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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to meet Author and Innovator Michael Mobbs, Sustainable Home, at his inner city home in Chippendale, Sydney.  Here he is off the grid for water.  He catches rainwater for showering, cooking, and drinking after which the greywater and blackwater is treated through a series of sand, gravel, and peat beds ending with a solar powered zap of UV rays.  It is then recycled in the home and used for laundry and toilet needs.

Not only does he concern himself with his direct ecological footprint, he has made an effort to include his neighborhood in his concerns by creating an edible street fed by stormwater, along with adding community composting bins.  You can read about his neighborhood efforts here.  

He and his neighbors disconnected the storm drains leading from their gutter downspouts to the street guttter and perforated them, running them through the nature strips in front of their houses, which are planted with food plants and natives along the whole street

Street Compost Bins offer neighborhoods a resource to put their food scraps in and reap the rewards, if they don’t have the space in their own places.  Furthemore, neighborhood residents are paid in local café currency to take care of the compost bins.  

Look at this list of achievements over an 18 month period!

·      Road gardens built by residents and businesses for ~ $4,000 + ~ $3,000 from council 

·      Six folk trained to maintain public compost bins 

·      Value of resident and business maintenance labour @ $20 an hour over $5,000 a year 

·      Over 1,000 fruit trees and plants planted, about 30 trees and several dozen herbs stolen or broken by local human Galahs (pesky birds that travel in flocks and destroy parklands)

·      Stopped over 4 million litres of stormwater entering Sydney Harbour each year -at a cost of less than $100 

·      Grow over 5% of citrus and herbs needed by about 150 households by 2011 

·      Cut food miles by over 5,000 k for every harvesting house 

·      Grow conversations in the streets -several blogs, facebookpages and many local stories 

·      Grow community gardening skills 

·      Conducting possibly the first public trial of composting -four x 400 litre compost bins 

·      Trialled and proven a way to water street gardens with roof water at a one-off cost of less than $5 per house 

·      Trialled a way of diverting compost liquid nutrients below ground to irrigate the citrus and road gardens at a total cost per bin less than $10 

·      Kept over 12 tonnes of food waste out of council tips, prevented over 3 tonnes of greenhouse pollution

·      Stopped over 4 million litres of rain water leaving our streets to pollute Sydney Harbour for a total one off capital cost of less than $200 and no maintenance costs 

Bringing this sort of simple technology out to the streets fosters community spirit.  Once we think as a community, we start to make decisions based on not only our own needs, but with a thought to how our actions affect those around us, including our local ecology.  What an inspiration!

When technology turns an old idea into something complex and energy intensive

A link was sent to me involving this great story about a shower that filters the water through a plant system and turns it into potable water.  It looks fun and interesting to someone who sees the value of creating a solution for water shortages.  However, for those of us involved in water conservation, who know about greywater, it's kind of silly.  

Looking at the comments underneath the article I felt relieve that I'm not the only one who finds that making a simple solution complex and overengineered creates all kinds of problems.  When we start adding to many moving parts, and relying on too many energy sources, we find that there is a greater chance of failure, which means that we lose faith in the original solution (in this case, reed beds, sand, and gravel purifying water).  As the chance of failure increases, there is more opportunity for naysayers to exploit shortcomings, translating an inappropriate use of technology to a public health danger in the actual simple concept, which then translates to overcomplicated laws and regulations preventing people from doing the right thing in a slow, simple, and safe scenario.  California greywater laws (until it recently changed to allow residents to apply greywater to landscape without a permit) were a perfect example of the fear factor gone awry!  Arizona greywater laws are a perfect example of creating an atmosphere of safe application of a simple concept without the need to overcomplicate things.

I say, make yourself an outdoor shower and let the runoff trickle right onto the plants that need it!  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sydney Water

Sydney receives an average of 40 inches of rain per year as opposed to our 10 inches.  Sydney residents pay .007 cents per gallon of water.  Up from .004 cents per gallon in 2005.  This is 58% raise in 4 years.  We pay .004 cents per gallon, expected to go up 40% in the next year resulting in about .006 cents per gallon.  Sydney reduced water use by 10% city wide since 2005, that despite a population increase of 5%.  People in Sydney use 90 gallons per person per day, compared to our 180 gallons.  How does this compare when we consider the minimal amount of rain we get?!

Sydney is a wet city, comparitively, on a dry continent, and yet they still get it!  They encourage their citizens to conserve by offering rebates on water tanks and greywater systems.  They have incredible resources readily available to anyone and everyone from your average citizen interested in conserving, to someone who wants to put in a tank, to teachers in schools.  

Check out some of the projects that Sydney City is involved in to help conserve water.  Maybe we can be inspired!

From Sydney's water department website:

    Sydney Water's rebate is available to residential, commercial and industrial customers who install a rainwater tank before June 2010.

    You can get a rebate of up to $1,500 depending on:

    • the date you bought your tank
    • the size of your tank (State Government)
      • 500-1000gallons $150
      • 1000-1850 gallons $400
      • 1850+ $500
    • (Federal Government) whether a licensed plumber connects your rainwater tank supply to your toilet ($500) and/or washing machine ($500). National Rainwater and Greywater Initiative

    Water restrictions currently in effect:

  • Hand-held hosing of lawns and gardens and drip irrigation is now allowed only on Wednesdays and Sundays before 10 am and after 4 pm
  • No other watering systems or sprinklers are to be used at any time
  • A permit from Sydney Water is required to fill new or renovated pools bigger than 10,000 litres
  • No hosing of hard surfaces including vehicles at any time
  • No hoses or taps to be left running unattended, except when filling pools or containers
  • Fire hoses must only be used for fire fighting purposes – not for cleaning.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


A couple days ago I met two lovely people, Peter and Julie, here in Sydney.  They are enthusiastic Permaculturists.  They installed an aquaponics system in their backyard.  In a large tank, they are growing fresh water perch, a native Australian fish.  The water is circulated up to

 two smaller tubs filled with small gravel (called blue metal) and has plants growing right out of the gravel including lettuce, mustard greens, celery, strawberries.  The plants are thriving on this nutrient rich water; the water is cleaned through the gravel and plants and circulated back down to the fish.  It was inspiring to see how their motivation turned into something so productive.

Aquaponics (IPA: /ˈækwəˈpɒnɪks/) is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment.

Aquatic animal effluent (for example fish waste) accumulates in water as a by-product of keeping them in a closed system or tank (for example a recirculating aquaculture system). The effluent-rich water becomes high in plant nutrients but this is correspondingly toxic to the aquatic animal.

Plants are grown in a way (for example a hydroponic system) that enables them to utilize the nutrient-rich water. The plants take up the nutrients, reducing or eliminating the water's toxicity for the aquatic animal.

The water, now clean, is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water. The systems rely on the natural relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass from the system.

Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the type of aquatic animal and vegetation.

See who is doing it in San Diego here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Working Together!

This is KC from Monty's Plumbing. He and I work together on greywater projects. It is great finding a plumber who is passionate about water conservation and sees the wisdom of greywater as part of the solution for our water shortage. Not many plumbers understand how to interact with greywater or are willing to divert greywater if they do understand what it is.

KC works with me to install Jandy Neverlube Diverter valves within existing plumbing, or new plumbing in the case of remodels or new construction, and divert the water out of the house. From there I work with customers to determine the best and safest place to put the water and the best landscape to hold the water.

Veggie Planting Calendar

The list I've always wanted!  
Happy planting!  Think about where your water will be falling and make less work for yourself by directing downspouts into planted areas.  Avoid runoff by creating basins instead of mounds.  Avoid flooding and erosion by creating places for the water to overflow.  

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Water Tanks 101

San Diego gets an average of 10 inches of rain a year.  Most people don't think that's worth catching.  But a 1000 square foot roof can catch 600 gallons of water in 1 inch of rain.  That can add up pretty quickly!

Check out this Sydney Guide for selecting a tank.

Considerations for water tanks are material: plastic, metal, ferrocement.  Don't use white tanks as they will grow algae in the sun.  

The amount of filtration you do before the water gets into the tank will determine the amount of maintenance you have to do.  Simple filtration includes a Leaf Eater and Downspout Diverter to divert the first flush of water which is usually the dirties from the tank.  According to the city of Sydney you need to check your tank for sludge at least every two to three years.  

It is ideal to have your tank at a high point in your landscape in order to avoid a pump.  If you do intend to use drip irrigation, you may need to use a pump to get ideal efficiency.

There are several tank materials to choose from including plastic, metal, concrete, and fiberglass.  Plastic and metal are relatively lightweight and easy to move into position.  You want to choose a dark, thick plastic to avoid algae growth and withstand UV rays.  You may need to line a metal tank to prevent corrosion.  Concrete can be made to shape using ferrocement techniques discussed in a book by Art Ludwig.  

There are two types of tank systems: a wet and a dry system.  In a dry system the water is all gravity fed from the source (the roof) into the tank.  In a wet system, you can have the tank some distance from the house and put the pipes underground and bring them back up into the tank.  As long as the inlet to the tank is below the gutter entrance, the water will flow into the tank.  The issue with this system is that you will always have standing water in the pipes.  If you have freezing temperatures, this could cause pipes to break.  Also, you need to protect both the entrance and outlet against mosquitos.  

Always plan an overflow.  If your tank fills, where will the extra water go?  It's great if you can send it into a greywater basin and push the built up salts down through your soil.

Greywater Codes Change

Greywater is a great way to conserve water and become more in tune with your space and the water that you use.  Now California has made it easier for people to use their greywater, abandoning their intricate permitting process in some cases, and alleviating some of the restrications that prevented most homeowners from creating a greywater solution in their spaces.  Checkout the article in the Union Tribune:  California Greywater Codes Changed!

However, with the easing of restrictions, there has been no simultaneous move to educate the general public on the best practices for using greywater.  So we need to educate ourselves.  Please look at Art Ludwig's website and Brad Lancaster's website in the resource list for more information on how to implement greywater systems.  Also, look at these 15 greywater guidelines put out by the state of Arizona.  They are very helpful in preventing problems and creating useful solutions.


Irena Salina’s film FLOW: For Love of Water is a comprehensive look at water issues around the world. Both moving and informative, FLOW shows us the struggles that communities from Michigan to India are undertaking to protect their most precious resource—water. Water infrastructure is a hot issue right now in the US. With a new administration that promises to address problems of crumbling infrastructure, our movement is poised to be able to make significant change. Whether you’re already a seasoned activist or are new to the issue, FLOW will inspire you to fight for water justice.