortunately, the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) label provides information on an appliance’s water efficiency. It’s composed of four parts: a star rating, water consumption rate, registration number, and license number. The information presented in the label comes from results of tests performed under controlled conditions.
The more stars an appliance has, the more water it can save. For example, a showerhead with a 3-star WELS rating uses as little as 5 liters of water per minute. An inefficient showerhead uses three to five times as much water. Proper installation further improves the appliance’s water efficiency.
5. Have a rain garden of native plants
Fancy having a garden? Consider filling it with plants that are native to your area.
Australia’s flora and fauna have had eras to evolve and adapt to its harsh climate and topography. Each of the country’s seven climate zones is home to certain species that can thrive with minimal water. Gardening Australia’s Plant Finder currently has over 700 species cataloged online; users can narrow results based on climate zone, amount of water needed, flowering seasons, and required maintenance.
Arrange your garden to lead rainwater into the rainwater collection tank. Not only will it provide your property with water, but it also diverts the runoff from nearby rivers and creeks, reducing the risk of stormwater pollution.
The current water crisis requires people to be smarter about how they use water, namely how much. Every drop of water a person manages to save is every drop that can be given to someone in need, especially during dry spells. By following these tips and more, you’ll do more than shaving a few bucks off your next water bill; you’ll do all of Australia a favor in these trying times.