Sunday, 1 June 2008


Out in the garden on Saturday afternoon, in the beautiful May sunshine, sowing and reaping from my own toil, I suddenly felt a very tight knot develop in my stomach - really. As I moved out of the shade and into the almost hot sun, I finally accepted that the situation we are in with water is not just serious but deadly serious. I have tried to not think too much about it since we got some rain because, to be truthful, I need a break from it. We all do. Mentally it is difficult to move on from something so out of one's control, I find. I like to fix problems, but I can't fix this one. So I try not to think about doesn't work forever.

Our South Australian rivers and lakes are becoming baths of sulphuric acid. Wildlife is being decimated. Orchards, dairies and whole towns are shrivelling up, literally. It is heart-breaking to see mining and manufacturing and ridiculous, new golf-courses getting all the water they need but a century or more of food-production work is being left to die and us along with it. We are being actively discouraged from growing our food by the water-restrictions, unlike any other country in drought, even America, where food-gardens are exempt from restrictions. Food is being shipped in from China daily, in ever-increasing amounts. It is absurd.

Everyone is buying enormous plastic tanks and installing hundreds of metres of plastic tubing - is more and more plastic the answer?? It is a bandaid. Here have a bandaid, but the wound is so infected that it is never going to be a cure. Plastic is made from oil. Oil takes millions of years to be created, as does coal, and it is being used up for making bandaids. Ridiculous. We need to save the oil for things that are not bandaids.We need to save every drop of water and catch it somewhere, of course; I am not suggesting otherwise.

But, in this case, it would be better done by catching it before it gets to the sea, cleaning it and using that for things other than household use. After all, the natural wet-lands which existed on the eastern side of the sandhills between Brighton and Port Adelaide were the life-blood of Adelaide in the early days. They supported all the wildlife and were the cleaning mechanism for all the run-off from our creeks. Then they built houses and roads and 'drained the swamps' to make money from West Lakes, Henley, Grange, West Beach and all the seaside suburbs. Don't get me started on sand-shifting, which is what is going on now with massive 4-wheel-drive trucks, and this time every year, when I walk weekly along the beach. If those wet-lands were still there, we would not be in this situation today.

I have said some of this before, I know. But I just had to say it again, this time at some ridiculously early hour on a Sunday, because most people are going about their business not noticing that it is hard to buy nice cream now and that (evidently) there is a huge shortage of milk for making processed cheese (why anyone would buy processed cheese from the supermarket is another thing I don't understand). Food prices are going up, along with petrol, but people just complain and don't think about why this is so. I don't buy much so I shouldn't care. I can grow everything and we can live happily.

So, the gist of all this is why do I care about water and oil and so on? Why does it affect me so deeply? Because I can see huge world-wide unrest and worse, approaching us like a train out of control. I said this to husband Roger, when Bush was elected the first time. Look what has happened. He can be voted out; we are stuck with the train. Water is essential for life and oil has become essential for lifestyle. People have fought wars over far less and as the population increases the only solution is to take someone else's supplies. Sound familiar? What about when a population of a country like Australia, or even just little old South Australia, doesn't have enough water and governments refuse to act? I want to shake them and shout at them and DO something. I don't want to fight. But around Adelaide neighbours have started fighting and in rural areas, whole communities are taking sides and fighting. "If I can't water my orchard which is my livelihood, you shouldn't be watering your vegetable garden." Governments, instead of taking a lead, have decided to let the people fight it out. It won't work and things will deteriorate into chaos when we compound this with sky-rocketing petrol and food prices.

Thousands and thousands of people in SA are dependent on food production for an income - directly or indirectly, from the deli owner to the truckie and the chemist to the local schools. The rest of us can't afford to pay them when they are unemployed, so what happens then? The whole fabric of civilisation is at stake here and that is what is bothering me. So, when you see me later today at Tumbeela and at my place for lunch afterwards, you will know why I am up at 5.30am on a Sunday morning. Ignorance would be bliss.


Rachel said...

How does SA handle water restrictions? Here in Vic, we're on stage 3a, which means no watering except with a hand-held hose, twice a week from 6-8 a.m. I am very much in favor of water conservation, but I find the current regime unrealistic.

I'll confess something to you (and any lurking Melbourne Water officials): I never really bothered with the restrictions. I mean, I am very, very frugal when it comes to water use: we have the efficient shower heads, I put the bucket in the shower to collect water as it's warming, I enforce the four-minute rule, I collect water as I'm rinsing veg, bucket out the graywater, yadda, yadda, yadda. We installed two slimline water tanks in our backyard and as such haven't touched the outdoor mains since Easter (whoo, hoo!).

But: over the summer, when I needed to water the seedlings and tomatoes on non-watering mornings, I bloody well used the water mains. So does my gardening MIL. So does every other blessed backyard gardener I am aquainted with. We simply break the rules, and none of us have been pinged for us. May I add that in the analysis of our water bill, even with me using about 100l/week extra on watering the backyard, we still come in as a water-efficient household? Our average daily usage is 242l, which is about 15l under the "average" useage for a family of three with a small backyard.

So my question is, what is a realistic water restriction regime? My personal feeling is that there should be a general standard set - like, x-hundred litres per day per person, to be used however one wants. I mean, if I would rather have 2 minute showers and use the extra, what, 20 liters on the garden, that shouldn't be a problem. Gardeners should be permitted to "register" their backyards for an extra allotment, but also be given discounts for things like the dreaded plastic water tanks.

My apologies for the extremely long post, but I am in total agreement and empathy with your anxiety and wanted to address it, if possible.

Ian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian said...

I'll try again but this time I'll try and write it in English

It is very strange and extremely frustrating to read your piece when I am sat here in France on a Sunday morning when it is raining, again, and when we have had one of the wettest springs for many years.

I don't know much about the situation in SA but I have believed for a long time that the problem in Europe is rather water distribution than actual shortage.

As I said we have had the wettest spring on record but there are still water restrictions in force in the UK. Why? Because the distributing companies are now putting short term profits before the long term need to maintain their systems.


chaiselongue said...

This makes me very sad, Kate. I hadn't realised quite how bad the situation was in Australia. Although it's pouring with rain here this morning (unseasonally) I worry that the same will happen here in the south of France. I agree with Ian about the water companies in the UK - in Wales I never worried about water because you could SEE there was plenty of it everywhere! But in the Mediterranean region we have had several years of drought, while people have been flooding (wrong word perhaps!) in to the Languedoc. Unless these people are educated in how to live and conserve water in the dry Mediterranean climate, the same will happen here. And I agree - it will cause wars as oil has done. We are all on the Bush train and unlike him we cannot get off. Politicians have only the next election to think of, unfortunately. I don't know what we, as small gardeners, can do. But please carry on speaking out about this, Kate.

Belinda said...

Hi Kate,

Seems I have been living under a rock as I hadn't heard anything about the acidification of SA rivers so thanks for the heads up.

I certainly think that there should be a priority system in water usage that means that food crops, private or commercial, come first.

Bringing that in though to me would require a lot of education and research to the most effective water usage techniques for watering these crops and subsidies should be granted... be they water allocations or financial to support the farmers etc that invest in these areas as there is an awful lot of water currently being used ineffectively in the farming sector with the traditional overhead irrigation techniques.

Your right infighting between farmers and backyard growers is only going to cause strife and weaken both sides position.

Kind Regards

Pattie Baker said...

Kate, This hits very close to home here for me in Atlanta, where we are cruising along blindly in the midst of a worsening drought, although really nothing has changed this winter in preparation for another scorcher of a summer, when everything should have changed. I was at the river yesterday and there is a water level gauge that is totally and completely exposed, right down to the dirt in which it rests. I have to call and find out what is the normal level for the river because clearly it is way, way below it. I'll post about it as soon as I get some answers.

At least here food gardens are exempt from restrictions, as you say. And yes, more folks ARE adding food gardens Or at least a couple herbs and tomato plants, which are the "gateway drugs of gardening" and getting interested in it, so I guess that change IS happening, slowly. Yet I think I still have the only rain barrel in the neighborhood . . .

Jumbleberry Jam said...

I know this is probably a stupid question, but are SA kitchen gardeners using/benefiting from permaculture techniques as a way to grow more food with less water?

On a totally different note, your post is particularly touching to me for 1) my family lives in SA and I love it 2) I am getting ready to head out to present at a conference - my topic is Food Sovereignty in Ukraine (another country that has been hard hit by drought).

I think this political framework for change in the agro-food complex is something that could make a world of difference - both in our own backyards and in the world. If you're not familiar with the Food Sovereignty movement, you can download an awesome paper about it here:

or visit this website:

Sorry for the long post :-)