How we’re saving every drop

Tips and tidbits from around the island, three months into a dry-spell

Our fingers were crossed, and while we may have danced in it, what fell from the sky last weekend was in fact just a sprinkle – according to the Grafton Lake water guage, a mere 2.5 mm of rain fell on Bowen Island on Saturday and Sunday. This brings the total amount of rainfall since the end of April to just 1.13cm, and by no means spells an end to our 3 month dry spell. For fire chief Ian Thompson, last weekend’s rain brought no relief, just a false sense of security for some islanders.

“There have been a few people who have started lighting things up, thinking that because it’s a bit damp it is okay to do so,” says Thompson. “But that little bit of rain really doesn’t change things.”

Personally, as someone dependent on a shallow well for water I experienced a brief moment of relief and allowed myself a non-military style shower. But the sun’s back out and so is our water regimen: short (and fewer) showers, the kid bathes in a bucket (he seems to like this better than the indoor bath, actually), fewer flushes of the toilet, and a few loads of laundry per week at the Union Steamship.

On one of these recent laundry ventures, Dorothy Dyke told me I’m not the only one heading to the Cove to do the wash in order to save on water: the laundry mat has been particularly busy this summer.

And while the marina has been reminding boaters that there are water restrictions on Bowen, Dyke says they can’t deny people who want to rinse their salty gear and decks. Same goes for people relying on wells who come down and fill up 5 litre jugs of water from the taps at the Marina.

“It’s not that this is the first dry summer we’ve had,” says Dyke. “It just happens to be the earliest it’s been so dry.”

With this in mind… The Undercurrent has been looking into the water situation and water-saving tips on various parts of the island.


A lighter shade of green at the golf courseIf the drought continues, brown may become the new green at the Bowen Island Golf Club.

“A lighter shade of green is okay,” the club’s vice-president, Bruce Russell.

With its water reserves dipping to the halfway point, the golf course will be focusing on keeping the tees and greens vibrant while reducing efforts on the fairways.

The club starts the summer with a 10.8 million gallon reserve of rainwater that it collects over the winter. The reservoir has enough water to meet the nine-hole golf course’s needs for 120 days of “non-appreciable” rain.  

Sixty days into the golfing season and the capacity is now at 45 to 50 per cent so the club will pull back on watering the fairways until it rains again.

“We’re like a squirrel — we gather the nuts in times of plenty and save it for times like this,” Russell says.

Saturday’s rain, alas, did not count as “appreciable.”  


Don’t let your plants get lazy

Plants are designed to be able to dig deep into the soil to find water. But if they get accustomed to being watered every day, they’ll get lazy, says Aaron Colin, the groundskeeper at David and Aubin Van Berkel’s property, where they have 2.5 acres of garden filled with vegetables, ornamentals and fruit trees.

Lazy plants will get even more stressed out during a drought if their daily fix of water dries up. “Its root structure is no longer looking for water down below.”

That’s why he suggests that instead of watering the garden often — say once a day — you water deeply.

“Give the plant a good drink of water,” he says. “Wait a couple of days then water again.”

It’s best to water in the morning before sunrise because the soil absorbs it more. It’s better to water at night instead of the middle of the day, but it’s not optimal because the soil still contains latent heat.

Every year he collects about 40,000 litres of rain water, which usually lasts him until August. This year it was gone by June. “I won’t say I’m freaking out but I’m hoping for rain.”


Try the “drip method” for watering

When he set out to build his dream home and farm, Wayne Tatlow wanted to be as “green” as possible. He says water conservation was definitely a part of his plan.

“I wanted to use the grey-water from my house to feed my apple trees or whatever else needed watering, but the health authorities said ‘no’,” says Tatlow. “Next, I thought I could maybe use rainwater to feed the toilets, but again, the health authorities said it was not allowed because someone might drink from the tank.”

The water-saving solution Tatlow has chosen, for now, involves a drip irrigation system for his extensive vegetable gardens. He says got the equipment necessary for this system at a plumbing store in Cloverdale. 

For his strawberries, which have been on the system for two years now, a half-inch pipe narrows into a quarter-inch pipe which narrows into a special head that feeds each plant individually. Tatlow says he turns on the water valve for about two minutes each morning for the plants, and that’s all they need. (Each head releases four litres of water per hour.)

Last year Tatlow says he spent two hours every day watering his garden beds. Now, with the drip irrigation system in place, he simply turns the valve on either early in the morning or late in the evening and leaves the drip running for about an hour.

“I had two rhubarb plants in one bed that looked like they were completely dead but two weeks after I put this system in place, they came back to life,” he says. “Also it’s much better for the delicate lettuces, and for zucchinis and summer squash because you can avoid getting their leaves wet.”

Tatlow adds that he would like to get a rainwater collection set up at his place but, in the meantime, has helped other islanders with such systems for their homes.


“More and more people are doing it but incentives instead of roadblocks would really be helpful,” he says, noting that the District of Nanaimo offers an incentive of up to $750 for people who install rainwater harvesting systems on their properties.

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