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Monday, May 28, 2012

Roll out the barrel

The ban on outdoor watering was lifted at 6 p.m. on Saturday. By then I had given up on it for the day. Someone had told me it was on for the entire weekend and I feared he was right. But in the meantime, my personal water reservoir was running dangerously low.

Rain barrel from RainBarrel.ca
I am one of those lucky people who has had a rain barrel for many years. Even before it became fashionable to conserve water, I found it convenient to store water on the patio, close to the many potted plants there and on the adjacent deck. Mine was a birthday gift, a large, bilious green plastic barrel that a friend with connections managed to obtain from a local hospital. What it had held before being presented to me, I did not ask. My husband, Ted, purchased the fittings to connect it to the downspout and installed a faucet. Eventually, I painted it brown to match the siding of the house. It has served me well.

It certainly was a life saver this past weekend.

Given the warm weather this spring, I started gardening early. I was determined to really devote myself to this hobby this year. For the past six years or more, I have been really busy each and every spring so that by the time I get around to it, the garden is overgrown and out of control.

This year it was starting to look really good, although many of the perennials and trees were confused by the erratic temperatures, blossoming well ahead of schedule in the hot sunny days of April and then shivering to their roots in the frosts that followed.

But warm or cool, the one constant of this spring is the lack of rain. A few showers several weeks ago had produced a spurt of growth. That was long ago in the life of a plant, especially in Byron where the sandy soil drains over night, despite decades of added compost. Most of our water goes directly to China without the benefit of a pipeline.

I kept hoping for rain, postponing the inevitable use of the sprinkler. The grass can fend for itself, but there was a new tree, one of the million that ReForest London has asked us to plant, and the perennials where flagging in the hot dry sunshine.

And then it was too late.

Early on Wednesday morning, word came that there had been a break in the Lake Huron pipeline, that four foot diameter 47 kilometres long piece of pipe which brings water to 350,000 people in eight municipalities, most of them in London. It would take the better part of two days to do the repairs. In the meantime, Londoners were fortunate to have several days of water stored in reservoirs but we would have to take it easy. Use only what we needed; postpone unnecessary consumption.

At first, the conservation request was only that, a request. Then, when on Thursday actual usage escalated to 200 million litres compared to the 140 million litre daily average, the city laid down the by-law. No outdoor usage of water at all. The ban would be enforced. Violators could find themselves subject to a $95 “inspection fee”.

By then, the repairs had been completed, but the reserves were dangerously low for fire suppression. It would take another day or two to refill the reservoirs.

Over those three and a half days between the announcement of the break and the lifting of the ban, I certainly gained an appreciation of my usual easy access to safe water and an awareness of how much is routinely wasted. You don’t really need to run the shower while lathering your hair or body. Water from cooking and cleaning can be emptied into the garden rather than down the drain. Even low flow toilets don’t need to be flushed after every piddle.

It also brought home the importance of well-maintained infrastructure. This is the second time in the last couple of years that there has been a break in this almost half century old system. Just under half of the system has been “twinned”, to allow water distribution to carry on unimpeded in certain areas even when a disruption occurs. The remainder is yet to be twinned, but it’s expensive and the current council has balked at introducing the rate increases that are needed to pay for the infrastructure upgrades. When staff recently recommended introducing a larger flat rate component in the water bill to cover infrastructure costs, the Civic Works Committee was split on the issue. Some, like Councillor VanMeerbergen, insisted that there had to be a better model, one that didn’t cost so much.

It remains to be seen what happens when the matter is brought back before council and the public later this summer. But certainly, this experience should have made them aware of the importance of maintaining the infrastructure in a timely fashion.

As for me, I was enormously grateful for my rain barrel, which managed to hold enough water from the previous rainfall to look after the abundant hanging pots, the planters, the new transplants, and the recently adopted dogwood tree. Even the bird baths could be replenished. The barrel was almost drained when the ban was lifted. But just after I unwound the hose the following morning, the rain came, just in the nick of time. Only a centimetre or so, but it was enough. By late in the afternoon on Sunday, the grass was looking green, and the rain barrel was full.

Now, to hook up the two other rain barrels, just in case we get more rain. Or another watering ban.

Note: Affordable rain barrels ($55) will be available on sale on Saturday, June 9, 2012 from 10:30 to 1:30 at Trinity United Church, 76 Doulton Ave, London (on Hale St, 2 blocks south of Dundas). See RainBarrel.ca for details. And don't forget to water the trees!


Unknown said...

Where can I learn about when is it allowed to water and when not? Thanks!

Gina Barber said...

@Ivan Raszl You can check www.london.ca There should be an announcement on the home page if an unusual ban is effect. In June, July and August addresses with odd numbers are allowed to water on odd numbered days, and even numbered properties may water on even numbered days.

Anonymous said...

@ Ivan and Gina...check out www.am980.ca. They are often the first to know and spread the word.

Kathy Clee said...

I saw a posting on facebook that automatic car washes were still operating on Saturday. That's outrageous! Surely businesses were included in the ban, no? Even if they weren't, one wonders at their sense of civic duty, using water for something as frivolous as car washing when we were so close to a crisis.