Water Conservation in Town

The following letter was published in the Bellingen Courier sun in February 2017.

When I was building a cabin at Repton 20 years ago, people thought that having a 12 000L water tank was very odd. They couldn’t understand why you would pay $1000 for a tank when you can connect to the town water for near nothing. They weren’t even sure if it was allowed, because the Dept of Health had directed councils to remove water tanks from houses that had town supply. I built a composting toilet, which roughly halved the required capacity of the tank.


A bit later, Coffs council gave rebates to people who bought a water tank. Then BASIX came in, which required new houses to have a small water tank. Water restrictions have come to Bellingen in the last two summers, so if you want to irrigate a garden, you need a water tank or grey water diversion. Bellingen council is not installing mains water to new rural residential (2.5 acre) blocks, so a rainwater tank that was odd 20 years ago is now mandatory.


The climate here seems to be becoming more monsoonal. That is, a dry season that extends from winter, right through spring and the rains don’t really hit until late summer. Monsoon rains are heavy, but in some years, the rainy season fails.  If this really is a climate we will live in here, it’s good news for mango lovers. Most mango trees here originate from monsoonal India, and require a dry spring to crop. The rest of the news is bad. Water storage needs to cover a longer, drier, hotter period. This means we have to further phase out dependence on council, i.e. the Bellinger River to supply all water. Instead, we will need more & bigger rainwater tanks, reuse greywater and get over the fear of compost toilets. We can conserve garden soil moisture by building swales and increasing mulch & shade.


“First flush” is a container or pipe that diverts the first bit of rainfall mixed with dust & litter away from the tank, to improve water quality. Screening the tank will keep mozzies out and stop animals falling in and dying. Check for sources of pollution to the roof or in piping.  These measures should produce tasty, good quality water. If you’re worried about pollution, the house plumbing can be split into potable town/ tank other.


You are allowed to divert water from the shower, bath or laundry to a garden without council approval or a plumber, provided a range of conditions are met. The conditions are listed at http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/regulations/2006-245.pdf. Basically, you’re supposed to pipe the water under soil or mulch, and make sure it doesn’t stagnate or run over the surface. Thirsty crops work well with greywater. Some systems have a tap to “undivert” waste water back into town treatment if the garden is getting too wet.


The days of unlimited clean water coming out of the tap and disappearing down the sink are over. To survive global warming, we need a cultural change to many micro managers of water – managing their own supply (with tanks), use (with care) and recycling (in garden.