Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Water Supply & Demand (Or, Why Won't it Rain?)

[Our lawn: Dry & Crunchy]
It's been almost two weeks since we've had town (mains) water in use inside the house. Prior it was only the taps in the garden and the loo that was connected to town water and the rest of the house was supplied by our rainwater catchments. Now we use town water for everything, from watering the garden, showering and doing the dishes. I have to admit I don't really like it much. I've been in a complete funk about having to shower in it for the last two weeks.
[The underground rainwater tank at the back of the house]
[A glimpse inside said underground tank. Careful you don't fall in!]
It has me thinking more and more about water supply and demand; the lack of it in some parts and an over-abundance in others. I wonder if the reason why some of us have so little is because others elsewhere don't think enough about where it comes from and where it ends up. I mean, do you?
At our property we have a 22,000L above-ground tank and a 12,000L underground tank that allows us to collect and store a modest amount of rainwater for personal use. There are no pollutants where we live so we can safely catch the water that runs from our roof to the gutters and through downpipes into our tanks. For three years (La Nina years, I should add) we did not even come close to running out of our rainwater; it rained when it was supposed to and then even when it wasn't, so that at times there would be more water than what we could hold and we'd simply have to watch the tanks overflow. 

[The tap that turns the town water supply on to the house]
But living in a semi-arid region means that things can change quite quickly - and quite drastically. South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent on earth, so rain can be fleeting and minimal at the best of times. In our region most rain generally falls between the months of May and October, making the driest time of year here November through to April. Annual rainfall can be as low as 5mm or up to 115mm. In La Nina years we might receive up to 200mm of rainfall in a 12-month period if we are really lucky. Being now in what the BoM terms Neutral Conditions, the rainfall over the last 12 months has been less than 100mm.

[Salt residue on the mixer tap in the shower]
It probably comes as no surprise that our supply of rainwater is drastically low: The above-ground tank is bone dry whilst we have around 5000L remaining in the underground. It may not seem like a big deal to have to switch to town water, but what many people (especially those living in large cities) take for granted is the supply of potable water - that is, water suitable for drinking. Besides rainwater, the only other source of water here is groundwater, which SA Water pumps from bores just outside of town. The water is extremely saline and at present absolutely reeks of chlorine. Worse than that it tastes like diluted seawater, burns your eyes and dries out your skin, giving you sores. My hair currently has a similar texture to straw and whenever I step out of the shower it feels more like I've just climbed out of a swimming pool.

[The flowerbeds: Dead or dying]
The groundwater that makes up the town water supply here is non-potable, meaning it is not suitable for drinking, yet we pay potable water prices: We pay the same rates and charges as everyone else in the state, except we receive a far inferior product. Whilst we contribute to the cost of running a desalination plant so that SA Water can meet Adelaide's water supply demand, there are no plans in place to improve the water quality here.
Rainwater is the only drinkable water we have. The 5000L or so currently sitting in the underground tank has to be enough until the next big rainstorm, which according to the BoM is not expected to be anytime soon.
Summer is a stressful, uncomfortable time of year at the best of times but made particularly worse when Mother Nature simply refuses to deliver on the rainfall. We spend far too much time these days checking the weather reports and then being disappointed when the rain they said we'd get doesn't eventuate.
But we and our gardens are not the only ones suffering: Spare a thought for the birds that perch themselves on our back veranda at the end of the day in search of food and water, and the native wildlife that is beginning to venture into towns searching for the same. We've not seen this since the last drought.
I hope that's not a sign of things to come because if so our 5000L of drinkable water most certainly won't be enough.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Sarah :)

    My lawns are crunchy too, if that makes you feel better. I bet when we do get rain it will be a big down pour...



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