Saturday, June 07, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - Gardening and the stupidity of Sydney water restrictions

I often complain about the command and control nature of modern Australia, about what I see as the growing weaknesses in our public systems. In all this, it's the small things that really niggle me.

Friday's Sydney Morning Herald carried a story on the report by the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal on the results of a year long investigation into Sydney's train system. Those who are interested can find the various documents on the IPRT web site. The detailed material is likely to be of interest to all those concerned with public transport.

According to the SMH, the Tribunal recommended that fares should rise by up to 30 per cent in just four years and that almost 1700 rail jobs should be axed. I was especially struck by the apparent fact that the proportion of revenue from fares has fallen so much that the regulator has recommended CityRail write down its assets from $11.3 billion to $1.4 billion for the purpose of setting fares.

Now I could fulminate about this as yet another example of systemic failure.

I could point to the current inquiry into corruption in the NSW rail system. I could discuss the stupid decision of Mr Carr, the previous premier, to freeze rail fares for two years to compensate Sydney people for late running of Sydney trains. I could point to the disastrous ticketing failure that has left CityRail in the position that it sometimes cannot collect fares because the ticketing machines don't work.

I am just too tired to do all this justice. Instead, I want to talk about one small thing that affects me personally.

I love gardening, especially vegetable gardening. This has been one of my few personal releases in a crowded personal world where much of what I do is in fact determined by others. However, I have largely given gardening up.

Time poor, I developed a gardening system that suits my time needs, that is both time and water efficient. I discussed this system in Regional living - the lazy person's approach to gardening 1 introduction.

A watering, mulching cycle is central to the approach. Once fully operational, this allows for a regular supply of vegetables with minimal time input. Twenty minutes here, thirty minutes there, a couple of hours at the week end. A break for me, food for the family, all fitted into the constraints of the insanity we call a modern life style.

Sydney dams dropped to 32% and the NSW Government introduced level 3 water restrictions. This banned fixed hoses or sprinklers. Hand held hoses could be used on Wednesdays and Sundays before 10am and after 4pm.

At first I actually broke the law to keep things going, justifying this on the grounds of the tiny quantity of water used on one side, the benefits on the other. Complaining about this part of the restrictions to people, I found almost universal disaproval of my actions. So I stopped breaking the restrictions. I also stopped gardening.

As I write it is damp and overcast. Sydney has been through one of its wettest periods on record. The dams are 65% full. Yet the level 3 water restrictions are still in place, with the Government foreshadowing further measures to force water saving.

To my mind, all this verges on insanity, a weird view of what is environmentally correct. However, the things that really gets to me is that it is so unfair.

Gardening has been in decline in modern Sydney for many decades. It no longer suits a life style increasingly dominated by apartments and huge houses spreading across small blocks so that every part of the block is covered by house or patio.

I am, I think, the only vegetable gardener left among the people I know. You can see this trend in the nurseries. The vegetable sections have shrunk to small parts of nurseries increasingly dominated by pots, decorations and various forms of shrubs or flowers suited to the adornment of the modern city lifestyle. Even among vegetables, the seedlings are increasingly dominated by things that can be grown in pots or which provide a quick yield.

So what is unfair in all this?

The level 3 water restrictions allow you to top up a swimming pool at any time. You can fill a pool of less than 10,000 litres without restriction. You can get a permit to fill a bigger pool. Yet I am not allowed to use a hand-held hose to water a small patch of vegetable garden when I need too.

Noticeably, a number of those who criticised me for my limited breaking of the water restrictions to try to keep my vegetables going own swimming pools. Pool ownership in Sydney, while far from universal, is just too widespread to apply the type of restriction that can be applied to me as a gardener.

This is unfair. It is also stupid. There is now no conceivable reason that I can see why at least hand held hoses (if not more) should not be allowed at any time. The restrictions serve no real purpose.

Worse, at a time of high food prices and of worries about obesity and lack of exercise, they actually restrict a useful and productive form of exercise. You would think that Governments would actually want to promote gardening, not do the reverse.


Legal Eagle pointed me to a post she had written along a similar theme, The New Puritans, this time from a Melbourne perspective.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's ridiculous and illogical. I think I'm more irritable than you - I got irritated by it a long time ago!

Jim Belshaw said...

You know, Legal Eagle, I had read this post of yours. I had just forgotten it until I saw it again! I will add it as a postscript.

Anonymous said...

We managed to grow some rather excellent cherry tomatoes this year - by dint of my husband collecting shower water in the morning and painstakingly watering the tomatoes by hand. We just couldn't face the effort that would be required to grow winter vegies, though...

Jim Belshaw said...

That's real dedication, LE. I can understand why winter vegetables were too much of a chore!

Still, I hope that you really enjoyed the cherry tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

What a fuss about nothing. Get a water tank and you will have no restrictions on how much to water your vegetable garden or any other type of garden. I do and my vege garden is prolific and little maintenance. I even run it on a irrigation system rigged up by my husband so I don't have to hand water. I also recycle the water from my washing machine directly into a small tank and use this on shrubs.

Jim Belshaw said...

Michelle, a few ponts for you to consider.

Just how am I to get a tank? I live in a rented house. Who is to pay?

If I get a tank, does this mean hand watering? I can do this now from the normal tap. I am happy to hand water once the section of garden is planted and mulched - it works quite well. But to hand water in advance takes time. I work full time and am also primary child care. I can only squeze gardening into cracks.

You do not address my primary point. My approach to gardening uses water vaery carefully - see

But why am I not allowed to use a hand held hose when other people can fill swimming pools? And now wash cars by hose -

I really think that it is all insanity.l