1. Ditch the Dishwasher!!
There aren't too many homes these days with out a dishwasher, I hear all the usual excuses of how much time they save and people being busy working etc etc.... Seriously - it does not take that much time to wash up by hand and the water saved is astronomical!! And thats forgetting that most items put in a dishwasher are often rinsed first! Time excuses fall on deaf ears to me - I work full time and have a lot going on outside of work with the farm and the family. The first thing we did when we bought our place was sell the dishwasher that was installed in the kitchen as it was never going to be used. We actually have 5 people powered dish washers who do a very water efficient job and we all share the load. And we save on electricity bills as well. I really cant imagine raising kids who do not have the ability to wash dishes!!
2. Get back to basics in the laundry.
With a family of 5 which includes 2 sports mad teenage boys laundry is a huge user of water in our home, as it is in many others. When dam water quality is good I can get away with washing in dam water to save our tank water - having the ability to change between water sources is a must have on a property. In dry times the dam water is not great quality for washing clothes if you want them to get clean so we have worked out how to get a lot more mileage out of our rain water for washing clothes. The first thing we did was install a simple hose on the machine that runs the grey water onto the gardens. Great but doesn't cut back on the amount you need in the first place. The way we found to do this came to me when I discovered a product called laundry balls advertised in the Earth Garden magazine: http://www.laundryball.com.au/
These were invented by a mother who had a child sensitive to the ingredients in commercial laundry powders. I swear by these and found when I ditched commercial laundry powder our clothes are softer with no need for commercial toxic fabric softener. The cleaning power of rain water and sunshine alone! The reason we save water with the laundry balls is because you don't need the rinse cycle to rinse out the soap residue - so we halve the water use for every load of washing. I set the machine onto a soak cycle and once the washing is done I put the water which is free of contaminants (added bonus) straight onto the garden. I now save a fortune in laundry powder every year and can afford to buy a more expensive greener form of washing powder for the few times I need to use soap on the occasional loads of extra dirty work clothes or the white school shirts and cricket whites. Again an added bonus of saving electricity as well. What I have learnt from experimenting with ways to save water in the laundry is just how many products we buy with out questioning (such as cleaning products) that we really do not need.
3. Water saving showerheads are essential when you have a growing family:
There is no doubt that shorter showers are essential when there is no rainfall replenishing your tanks. Convincing kids to have shorter showers is an uphill battle. When our kids were younger we found a novel way to encourage them to have quicker showers - I would run a stop watch and make it a competition to see who could be the fastest. Having two very competitive brothers helped enormously - Mark my youngest son declared he would even get in the shower before the hot water came through so he could beat his older brother Ben! This competition had a major impact on tank levels last drought. This time around they are now aged 14 and 16 and it is not so easy to convince them to be quick. I entered a competition last year where the CSIRO gave away some newly invented water saving shower devices - the oxijet which save water by aerating it - you need less water for the same shower. To be in the running to win you needed to share a water saving tip - my story of the boys competition to have shorter showers with a plea for some extra help in the form of one of these devices now they are teenagers worked and I won!! I can thoroughly recommend these as our tanks are in excellent shape at the moment and the water saving shower has had a major role to play in that success. http://www.csiro.au/Portals/Media/Air-shower-saves-50-per-cent-water.aspx
4. Gardening in drought:
Every time we find ourselves in a prolonged dry spell I remind myself of a Jackie French quote that "droughts are harder on gardeners than they are on gardens" . I believe this to be true as each time I am amazed at the resilience of mother nature, we lose some plants but many come back to live when it rains. Those we loose are not suited to our environment in the first place I feel.
Drought is also a rest phase for the garden - there's not too much going on out there so the gardener can take a bit of a rest too. I start seedlings in pots each spring to save water and weeding - only planting out when they are established and hopefully timing planting to a rainfall event (fingers crossed!).
We never waste water on our lawns. I know many people find a green lawn therapeutic to come home to in a drought - if the garden beds are alive I personally find that more welcoming. Personal choice I guess. But when water is sparse you need to make decisions on where it is best used. When watering garden beds less frequent deep waterings are better to encourage the plants to grow deeper root systems.
Of course we also mulch to reduce evaporation and build soil organic matter.
5. Store water at every opportunity:
Catch every drop of water you can. The soil is often overlooked as a major water storage on any property - by increasing soil organic matter through mulching you drought proof your gardens and land. Well designed dams to catch water are also essential - our dams are a picture at the moment with the water lillies Angus planted to reduce evaporation in full flower. Our dams are topped up by a solar pump in a well in our creek - this investment has seen our dams cope with keeping our garden and our garlic crop alive for many years where the dams alone would not have managed. We also believe there should not be a roof that does not catch water into a tank. When we came here there was one 20,000 litre tank -this would never have been enough water for our family through the droughts we have encountered. Once of the first things we saved for was another 20,000 litre tank to catch extra water off the house and we also installed another 20,000 litre tank on our shed when it was built. We now have a total of 60,000 litres of water storage capacity for our house. At the current time we still have about 30,000 litres of stored tank water after months of no rain. Pretty good outcome!!
6. Create shelter in your environment:
Angus is a big believer in shelter to reduce wind speed and evaporation. Long rank grass in paddocks and shelter belts, shelter created by our garden and by the trees we plant are all utilised with this in mind as well. The water lillies on the dams are a form of shelter as well, with the added bonus of being stunning!
I hope my summary is of use if you are currently needing to cart water for your home or just wanting to be more environmentally friendly in your water use. Leave a comment if you can share any other ideas on how you manage to conserve water in your home or on your land.