This started as a complaint about my water bill but those of us interested in local food production, food miles, locavore communities etc had better get our heads out of the soil and into the political arena if we want to make a successful transition to these fine qualities.

My water bill which arrived the other day and showed that for three quarters of the year we consume very little water on our property, eking out showers, moderating laundry and using a modern dishwasher that is positively Scrooge-like in its water use.

But this summer we used about 950 litres of water a day and the bill took a massive jump, mostly because of the water we needed for the garden in this drought.

Now we are very happy with the food production and, while I can do better with water, I don't begrudge paying my fair share for its use. What is obvious is that good, plentiful food uses lots of water.

However, the allocation of the cost of the water is the problem; what we are also charged is several hundred dollars for waste water processing because that charge is based on processing through the sewage system 75% of the water we import onto the property. As assiduous users of Ana Edy's Peace on Earth fertiliser, I know for sure that our waste water is trivial and that the vast majority of it goes on the garden.

As more and more of us take to actually substituting our food sources, as distinct from supplementing them with home grown produce, we will increasingly end up using more water, for which we should pay, and being charged for waste water processing that we manifestly do NOT use. I'm not complaining about the total, only the way it is assigned.

And the problem is much bigger than that. In the first place we are contributing to a facility and a service, funds that it does not need because the volume of water we are sending to it is out of whack with the charge. In the longer run this will tend to show the waste water service becoming increasingly profitable with money that should be used to ensure much larger supply instead.

Lets assume that by the time Auckland's population is 1.5 million we also have a third of the population growing, as we do, about half the food we consume. According to Metrowater, our consumption went from a bit less than a 2 person family's use (there are just 2 of us) to the amount that a 6 person family would use.

Lets carry that forward. In a dry summer such as we have had, our water consumption increased by 200% over the winter quarter. Extended to the scenario above, one third of the population would then be using 100% of the water expected to serve the whole city.

Plainly that isn't going to happen, which means that food production is going to be limited at some unknowable, and highly variable point, dependent on the amount of rain falling in any one year.

If all we were doing is drinking, showering, cleaning the car and keeping a bit of lawn green we could easily, as a city, cut back hard on consumption when supplies run short.

But if 33% of the population lose half their ability to grow half their food, and If, by that time, we have shifted our food production balance to a locavore model, suddenly we have a serious food shortage problem.

The fact is that we currently grow our food in places where there is both land and water to do it and we consume that food in places where we have set things up to supply only enough water for domestic purposes. If we are now planning to substitute industrial food production for locavore models, we had better get together with our city planners and make sure that water supplies are properly structured, and costed, to support that.

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Comment by Earl Mardle on March 24, 2010 at 11:17am

Just checked it out. To install trevor's system at my place with near enough to 50 metres of garden would cost me nearly $15,000. For that kind of money i could add 20,000 litres of storage for a start.

I think I'll be going for more mulch, better soil and more targeted irrigation.

I'd love to show you round any time. We just had the contouring done to the front garden so we now have 4 new levels and a lot more flat ground to work with. The accent being on WORK. There's a lot of fine detail to be done.

Give me a yell when you have a spare hour. Chamomile tea is on me. Home grown of course.
Comment by Angie Gibbons on March 24, 2010 at 10:46am
When things settle at your place would love to see what you are doing!

Comment by Pete Russell on March 24, 2010 at 10:35am
I met Trevor on the weekend at the Grey Lynn Farmers Market. He has invented and developed a great water saving kit garden concept that I think would go some way toward addressing the problem you have raised Earl. It basically works by creating a mini water-table under the garden bed. Check out his site here.
Comment by Earl Mardle on March 23, 2010 at 3:11pm
Hi Angie

Agree about the raised beds, but then late last eyar we had 100mm in one day and they shrugged it off so I suppose its a bit of a bet, plus we have clay pan under some of the site and good old GI clay everywhere else so raised beds are pretty much mandatory.

We have 8,000 litres of water bladders under the house for the garden but this year we lost one bladder at a crucial time while we were having the renovations done. In a "normal" year we would expect to get most of the watering from them.

We use sub-surface soak hoses and watering cans as backup but at the height of the season I'm doing a watering can run pretty much ever day. I'm hoping that as we build up the humus in the soil we will get better retention.

Thanks for the tip about the seedlings. We water from above but I'm designing a new greenhouse as part of the renovations so something that will allow us to water from the base would be a great idea.

We also mulch, although, again, this year has been less than perfect with disruptions since the beginning of December.

Still, the issue is proportion as much as absolute values. How much water do you use and how many people do you feed with it? Once we get those kinds of answer, we will have something to work with.
Comment by Angie Gibbons on March 23, 2010 at 1:47pm

Some notes re water use and what i do:
Raised beds are really bad for needing water almost twice as much as my normal garden,. I use rain barrels to collect water and normally 400 ltr last me to the next rain shower, but this month is the first time I have had to use the hose.
Watering with a watering can reduces to amount of water you need.

I raise seedlings and only water from the base of the container (put them in a dish) so their deeper roots are stronger and not on the surface, I water deeply when planting but then not watering everyday. You get more natrual growth and the plants send their roots deaper.

When you water a garden, you may only wet the top inch, but using a watering can you put the water at the root and it goes deeper meaning you dont need to water as much.

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