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Did my water diet survive the heat of 2009?

Posted by Nola Poirier

I am sitting in my living room watching the rain pour down. It's the first big rain we've had here in months. There were two days in August when we had a bit, but otherwise, like across most of B.C., it was a dry, sunny summer.

The warm weather was something that brought me joy (long days of swimming, rock climbing, lawn games, entertaining friends), as well as some challenges to ponder. In the spring, I set myself a water-saving test – I pledged to not use any municipal water for my garden. Of course, when I created this self-imposed 150-day water diet, it was still raining periodically and my garden was only partially planted.

It seemed to me like the very day I posted my water diet blog, the clouds blew off and never showed up again – except on those two days in August. And so the challenge began.

My rain barrel runs dry
I admit up front that I did use some tap water for my garden. My rain barrel had dried up by July, and my plants were dying in the heat.

But the water diet definitely wasn't a failure. I was successful in three important ways:

I radically reduced the amount of tap water I would have used if I wasn't conscious of every drop – and mulching deeply to reduce my need.

I grew lots of food: tomatoes to last me through winter, squashes, corn, herbs, peppers, apples, peaches, pears, berries, teas, leafy greens, and root vegetables. By growing them myself I was in control of exactly how much water they required, not only to grow, but I also eliminated the need to package or ship them.

Perhaps most important, is that I learned so much from this experience I'm now able to set up a system up so I really won't need anything but redirected and captured rainwater for next year.

Why saving water matters
Fresh water is not just another important resource; it is an essential life-giving substance that makes up most of our world, including us. And while in most of B.C. we can look outside and see it cover us as rain, snow, fog, frost, dew, mist, and drizzle, if we don't radically shift our relationship with the stuff, and reduce our use, the future is going to get a whole lot drier.

 In direct water use (which only accounts for things like drinking, washing, and flushing) Canadians use 329 litres of water per day. That's a lot of water. And, according to the Ministry of Environment, B.C. residents consume more than the national average, at a whopping 490 litres per day!

In most parts of B.C. we are fortunate to have a lot of high quality water, but in almost all parts of B.C., that isn't a given for the future. The water cycle is a long slow process. The fact that places on the west coast, like Tofino and many of the Gulf Islands, have water shortages in the summer, serves as a warning to all of us about the need to capture it when we can, to use it well, and to let it go.

My new strategy
As for my new water-saving inspirations, I am: putting an elevated tank into my garden that will be filled (by a solar pump) with the water collected on the roof of my house, installing more rain barrels so I can catch water from every slope of all my outbuildings, digging more swales for my garden that will direct water to where I need it by pushing up the water table under key garden beds.

In addition, because the back of my property can become a marsh by spring, my swales are also slightly sloped, so they double as drainage when water is abundant, directing it to my water tank, for drier times.

I don't use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides on my garden, so when water does leave here, it is just as clean as when it arrived.

This system is certainly more elaborate than many people want to get. I have a large garden. But even in a small garden, or for the containers on your balcony, water saving is key, and it can be as simple as sliding a container under the drips from the balcony upstairs, watering plants with cooled cooking water, adding compost to your soil and mulching every plant deeply for good water retention in the soil.

If you have a yard, get a few barrels this winter and catch the melting snow or rain from your eaves. Your plants will love it. The water tables will celebrate, and the future will have a better chance of being quenched.

Nola Poirier is a freelance writer and Unplug This Blog! contributor who lives on the Sunshine Coast.