TAG | water usage
Water Tactics recently attended a CSIRO research workshop on rainwater tank maintenance in Brisbane. The aim of the workshop was to canvass the opinions of various stakeholders in the rainwater industry as to how best to ensure the longevity of rainwater harvesting systems. This issue is critical in order that future water security policies based on supplementation of the recticulated water supply by rainwater can rely on the projected contribution afforded by existing and future rainwater tank installations.
At the basis of the workshop discussion was the fact that all rainwater storage systems require some level of maintenance in order to ensure longevity of the system and to ensure the quality of the stored rainwater.
The strategies examined ranged from public education campaigns to encourage DIY maintenance right through to compulsory registration and inspection of tanks. There was also debate on the more technical aspects of rainwater system design and implementation, aiming to improve the quality of rainwater harvesting installations and facilitate ongoing tank maintenance.
Our participation in the workshop focused on a strategy of allowing the public to monitor and maintain responsibility for their own rainwater systems while pointing out that governments need to do more in educating and empowering tank owners to maintain their tanks.
In support of this approach, we are of the opinion that:
- Rainwater tank installations and tank owners are unique and diverse. Any attempt to regulate and legislate some a diverse sector of the community is likely to be difficult, expensive and probably ineffective.
- Generally, people are more motivated by positive messages that fear or negativity.
- If tank owners are acknowledged and commended for the contribution they are making to water conservation, there will be more motivation to protect the longevity of their rainwater systems.
- In an increasingly regulated society, the threat of compulsory inspection is more likely to result people abandoning rainwater harvesting.
- Currently, the majority of rainwater systems are working effectively so the best approach would be to work with the majority instead of trying to regulate or legislate for the minority situation i.e. failed tank systems.
- Regardless of the quality of installation, all tanks systems need to be monitored and maintained. Tank maintenance is not complex. A rainwater system is just another household/property component for which preventative maintenance is beneficial.
In order to effect this, we consider there should be:
- Acknowledgement that everyone with a functional rainwater tank is contributing to overall water conservation and that this contribution is valued at all times – not only during periods of drought.
- Public education regarding the necessity to monitor and maintain rainwater tanks.
- Promotion of rainwater tank maintenance as part of normal household maintenance.
- Quality information to allow DIY maintenance with back-up support and access to expert assistance in case of problems.
- Handover information kits for those purchasing a property with a rainwater harvesting system already installed.
The next phase following the CSIRO research workshop on rainwater tank maintenance is to take the proposed strategies to sectors of the community to gather data on their response to the various suggestions.
The Hendra virus was a major topic of discussion in the national media this week with some reports broaching the question “Can Hendra virus exist in water tanks?” due to rainwater catchments being contaminated with bat and flying fox droppings.
One program on Brisbane ABC radio (ABC 612 Mornings 28/7/11) interviewed a tank cleaning company representative and sought a range of views from tank owners on this topic. While drawing no conclusions about the virus itself in relation to tank water, the suggestion of possible association has the potential to instill an element of doubt and fear.
Quite often, the initial alarming story-line is all the general public will ‘hear’. There is no current evidence of the Hendra virus being found in rainwater tanks or even that the disease can be transmitted via water. So far, this is a precautionary query only because so little is really known about this rare and deadly disease. To keep this issue in perspective, a few points must be considered:
- Health authorities admit that they do not fully understand the Hendra virus or its transmission but it is thought that the disease is transmitted by direct animal-to-animal contact. Further research is ongoing.
- Some areas of government have already considered and investigated this possibility in rural areas. Rockhampton Regional Council has published a document addressing the issues of flying foxes and rainwater tanks and is available via the Council’s website. See http://www.rockhamptonregion.qld.gov.au/Council_Services/Animal_Management The Council makes recommendations to keep rainwater safe for drinking including regular tank maintenance and water treatment.
- Rainwater has been and will continue to be the sole source of household water supply for countless people in areas where there is no reticulated water supply. Proper management of rainwater harvesting systems ensures a safe and sustainable water supply.
While it is vital to investigate and assess any possible health risk in relation to all water supplies, it is equally important to ensure that any misinformation is addressed and that we don’t allow unfounded fears to detract from the important contribution rainwater harvesting makes to environmental sustainability.
Note: Water Tactics do not recommend drinking tank water in areas where a potable water supply is available. Tank water used for drinking should be adequately treated and/or filtered to remove any potential contaminants.
Australians continue to adopt rainwater harvesting as a means of water conservation according to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) this month.
ABS figures from March 2010 indicate that Australia-wide 26% of households use rainwater and that figure is up to 49% in South Australia.
In the capital cities, Brisbane had the largest increase in households with rainwater tanks – currently 43%.
Statistics are even more compelling when considering new housing development, with rainwater tanks installed at 57% of Australian dwellings less than one year old.
These figures are an indication that while government and media focus is given to large-scale – and often controvesial – infrastructure projects such as desalination and water recycling, Australians are getting on with the job of water conservation in a simple, immediate and effective way: rainwater harvesting.
The full ABS media release can be viewed here
The report highlights the ongoing concern over urban water security in Australia’s major cities and contains observations regarding the inefficiencies inherent with the current diverse responsibilities for water supply across States and Territories and various levels of Government. This comes as no surprise when considering the dire drought situation faced by great tracts of the country over recent years and the desperate actions taken to alleviate the very real threat of exhaustion of potable water supply.
Much is made of the fact that there is little competition in bulk water supply in this country. Another major observation is that water consumers are generally considered as having equal expectations of water reliability and supply and that this should not be assumed. The overriding impression is a move toward water becoming a market-regulated commodity.
The report refers to “…political pressure to minimise the rate of increase of water prices..” and goes on to indicate that this is preventing the realisation of “…fully cost-reflective pricing”. Naturally presiding over a steep increase in the cost of water – generally regarded as an essential service to be provided by our Governments and absolutely necessary to the quality of life – is a political hot potato! In South East Queensland we have recently seen the separation of water supply responsibilities into new local Government business units such as Queensland Urban Utilities. Unpopular water price increases are now distanced from the ever-controversial issue of Council rate rises. However, the effect will be the same regardless of who passes on the bad news – higher water usage charges.
Rainwater harvesting and maintaining an alternative water supply now becomes crucial to avoid total reliance on centralised water supply and full exposure to the inevitable increasing costs. Market-regulation of essential services has rarely ever resulted in cheaper costs to the public; and water supply is unlikely to an exception. Consider that one of the recommendations made in this report is that “policy makers need to communicate the true impact of below-cost pricing to users and the wider community”. Undoubtedly this information will be used to ‘prepare’ us for water price hikes and/or the establishment of optional standards of water supply.
A decentralised water system doesn’t come without cost; but rainwater is free and you control when, where, and how much you use.
The full Infrastructure Australia Urban Water Security Report can be viewed at
Think about how many times you turn on the tap outdoors and use your ‘drinking’ water for everyday tasks where non-potable water would do
- washing the car
- washing the dog
- house exterior cleaning
- window washing
- flushing out gutters
- rinsing paint brushes
- cleaning outdoor furniture & toys
- venetian blind cleaning (yes, some people do still have them)
- …and who can forget watering the lawn and garden?
Since the ‘heady’ days of the rebate for installing a rainwater tank for outdoor use only, various government bodies have been persuading us that the true value of installing a rainwater tank lies in having an internal plumbing connection to the laundry or toilet and nothing less will warrant reward! Just try adding up how much drinking water in a year you would use for the common household jobs listed here (and that’s not all) and then think about the increase in potable water usage charges…
Doesn’t having a rainwater tank even for outdoor use only make sense cents?