Last Updated Sep 14, 2018 · Written by Philippa Land
Australia is the driest continent on earth and, as a result, many states have water restrictions in place. As water is a precious resource, what can you do to save water at home?
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about water conservation in Australia, including your responsibilities as a citizen. We will then share some easy and effective ways to conserve water at home which you can implement today. Once you got the basics in place, more structural water conservation efforts will most likely require you to hire a plumber (in case of leaks), installing water catchment utilities like a rainwater tank or recycling.
Australia’s water concerns are the result of its geological dry centre and the seasonal impact of El Niño’s phenomenon causing extreme weather conditions like droughts and floods which can have a socio-economic and agricultural impact.
A drought is defined by the United National Food and Agricultural Organisation as rainfall that is lower than the historical average and by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology as “...a prolonged, abnormally dry period when the amount of available water is insufficient to meet our normal use”.
The most remarkable drought to impact Australia in recent times happened between 2002 and 2010 when the country suffered from multi-year droughts that were labelled “the Millennium Drought” by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Despite crops were lost and water levels in most of the country fell below reserve level, with subsequent water restrictions imposed on most households, pockets of the country also suffered from flooding.
Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology, image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Australia Licence
More recently, in 2014, the country had the warmest winter and the highest temperature recorded while Queensland’s interior suffered from the driest year on record. In 2017, large parts of NSW, South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory received less than 100mm of rainfall.
As droughts become part of daily life and Australia continues to be the driest continent on earth, water restrictions are in place in many states and have become something most Australians are probably accustomed to living with. As restrictions are set by your local government and enforced by your regional water authority, it is important to prepare your home so that you are in compliance and your daily life is not affected when they come into effect. (place? <- left to preserve the comment but should be removed)
Compliance with the restrictions is not just a sign of good citizenship but also a legal obligation with substantial fines. Many states and territories employ “water inspectors”, who visit local neighbourhoods to ensure that all residents comply. If you’re caught breaking the rules you can be issued a fine. As an example, fines for breaking Sydney water restrictions are $220 for individuals and $550 for businesses. And councils actively encourage residents to report a breach.
Water restrictions are usually seasonal, which means your water usage will be more restricted in the summer months when there is less rain, and they depend on things like water storage levels in your state or territory, how much rain has fallen in your closest catchment, and on dam levels. Some states, like Brisbane and Darwin, may have no restrictions at all because they fall in the tropical belt and enjoy the abundant rain, whereas others have been on permanent water restrictions for years. Melbourne water restrictions mean many regions are affected by permanent water safety rules. So it’s important to check with your local water authority or local council to find out what type of restrictions, permanent or seasonal, currently affect you.
Depending on your location, the most common water restrictions include limits on watering your lawn, using sprinklers, washing cars, hosing outdoor pavements, and refilling swimming pools. The Bureau of Meteorology’s Water Restrictions website provides access to current water restriction information for the whole of Australia.
Tip: Water restrictions only apply to customers on city water. It is very rare that an Australian State or Territory will impose water restrictions on recycled, reclaimed, rain or grey water. So if you have a rainwater tank installed, this water supply is yours to use as you like.
Because penalties apply for not following the rules of water restrictions, it’s important to adopt water wise habits as part of your daily activities at home. And, with Australians concerned over rising energy bills, you’ll be pleased to hear that the benefits of water conservation also include saving energy, as we pointed out previously.
One of the best water conservation methods is to choose water efficient products for your shower, toilets, taps and other appliances. The national Water Efficiency Labeling and Standards (WELS) scheme is a great way to determine the water efficiency of products; the more stars, the more water efficient. You should aim for a rating of 4 stars or above.
Products like dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, taps, and showers are all legally required to display the blue star water rating label, which gives you information on the water efficiency and water consumption. So be sure to reference this when buying a product which consumes water.
If you’re wondering how to save water in your daily life, the shower is one of the best places to start; almost a quarter of a household’s water is used in the shower.
Cutting your shower time down to 4 minutes is one of the best ways to conserve water (a shower timer is a great way to track this), though you should also be using a water-efficient showerhead.
A water-efficient showerhead should only use 6 – 7 L of water per minute. By comparison, an inefficient showerhead can use up to 25 L per minute. When purchasing (or replacing) your showerhead, look for the water flow rate on the WELS label.
This can mean huge savings on your water and energy bill, as the reduction in hot water means less energy used for water heating. By swapping to a water-efficient showerhead you could save up to 20,000 L of water per year (roughly $160 on your annual utilities), without compromising on a high-quality shower.
Check with your local water authority to see if they offer free showerhead exchange or any rebates on water-efficient showerheads. Fitting a water-efficient showerhead should only take an experienced plumber 5 minutes.
A great way to recycle water from the shower is by putting a bucket under the faucet while you wait for the water to heat up. You can then use that water for your garden or for flushing the toilet. A running tap can use 10L of water, per minute, so imagine how many litres of water you could save!
It’s very easy to reduce the amount of water used by your toilet, and things like using the half flush button when appropriate are easy tips to include in water conservation for kids.
You can also hire a plumber to adjust the flush volume of your toilet, or consider replacing your toilet with a 4.5/3L WELS 4 star toilet, or a WELS 5 star model which reuses water from the hand basin.
A slow leak can waste more than 9,000L of water a year so make sure to call a plumber to immediately fix any toilet leaks. It’s easy to check for leaks by putting a couple of drops of food dye into the cistern. If you see colour in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, your system needs to be repaired.
Another bathroom tip: turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. Leaving the tap running can waste up to 10L of water per minute.
You may have a leak in your home without realising. A great way to spot leaks is to keep an eye on your water bill. If it suddenly spikes, this could be an indicator that you have a leak. It is estimated that households in Perth lose an average of 700 million buckets of water through residential leaks.
Keep an eye on all the possible water leakages and get a plumber to fix them as soon as they arise. Or better yet, replace old fixtures with more efficient new ones to prevent leaks from taking place. A plumber can help you replace all of them.
Depending on where you live, you might consider chatting with your plumber about installing a water storage tank or catchment. These can be a great way to save and store rainwater to use throughout your garden during water shortages. A small tank can also be set-up to run your toilet and washing machine, which could save you more than 20,000L of water every year.
Similarly, a grey water system (recycled water from sinks, washing machines, and bathtubs), can be a great source of water for outdoor use, so you’re not using drinking water for your garden.
And remember, grey and recycled water are not part of the water restrictions so they are a great way to conserve and continue using water when in short supply.
Your garden can be a great source of water consumption. Minimizing outdoor water use can save a huge amount of water in your home. To do that, choose native or water-wise plants and make small changes to your routines, like washing the car (or bike) on the lawn so you’re watering the grass at the same time. Or sweep your drive instead of hosing it down. If you can, avoid outdoor pavements as these increase the heat radiation and water runoff from your home.
Like with Australian dams, you can lose the equivalent of your entire pool’s volume of water every year to evaporation. To prevent that, use a pool cover between swims.
Australia is the driest continent on earth, yet Australians consume the most amount of water, per capita, in the world. With water being our most precious resource it has never been more important to increase our efforts and education about water conservation at home.
The good news is that we can all do our part to contribute to preserving water. By putting in place all the measures mentioned above, from making sure all your fixtures are efficient to recycling and reusing water or developing water-wise habits, you can have a significant impact in your water consumption level and, in the process, help the environment and your finances. Get started today on your journey to a more sustainable home.