It has been my experience that a lot of contemporary books on connecting with the element of water tend to focus on immersive or water-heavy activities. Take a long bath or shower, they say. Consider visiting a river or the ocean. Stand out in the rain. Essentially the message is that it’s a good idea to find an abundant source of water and become its best friend.
In Perth, Western Australia, we are under Level 4 Water Restrictions. This means different things depending on whether you’re a commercial corporation or a home-owner. But for the majority of residents in Perth using scheme water (i.e. who do not have their own bore), it means the following:
- A complete winter sprinkler ban.
- Two legal days of watering in summer (assigned to you based on your house number, and not on what’s convenient to your lifestyle), encompassing sprinklers and reticulation. On these days, the garden or lawn may only be watered once.
- No watering after 9.00am or before 6.00pm.
- Not using any hand-held hose to clean buildings, roads or driveways.
- Additional temporary water restrictions based on severity of the weather.
This is because – among other reasons – our dams have been running at a deficit for some time due to prolonged drought. Dam water makes up approximately 25-45% of Perth’s potable water (or priority water), and we are expected to run out of dam water as a resource due to prolonged drought, within the next fewyears. The rest of our water primarily comes from ground aquifers which are sorely stressed, and a desalination plant provides about the other 17% to Perth residents.
Part of the water processing plant at Koondoola regional bushland, an integral source of water for North of the River residents.
As water is primarily pulled from the groundwater table, trees have to reach further and further to drink deep from the groundwater that is available. Eventually, the trees cannot compensate for the speed at which the water is drawn away, and it can cause massive deaths within the bushland, as well as severely degrade wetlands. The latter is particularly terrible, for aside from the immense cleaning capacity of wetlands and their great biodiversity, Perth was once actually an extraordinarily wetlands heavy environment. The Urban Bushland Council of WA points out that we have lost 70% of our wetlands to agriculture, development, pollution and groundwater table issues. Groundwater dependence can permanently damage or destroy local bushland habitats. Groundwater threat increases the susceptibility of the bushland to fire, which additionally – along with habitat threats – disturbs local fauna and flora further. Many of these types of bushland are found nowhere else in the world, and are considered endangered, or critically endangered biomes.
Koondoola bushland, a critically endangered stretch of kwongan, and also the site of a water processing plant, shows signs of overall degradation due to – among other things – groundwater management issues.
Water is a tricky subject here in Perth. Everyone has different ways of attempting to conserve it, though some try harder than others (and some, of course, don’t really seem to try at all). Here, it was my connection with the element of water, how much I love water, and its crucial connection to our local environment, that allowed me to make certain changes in my living environment.
The ways in which we consciously conserve water include things like: we don’t showers longer than 2-5 minutes. We don’t run the taps when we’re brushing our teeth. We choose washing machines that are always conservative about water usage and only wash with a full-load. We elected to have a garden that is composed entirely of Australian plants with a majority percentage of local endemics that are accustomed to drought, which we keep well-mulched with the addition of a water penetrant to aid in water retention. We made a decision earlier this year to bite the bullet and get a good quality synthetic grass, since it has a smaller carbon footprint proportionately to ‘real’ lawn, and requires no water wastage. Spill-over in the kitchen sink is often dumped directly onto plants. We use double-flush instead of single-flush toilets. Instead of keeping our sprinklers turned off only for winter, they stay off for approximately 9 months of the year. We only use sprinklers on our very small, front garden, and only hand-water the back for three months of the year, approximately once a week (twice if it’s likely to be above 40C several days in row, which is even hard for endemics, as they’re dealing with an unusually long drought too!)
Part of our garden built up on endemic natives. This section requires no watering, aside from what it gets naturally, 12 months of the year.
The reality is that water conservation is a part of our lives. We are regularly reminded by our Water Corporation to be conservative with water usage. There are advertisements on TV and billboards erected in the streets, and last year’s campaign of ‘Target 60’ (litres of water a day) was – along with the previous advertising methods – also plastered in newspapers, magazines, on buses, at bus-stops and talked about on the radio.
The element of water here, particularly that of refreshing, drinkable water, is an element that I think about often. My relationship to water elementals is much stronger since I began to consciously make large-scale decisions on my water usage. Choosing to live a life where I was consciously aware of the difficulty fresh water has in staying in the Perth landscape, allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for my local ecosystem. I became avidly interested in cloudspotting and meteorology, I learned about the problems with the acidification of groundwater and issues in wetlands management, I keep my eyes open and ears peeled for information on the current state of Perth’s fresh water. One day, I would like a rainwater tank, and to begin to use greywater (i.e. water from washing machine and dishwasher usage).
Lechenaultia formosa – an endemic native growing in our garden. Once established, requires very minimal summer watering.
An additional spiritual impact of caring for our local water supply, was that I went from having a difficult relationship with the element of water when I was younger, to having a strong, loving, compassionate bond with the element. We have a lot of water in the form of our continuous, beautiful beaches, but it was my need to interact with drinking water more respectfully that really cemented an ongoing ability to commune with the element of water and make it a meaningful part of my everyday life in a very aware way. I am enamoured of the rain, and feel extremely grateful to be able to drink and stay hydrated on a day to day basis.
So when contemporary books about connecting with water elementals say things like ‘have a long shower / soak in the bath,’ I have to smile, because that’s the last thing that would respect the element of water here in our dry city of Perth. These books are not written with us in mind! The reality is that our drinking water deserves to be cherished and not wasted.
And so, with that in mind, regardless of how much fresh water your region gets, how do you respect your drinking water? Do you know the conditions of your local wetlands? Do you live in a region which has an abundance of fresh water or a lack? And is that a constant, or is it changing over the years? When was the last time you had a chat with the element of fresh water, or sunk some time into researching it?
Perth is facing a time when it may be almost completely dependent on desalination plants and meagre rainfall for all of its potable water. It’s a scary time indeed, considering the population boom we are experiencing and the fact that many corporations and governments still don’t take this issue as seriously as they should. Speaking to local, fresh-water elementals, I am always aware of how giving water can be even when the sun and climate is working against it. I have met elementals that want to sustain, to give life, and wasting the water they command, or damaging the ecosystems they protect is a sorry way to repay them.