Saturday, 8 October 2011

Down to the Real Essentials

By Linda from The Witches Kitchen

Tuvalu has just a few days supply of fresh water left. They are rationing water below the UN refugee rate, Australia and New Zealand are flying in rehydration packs on Hercules aircraft, every non-essential use of water is shut down. And still, they are just days away from running out of water.

It really brings it home what's important. Cimate change hasn't caused this. It has just made it much more likely. But probability theory is the kind of maths that made most people avoid maths at school.

Tuvalu's water crisis is the result of super big tides and a drought both happening at the same time. The system failed and then the backup failed. Is it rising sea levels? The problem is that the sea doesn't stay still and let you measure it. It goes up and down twice a day, more or less depending on where the earth is in its orbit around the sun, where the moon is in its orbit around the earth, where the sea currents are flowing, where the pressure gradients in the atmosphere are moving, in a pattern so complex and intricate that it's like a million piece symphony orchestra playing Mozart. And climate change has altered the pattern to make the peaks higher and more frequent. That's the abstract. The concrete is that Tuvalu's underground fresh water is all contaminated with king tide salt water. Can't drink it.

And at the same time, there's been a drought caused by an abnormally long La Nina. La Nina's happen naturally. Cimate change just makes them happen more. This time enough more to run a whole country out of water.

We have lived with tank and dam water for nearly 30 years. There were a couple of times in the mid-90's drought when we ran right out of water. But we could buy it in - get a tanker to deliver a thousand litres of chlorinated town water and pump it into our water tank. My garden collapsed, but we could buy food from the supermarket. We lost quite a few fruit trees, some 15 years old, but the kids could take little tins of fruit to school. We all bathed in the same 15 cm of bathwater, washed our underwear in the bath with us, used the bathwater to soak our clothes, and then ran it out onto the surviving fruit trees. We put bowls of the precious bought water down in the creek bed for the wildlife to drink.

 But what do you do if the water delivery needs a Hercules?

 Permaculture theory is to plan for disaster and build in layers of redundancy. So we've added tanks, tapped a spring, lined dams, built a water trailer with a pump for firefighting. We have a composting toilet and we filter the grey water from the shower to use for the bananas. And we have learned to be very, very frugal with water, to turn off the tap while brushing teeth, to mulch the garden heavily, to wash several loads of clothes in a tub of water, sequencing the washing from the clean whites down to the work socks. (Or at least I've learned - my partner has a deficient washing gene - but we shan't mention that publically shall we!)

And we live on a big island nation, one big enough to truck food around the country and keep an economy functioning in a drought. What do you do if your whole nation is out of water? And more importantly what do the rest of us do?


Paula said...

Well, I'll tell ya: even though I live in the rainy pacific northwest portion of the US, I read awhile ago that this area has been abnormally free from drought, which is much more common. In fact, the statistic was that we haven't had a drought since 1985, so we're due.

This summer we had a metal roof installed, even though the old roof was still in good shape, and now have a solar water heater (in working condition) and a 4.5Kw soalr PV system that still needs to be inspected by the county and the local utility), but the plan is to install a cistern and rainwater catchment system next year, because rainy climate or not, I'm not counting on it lasting.

Good luck down there.

Paula said...

I should mention that when I left California, it was at the end of a seven year drought, so I'm used to conserving water. But it was no where near as bad as yours.

Kim said...

We are having the best season we have ever had with rain, but we are still frugal with our water. We know that it won't be like this forever. Sometimes I wish people in cities (and not everyone does this ) would imagine our creeks and our dams when they have a shower and imagine the water levels going down. I think when you live in town you lose touch with what you are using when you turn on a tap.

A great post.

Kristy said...


if the whole 'what's happening in the world' isn't enough to sober someone up, that kinda thing is.

Mickle in NZ said...

Tuvalu and Tokelau are affected now.

I'm careful with water having lived on home tank supply for five years (1969 to 1974) as a child even though we were in a Wellington suburb.

Frugality pays - this summer Wellington will have less water available as "the powers that be" upgrade one of the regions two water storage lakes out at Te Marua. I'm already changing my home made laundry powder recipe to exclude borax so all the "grey water" can be used on my summer veggies (the soapy water is great for repelling pest insects).

I'm very much enjoying your posts,

Michelle in Wellington, NZ

Hazel said...

It is great to see you posting here, Linda. I moved to where I am because it has a large, spring fed creek at the back which doesn't dry up...even at the end of the last drought in summer. I also use it to top up our rainwater tanks as required. We are still careful how we use it though.