How to - Organic Gardening

Water update

More towns and cities are imposing watering bans. Is it time to wean your garden off the tap?

Other communities have resorted to stronger measures, legislating restrictions rather than using voluntary programs. For example, in the summer of 2002, St. John's, Newfoundland, instituted a new water conservation order that restricts residents' lawn-watering to just two days a week, between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.-even-numbered houses on Tuesdays and Saturdays, odd- numbered houses on Wednesdays and Sundays. (Residents can water flower and vegetable gardens at any time by hand, and those with new lawns can water any day, during the same hours, for 60 days after installation.) Failure to comply can result in prosecution and the imposition of a fine of up to $5,000; the city even has the authority to turn off the violator's water supply. "With the order, the city hopes to avoid having to introduce a ban on all outside water use," says Councillor Paul Sears, who helped spearhead the initiative. And it seems to be working-water use in St. John's was down by eight per cent from June 22 to the end of July 2002 compared with the same period the previous year.

On the West Coast, both Victoria and Vancouver have regular summertime outdoor watering restrictions. The severity of these restrictions varies according to the water levels in the reservoirs, and ranges from limiting lawn-watering to banning all outdoor water use. According to Mike Chiang of Vancouver's Water Conservation Hotline, "As the population increases, we're seeing that drastic measures have to be taken to ensure the water supply until reserves can be replenished. People understand now that we have to conserve water-they understand why the restrictions are in place." Since 1993, Vancouver has had a bylaw covering watering restrictions and has imposed some level of restriction every year since.

Victoria, a city that gets half the rainfall of Vancouver (a measly nine centi-metres on average during the summer for a city drawing 127 to 272 million litres of water through the municipal system per day), has had watering restrictions since 1994. "A lot of people think we're in a rain forest but we're actually in a rain shadow [meaning that most rain falls on the west coast of the island, not reaching the city]," says Deborah Walker, demand management co-ordinator for Victoria's Capital Regional District Water Department. "We need usage reductions of 25 to 35 per cent in the next 10 to 20 years. But you can't just have a law that says 'thou shalt not'; you also need educational programs to go along with that." And what Walker says about her city's water conservation program could apply equally well to all such programs throughout the country: "Victoria is a city of gardens. We're not asking people not to have nice gardens. Instead, we're promoting the wise and efficient use of water."

What all the bylaws and watering restrictions really come down to for the gardener is more like good gardening practices rather than deprivation, and it all boils down to one simple rule: Water plants wisely rather than indiscriminately. The right amount of water at the right time will not only produce healthier plants (with stronger root systems), but will also help conserve a precious resource.

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