We can never have enough water. Many of us enjoy our gardens, and love to grow plants, eat fresh fruit and vegetables, enjoy a nice herbal tea and just sit and admire the flowers, bees and butterflies. Our gardens really suffer in summer as they require a fair of amount of water just to survive, let alone thrive.
Installing a greywater system, that captures and utilises recycled water from the laundry and bathrooms, can significantly reduce our mains or bore water consumption during the drier months.
To calculate how much water you can save, simply multiply the number of people in your home by 100. This gives you the daily volume of greywater. For a typical family of four this equates to well over 100,000 L each year. That’s a lot of water! - water that can go on gardens so we can enjoy this amenity or onto food plants so our family benefits.
Do-it-yourself greywater systems cost about $2,500, and that includes instructions and all the irrigation components required for the install.
A full installation, including Council fees and application, plumbing materials and irrigation laid in garden beds, can be as little as $6000 but every site is unique and a site-specific quote is always required.
An ATU is also called an Aerated Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTP) in Australia. These systems rely on different types of bacteria to digest your wastes and reduce the nutrient loading to such a degree that the treated effluent could then be discharged to irrigation. While they are a proven technology and generally work well, it is possible that problems arise – and these are most often caused by the particular cleaning products you use and what you put in the washing machine. Every ATU or septic or wastewater treatment system gradually accumulates sludge and scum. This is because the scum that floats on the surface is mainly oils, grease and fats, and these substances are not readily broken down by the bacteria. Sludge builds up on the bottom as this is foodstuffs and materials that aren’t broken down, as well as a build-up of dead bacteria. Literally millions of bacteria die every day and this accumulates as sludge. Eventually, your system will require a pump out – typically anywhere from two to five years.
You must try to use environmentally-friendly cleaning products as any product used that kills bacteria is harmful to your system. If you wish to use some of the harsher cleaning products, such as bleach, nappy cleaning products and any disinfectants, it is suggested that you use a bucket and discard the contents in a hole in a disused area of the garden. Some other things that may cause problems are antibiotics or people who are on chemotherapy. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria in your body and they also wipe out these good bacteria working hard in the ATU. We do not suggest that you stop your medication, just expect that the treatment system may not function well for a short time.
Try to evenly spread your washing over a period of a week. Avoid where possible to wash everything in one day. It puts too much water and alkaline substances in the system in a short time and your treatment plant will struggle to cope. Liquid soaps breakdown easier than powder types, and they generally contain less salt and are at a lower pH – both of which will affect soils and plant growth. Try not to use too much soap of any type.
Things to Avoid
Chlorine, disinfectant, ammonia, acids, bleaches, caustics and heavy chemical products, nappy pre-soaker products, antibacterial products, fat, oil, grease, milk, toilet deodorizers and cleaners etc are some of the types of products that will cause the bacteria to die off in your ATU. It will recover but may cause some odours in the short term.
Don'tallow foreign objects, (eg. Nappy liners, disposable nappies, tampons, pads, condoms etc) to enter the system. They do not breakdown and can cause problems. Avoidpouring large quantities (½ litre or more) of beer, wine, milk or fruit juice or oils into the system. Products that are acidic may affect bacteria production. (Milk, beer and fruit juices, for example, often contain large amounts of sugar which is digested by some bacteria that rob the water of oxygen, and this, in turn, stops the growth and working of those bacteria that rely of oxygen to survive).
It is fair to suggest that all products should be used in moderation.
Surface cleaners - when using surface cleaners try to wipe excess cleaner with a disposable cloth and discard contents into the bin. Toilet cleaners - cream cleaner or washing soda (Sodium carbonate). General cleaners – bicarb soda (Sodium hydrogen carbonate), vinegar (not too much). Floor cleaners - use hot water and detergent. Laundry powders and liquids - use suitable products that contain low phosphorus and low salt (used as bulking/fill agents).
Do Not Allow These to Enter Your ATU (not down the drain)
oil, paint and chemicals
drain cleaning or clearing products
methylated spirits, kerosene, acetone or any other solvents
flea or tick wash
plastics of any type
disposable nappies, sanitary napkins
Servicing of Wastewater Treatment Plants
All aerated treatment plants are required by law to be serviced. Most AWTS or ATU’s are required to be serviced every quarter, and service reports to sent to yourself and to your Local Council.
Treatment systems can only be serviced by registered authorised wastewater service personnel, and it is an offence for a homeowner to undertake this specialised work themselves.
How You Can Help
Service Personnel need clear access to your system so that they can carry the required testing and cleaning equipment from their vehicle to the tank/s, and so that they can easily remove hatches and undertake the range of tasks performed at each service. Please:
Do not cover tanks and hatches with soil, cement, paving or any material. (Mulch can be placed on the lids of systems that rely on earthworms as part of the treatment process).
Do not prevent quick and easy access to any inspection openings.
Do not allow roof or surface water to enter any part of the system.
Allow free access to your property for the service person. Ensure that the gates are unlocked, your dogs are locked up and your children are supervised.
Keep plants and grass monitored and maintained on land application areas (irrigation zone/s).
If you have any other questions please call our office during normal business hours.
Episode seven of the Earthen Path... Convenor Dr Ross Mars outlines some of the features and initiatives at the upcoming Australasian Permaculture Convergence 13.
He says the organisers want to be seen to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk".
The Earthen Path, Episode 4 - A Journey into Permaculture with Dr Ross Mars!! APC13 website - http://www.apc13.org/Ross Mars is the Managing Director of Water Installations Pty Ltd, author, teacher and Doctor of Environmental Science, with 20 years in the field of greywater and wastewater. Ross completed a PhD in Environmental Science at Murdoch University in 2001. His research centred on the use of native wetland plants to strip nutrients from domestic grey water. Ross talks to us about grey water and wastewater systems. Ross also has qualifications in Permaculture, and offers general Permaculture courses (Permaculture Design Course) as well as Accredited Permaculture Training. Details of these can be found on his Candlelight Farm website. ~ You may listen to the podcast click here ~ iTunes link click here ~
What permaculture is and what it is not; Permaculture deals with our existence on this planet and it encompasses many different aspects of this. Firstly, permaculture is about producing edible landscapes, mirroring the natural ecosystems in their diversity and production. Permaculture is primarily a design system.
This is the main difference between it and all other agricultural and horticultural practices. Permaculture designs endeavour to integrate all components of the ecosystem in a holistic approach to sustainable living and practice.
Permaculture started out as permanent agriculture and thus focussed on the growth and development of perennial food crops. Annuals and biennials do have their place, but the use of long-living food crops, such as fruit and nut trees, is the priority. Some areas of the garden need to be devoted to annuals and in most cases they can be interplanted between the perennial herbs and other trees as companion planted guilds. Too often, annuals are taken for granted in food production and they should be used in the system within the framework of perennial production.
Permaculture is not just about gardening, although its origin of permanent agriculture suggests this. Nowadays, permaculture is thought of along the lines of permanent culture, incorporating all aspects of human beings and human settlements.
Gardening, however, is one simple way in which people can take some responsibility for their own existence and begin to care for the Earth. Helping yourself and others to build gardens in your own backyard, in an effort to drastically reduce the need to buy produce from someone else, is one of the most environmentally-responsible things you can do to help reduce our consumption of resources and to heal the planet.
Since the late seventies the concepts of permaculture have also developed, such that it encompasses finances, water harvesting, communities, buildings, and alternative and appropriate technology. For many of us, permaculture is a framework that unites many disciplines, and so the subjects of aquaculture, ethical investment, horticulture, solar technology, soils, and many others can be integrated together, each contributing as part of the whole. This framework permits many different forms of knowledge to be interwoven - all relative to one another. It is not a set of techniques per se, but rather how a number of techniques are employed to build a system in which energy is harvested, directed and allowed to flow. Permaculture is also different from both organic gardening and forest gardening in that both of these are techniques of garden construction and composition. Permaculture is more than this. It is a design strategy.
Design for living
Permaculture is the harmonious integration of design with ecology. The ethics of earth care, people care, limits-aware and surplus-share are common to all permaculturists, even though the design strategies and the techniques they employ vary widely. We design for long term sustainability, and this is why a design is a harmonious integration of landscape, plants, animals and humans, as well as the placement of components or elements in recognisable patterns.Truly successful designs create a self-managed system. A large amount of what we call permaculture is really just commonsense, using human intuition and insight to solve problems that confront us.
The outcomes of good design should include:
sustainable land use strategies, without wastes and pollution.
established systems for healthy food production, and maybe some surplus.
restoration of degraded landscapes, resulting in conservation of endemic species - especially rare and endangered species.
integration and harmony of all living things on the property - all things live in an atmosphere of co-operation or interact in natural cycles.
minimal consumption of energy.
The ultimate design, if there is such a thing, is the marriage of what is best for the land and what is best for the people who live there. What we call a “design” is really only a pictorial representation of the implied inter-relationships between objects, structures, plants, animals and humans. The drawing only gives information about placement and types of species and nothing about their interaction, which is the most important thing about any ecosystem.
Again, permaculture is not just about designing gardens. It is about designing human settlements. It is a plan that endeavours to maximise and enhance human interaction with the environment that surrounds them. This plan considers all facets of human existence. Coming to the realisation that changes are needed to the ways humans live, and then facing the bold step of acknowledging that we should do something about it, is crucial for our own survival on this planet.
Many people find it difficult to accept these ideas and change their outlook. But to embrace permaculture you have to change because it requires you to look at your life and lifestyle from a different perspective. It is a life-long journey of change and growth. Furthermore, permaculture designs are based on broad, universal principles which allow for local knowledge so that local species can be incorporated. This makes sense. Wherever possible, local resources and species, found in that soil type, climate and area, should be used. This is both economically and ecologically responsible action.
In designing, we repackage or re-assemble components already existing on the property and incorporate new ones. Components are assembled and elements placed according to the function they perform. We use insight to develop unique and effective strategies. The design may examine many options and some decisions of particular options are taken so that they are definitely included.
Each permaculture design is tailor-made. It is the marrying and blending of what grows best in the particular area and soil with what the owner or gardener wants. Permaculture empowers people to solve their own design problems and apply solutions to their everyday situations. Designers have a responsibility to recognise which permaculture principles need to be applied to a specific problem or situation. Solutions may include the use of edge, patterns or guilds, and good designers see every difficulty as really an opportunity.
A permaculture design is more than just a landscape plan. Maps, plans and overlays do not indicate or suggest the interconnectedness between things, nor can they deal with other aspects of permaculture such as the social and financial aspects of human settlements. However, a landscape-style plan does give some indication about dam and house placement, and the future location of swales and orchards.
You might think about the design as being a visual representation of the concept. Implicit in any design should be a number of energy harvesting and modifying strategies, a number of soil, water and land conservation strategies, a number of food producing strategies and a number of human settlement strategies, such as housing, shelter, village development and so on. Designs always change and hopefully for the better. The design is the beginning point of the journey, and as new ideas and experiences develop, the design evolves as well.
How relevant is permaculture?
Permaculture is certainly about growing enough food and having a lifestyle which will enable you to become self-reliant and less dependent on the marketplace and agencies outside of your control. But it is more than this: it is about how we live, the type of houses we build, ways in which we can live more sustainably and how we deal with water, energy, soil and living things. Permaculture is fundamentally a way of life. It is about taking responsibility of your life and doing the things you feel are important for your own well being, for the well being of others and to help the environment.In recent years there has been much talk about global warming, climate change and peak oil. Each of these will have major impacts on our future survival. Permaculture is seen by many people as providing strategies to enable us to adapt to a challenging future. How important it will be to us, only time will tell, but there is a huge re-interest in permaculture throughout the world as people begin to understand how our environment is changing and how we are totally dependent on oil.
Permaculture designs do take time to establish, but once they are implemented they become more and more productive. A larger range of useful products become available, the level of maintenance decreases and the system becomes more complicated. Permaculture, and the framework it embraces, will give people hope and enable them to develop skills to allow us to rise to the challenges of a changing world. Dr Ross Mars Permaculture Publications Ross' latest book How to Permaculture Your Life, available on his Candlelight Farm website.
Have you noticed how, in recent years, our rainfall patterns and our climate are changing? This is all part of a larger global picture, but we all need to plan for changes happening locally. As we continue to experience tighter water restrictions and rising costs, maybe its time to consider installing rainwater tanks. The average home could easily harvest 100,000 L each year from their roof, and this water can be used to offset the water budget for your home. Installing a rainwater tank, no matter what size, is a small step that you could take to become self-reliant. Generally, the larger the tank the more water you can collect and use. If you wanted to use rainwater to flush toilets and provide water to the laundry, then you would probably need at least a 9,000 L tank. It is not uncommon to install 30,000 to 50,000 L tanks for this purpose.
What are the benefits of rainwater tanks?
Collecting rainwater has many environmental benefits, as well as benefiting you! Some reasons for harvesting rainwater include:
Making fresh water available to flush toilets or to provide a laundry source.
Using rainwater for drinking purposes.
Supplementing the watering of garden areas.
Reducing our use of mains (scheme) water - a very valuable, limited resource.
Saving some money – buying less water from a service provider.
Providing a water source which has reduced levels of salts and other substances.
Types of tanks
Rainwater tanks are now made from a variety of materials. Generally, the most popular for urban backyards are either made from steel or from polyethylene. Large tanks (50,000 L plus) are typically steel-liner tanks. These have a steel outer structure with a flexible poly liner inside. These days poly tanks are UV stabilised and come in a range of colours. Both steel and poly tanks normally have a 20 year warranty. If there is space below the house or verandah then a bladder tank is an option. These tend to be proportionally more expensive, but can be ideal if there is little room for a regular tank. Finally, more and more tanks are being buried as new homeowners build larger house on smaller blocks. Below-ground tanks can be buried under decking provide there is access to service the pump or to clean out the tank if required.
Connections to the house
Most people want to use the rainwater - either for drinking or to flush toilets or to wash clothes. Rainwater is most often pumped to the house, although gravity can be used in some cases to direct rainwater to fixtures in the house. Either a submersible pump, a pressure-tank pump or a pressure-switch pump is used to supply rainwater when required. When the tap is turned on, or the toilet flushes, the pump is activated and gently pumps water to fill the cistern, or enter the kitchen sink or washing machine.
What happens when I run out of rainwater?
If you only install a small tank (e.g. less than 20,000 L) then it is likely you will run out of rainwater during the summer period. This, of course, depends on the uses of the rainwater. Providing a full laundry, kitchen and bathroom service rapidly depletes the volume you can collect during rainy times. Water Installations installs rainwater tanks that integrate the mains (scheme) water source with the rainwater source. Ross Mars, Managing Director of Water Installations, explains that an automatic top-up device enables mains water to enter the system when the rainwater is depleted. “There are several ways to achieve this, from manually changing valves to fully automated switching devices. It is important to always have water to flush toilets and to provide a source to the laundry” he said.
What you should also consider
Most rainwater tanks come supplied with a basket (leaf) filter, tap and overflow pipe. In addition to these standard fittings, a number of optional extras are available for your rainwater tank system. These include: First-flush device. This enables the first rains to be directed away from the tank. This water may contain dust and decayed matter, and it is best not to collect this and pollute the tank water.
Vermin proofing. This is often necessary for steel and steel-liner tanks to prevent insects, frogs and small rodents from finding their way into the tank.
Garden overflow. Either a subsurface piped trench or a simple gravity-fed dripper system is installed to direct overflow more effectively to garden areas or beds.
Leaf eater. This is a screen which filters rainwater and allows leaves to be shed from the system.
What are the costs involved?
Rainwater tanks are relatively cheap. However, small tanks are proportionally dearer, so the larger the tank the better is the cost-effectiveness. If you intend to pump rainwater to flush toilets and so on, then a pump and irrigation filter would be required. Installation would be extra, and this depends on the distance to the house fixtures and the degree of difficulty in supplying water to the house. Adding options such as a leaf eater and a first-flush device, overflow to gardens and a filter bag is highly recommended.
You should also check with your local council, as some fees may be applicable for a permit to install a rainwater tank.
Some local government councils also require engineered drawings from the tank manufacturer, and these should be included in the submission to council.
Everyone is aware of our need to conserve water and to become water-wiser. Water is one of our most precious resources and it makes sense that if we do what we can to save the water we have, it will go much further. One of the simplest ways we can all save water is by being more mindful of when and how we use water in our homes and backyards.
Water conservation comes naturally when everyone in the family is aware of its importance, and even some of the simple water-saving methods around the home can make a big difference. Taking measures at home to conserve water not only saves you money, it also is of benefit to the greater community. If you could save only 10% of what you currently use, a typical home would save about 30,000 L each year.
Here are the top twenty ideas to help you reach your water-saving target:
Shorten your shower by a minute and you'll save up to 300 litres per month.
When washing dishes by hand, don't let the water run while rinsing. Fill one sink with wash water and the other with rinse water.
Use a water-efficient showerhead. They're inexpensive, easy to install, and can save your family up to 2,500 litres a month.
When you give your pet fresh water, don't throw the old water down the drain. Use it to water your trees or shrubs.
Adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.
Run your clothes washer and dishwasher only when they are full. You can save up to 4,000 litres a month.
Monitor your water bill for unusually high use. Your bill and water meter are tools that can help you discover leaks. Examine the water meter late at night to see if it is turning.
Water your lawn and garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimise evaporation.
Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap.
Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants retains moisture and saves water, time and money.
Put food colouring in your toilet cistern. If it seeps into the toilet bowl without flushing, you have a leak. Fixing a leak of only one litre per hour can save about 700 litres a month.
Install a rainwater tank, collect water from your roof to water your garden. Install an automatic water switching device - plumb your tank to the house to wash clothes and flush toilets!
Install a rain or soil moisture sensor on your irrigation controller so your system won't run when it's raining or the ground is still damp. Adjust your watering schedule each month to match seasonal weather conditions and landscape requirements.
Use drip irrigation for shrubs and trees to apply water directly to the roots where it's needed.
Grab a spanner and fix that leaky tap. It's simple, inexpensive, and if the drip is only 1 drop per second, you can save 400 litres a month.
Reduce the amount of lawn in your yard by planting shrubs and ground covers appropriate to your site and region.
Water your plants deeply but less frequently to encourage deep root growth and drought tolerance.
Install an instant water heater near your kitchen sink so you don't have to run the water while it heats up. This also reduces energy costs. Insulate hot water pipes for more immediate hot water at the tap and for energy savings.
To save water and time, consider washing your face or brushing your teeth while in the shower.
Water your gardens with your greywater and wastewater rather than letting it run into the sewer line or septics.
Finally, you should also consider installing aerators to the kitchen tap and dual (and low volume) flush toilets and other water-saving devices which are usually very simple operations easily done by the handy-person homeowner.
Water conservation at home is one of the easiest measures to put in place, and saving water should become part of everyday family practice.
What is Sustainable Living and what constitutes Sustainable Living Practices?
Sadly, Australians have a footprint of about 7 hectares (70,000 m2) while developing countries such as India and China have footprints of about 2 ha. Sustainability is a term that describes how activities and the things we do today shouldn’t prevent future generations from meeting their needs as well.
This essentially means that renewable resources such as timber, food crops and fish should not be consumed faster than they can be replaced, non-renewable resources such as oil and gas must not be exploited until they can be replaced by renewable energy systems such as solar and wind, and wastes must not accumulate – wastes have to be processed, assimilated and/or the products used.
I think it is reasonable to say that Australians are not living sustainably. If you think about the way we farm and denude the land, the problems with our river systems, the clearing of bushland for housing estates, the loss of biodiversity and the current rate of extinction of our species, mining, logging and increasing levels of pollution, then maybe it’s time to take notice, and then take the time to reflect on how each of us can work towards making a better world for all.
Once you have reached the conclusion that we are living in an ecological unsustainable way, then the solution is obvious: we have to adopt sustainable living. This means that we will be accountable for our actions, that we need to find the right balance between what is available and what we actually need to survive, it will involve being smarter about how we interact with the natural world, and it will mean adopting strategies to minimise our impact on the environment. We will have to work towards both sustainable consumption and sustainable production.
And dare I say it: sustainability involves the intertwining of caring for the environment with social and economic considerations. This may mean that before you buy anything you might consider the manufacturer’s policies and operations, so that the food, clothes and items you buy are produced fairly and ethically, that their workers are not exploited, and that the resources they use are able to be replaced.
In the social context, it is also about our well-being, of having the right to be healthy, of making the right choices, of building resilient communities that have the ability to adapt to change. And I can assure you that there will be many changes in our immediate future, not least of which is the current worldwide depression. If you want to know what is, and what will, happen use a computer and ‘google’ (or search) transition towns, peak oil, ecovillages, 100 mile diet, post carbon cities and the relocalisation network.
Moving towards a sustainable future will require social change, and more importantly behavioural change. Unless we change our worldview of what is valuable, what is really important for all life on earth to continue, and what we need to change, as individuals, about our lifestyle, then no amount of talking or writing about all of these things will make much difference. It was Winston Churchill who said “History tells us that we will choose the right path – once we have explored all the wrong ones. It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required”. There is an increasing groundswell of people throughout the world who have decided to change. More and more people are taking public transport, riding bicycles or walking to work, using cloth shopping bags, car pooling, growing their own food – organically without the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers, installing solar power systems on their roof, harvesting rainwater to offset their water budget in the home, recycling greywater onto their gardens, buying green products, composting food scraps and plant material, installing water efficient appliances and fixtures in homes, recycling glass and metals, and building passive solar homes that are energy efficient.
I remember an Australian comedy show years ago when a priest would list lots of points and then finish with “There is something in there for everyone, don’t you think”. I believe that everyone can make a difference, that we can take that first step on a long journey into the future, starting by simply making small changes in our behaviour until what we do and think is second nature.
In Al Gore’s documentary he said, “The inconvenient truth - time has run out for solutions that are simply convenient.”
Designing your home's irrigation system to be waterwise would not only conserve water but also save you money on your next water bill. Approximately 100 kilolitres a year can be saved by replacing 100 m2 of well maintained turf with paving or synthetic grass, or 50 kilolitres a year by replacing this area with a waterwise garden.
If you want to install an automatic irrigation system, install one with a rain sensor. These devices monitor or respond to soil moisture and prevent the controller from switching the irrigation on. Rain sensors vary in price, but a good one is less than $100.
Add plenty of organic matter such as compost and manure to the soil to improve water retention, plant health and soil structure. This is one of the most important steps in making your garden drought-tolerant. Remember, the healthier your plants are, the more likely they are to withstand drought conditions. Water your plants in early evening or night, reducing loss by evaporation. About 60% of water is lost if you use fine sprays during the heat of the day – the water either never touches the soil or quickly evaporates as it does.
Hand watering can be both relaxing and efficient, especially if you have a trigger nozzle which only allows water to leave the hose when it is pressed. Undertake regular maintenance. While automatic watering systems allow you to devote time and energy elsewhere, if you do not occasionally check the system, you may be pouring money down the drain. Breaks, leaks, broken fittings and split pipes are common mishaps and much water can be wasted especially if irrigation is under pressure.
As seasons change so does the watering requirements of your plants. You may find that watering one day a week is all that is needed during autumn and spring, and then maybe twice-a-week during summer, as permitted by the Water Corporation, for most garden plants.
We can still enjoy lush gardens; it just involves common sense, adequate soil conditions and suitable reticulation equipment.