What you can do

An installed water tankWhat you can do

In combination, rainwater harvesting and greywater re-use have been demonstrated to be highly effective in replacing use of potable or mains water.  A leading example of domestic water conservation in Melbourne comes from the author of Water – Not Down the Drain (McQuire, 2008), where, through investment in a number of water saving devices and storage systems, a four person household in a Californian bungalow in West Brunswick was able to achieve a 96% reduction in water use compared to the average Melbourne household and used just over 5% of potable water during 2007-08 – and at a time of severe drought. 

Other accounts of significant water saving by individuals and families across Melbourne can be found here.

Household Water Consumption

Save water in the home 

The above pie chart from the Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy (2006) indicates where water is used in the typical Melbourne home.  Understanding where water is used will help in shaping changes to household water use and how much greywater might be available and where rainwater could replace mains water. 

Consider the following points, many of which are dealt with in more detail in other parts of the Water section of this website.

  • Install a rainwater tank to capture your roof runoff and use the water on for various internal and external uses (eg. toilet flushing, irrigation of your garden) possibly in combination with re-use of greywater. This also helps store runoff that would otherwise go to the local drainage system and to local waterways such as the Yarra River or Darebin or Merri Creeks. If employed widely enough and sufficient airspace is available in tanks across a catchment, this can potentially reduce peaks from flood events, as well as reduce the amount of pollutants being transported to waterways via the street system where pollutants are picked up.
  • Consider building a small raingarden if you have a lot with no available space for a rainwater tank, or wish to ensure that any overflow from your tank is discharged to the stormwater system in the best possible condition.  See the following link to the Melbourne Water web page regarding raingardens.   

Raingardens work through using a sandy media that helps filter pollutants prior to discharge to the stormwater system. Domestic raingardens can be planted with a variety of different species, although they must be able to tolerate short periods of inundation. And if you build a raingarden, make sure you register it with Melbourne Water to help achieve the 10,000 raingarden target. 

Install a Triple A showerhead with a flow rate of around 9 litres (or less) per minute. Showers account for about 30% of household indoor water and old showerheads can use up to 20 litres per minute. That's a saving of up to 11,000 litres of water a year, plus associated energy savings by using less hot water – and without compromising shower quality.  There are showerheads available now that use as little as 5.5 litres per minute.

  • Install tap aerators, perhaps especially on kitchen sink and bathroom basin taps. They save you water, energy and money. Aerators work by permitting a greater amount of air through the water and provide a softer flow of water with reduced splash. Illustrations of flow from taps fitted with aerators can be found at the Sydney Water website. Taps in homes account for about 7% of household use and aerators reduce water use from taps by 50% or more. They should reduce flows to 6 or 8 litres per minute saving 12-14 litres per minute on average, assuming a 20 litre per minute flow rate. Aerators are inexpensive, easy to install and are designed to fit easily into most existing taps.

The Yarra Valley Water website has links to the Savewater website that provides details and review of aerators conducted by the National Centre for Sustainability at Swinburne University:   

  • Consider a greywater system to allow re-use of greywater. Note that untreated greywater needs to be discharged within 24 hours under EPA requirements and that greywater can cause harm to plants where sodium (salt) levels in detergents or washing powders are high.  For advice see: http://www.lanfaxlabs.com.au/gardens.htm. Numerous greywater diversion or treatment and storage products are available and can be viewed at the Savewater product website
  • Install a dual-flush toilet.  Many dual flush toilets six litres of water per full flush and three per half flush, compared to older 11 litre single-flush toilets.  However, the latest technology allows only 4.5 litres to be used in a full flush and 3 in a half flush 
  • Insulate your hot water pipes to reduce the time it takes to have hot water flow to your shower.  Also consider a device that automatically diverts and re-circulates cold water 
  • Consider a shower fitting that shuts off water while you lather up
  • Only switch on the dishwasher or washing machine when you have a full load
  • When considering installation of a cooling system, firstly make sure the sun is kept off windows (by blinds, shade sails or vegetation) and hot air draughts are stopped.  Then, before committing to an evaporative cooler, consider the water use of these units – they can use up to 25 litres of water per hour. That’s adding up to the use of 15 billion litres of water across Victoria.  While rainwater could potentially provide this water, evaporative cooling systems should form a second preference for mechanical cooling behind ceiling and other fans which have a much lower capital outlay and lower energy and running costs and maintenance requirements. If evaporative cooling is still your preference, look for two stage systems and those with bleed as opposed to dump discharge of water. See the Federal Government Your Home website
  • Check for leaking pipes. You can do this by checking if your water meter moves when no water is being used in the house or garden. One leaking tap can waste more than 2000 litres a month.
  • Wash your fruit and vegies in a half-filled sink and save around 33 to 48 litres of water or use a sink saver.

 Save water in the garden

  • Use mulch on your garden as it can reduce water use by around 60%, as well as assisting the development of a good soil structure. Also, keep mulch topped up to a minimum depth of 100mm. Winter rain especially can speed up decomposition of mulch and new layers will need to be applied perhaps every 12 months depending upon the mulch material, its particle size and the area of exposed mulch.  See the ABC gardening website for additional information 
  • Regularly weed garden beds to prevent weed seeding and ensure desired plants are able to enjoy maximum moisture availability. 
  • During drought years, check soils for signs of hydrophobic (water repellent) condition and introduce water retention crystals or other wetting agents that help retain moisture around plants and prevent runoff of water bucketed on to plants. See the website of University of Melbourne’s Institute of Land and Food Resources, Burnley College
  • Choose indigenous or local plants or those that have lower water needs.  See the following websites from the Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association and examples on the ABC here and here.

Within the City of Yarra, the nursery that grows and supplies indigenous plants is Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Cooperative in Yarra bend Road, Fairfield:

  • Apart from indigenous species, there are numerous other garden plants that have low water requirements.  See the Melbourne Water website  and from the ABC gardening website for a local example.
  • Also see Sustainable Gardening Australia's website for good advice about garden design and other aspects of sustainable gardening
  • While from a water reduction point of view it is advisable to generally reduce lawn areas, if you wish to retain or establish a lawn area in your garden consider introducing warm season grasses as they can use up to 60% less water.  Leave lawns longer during the summer to save water. See the Savewater website
  • Indigenous grass species such as Weeping Grass can also be used to form a lawn
  • Observe current water restrictions (now Stage 1 as of December 2011).  Details of requirements to be met under Stage 1 can be found at City West Water’s website
  • Give careful consideration to design of your garden when undertaking major alterations and improvements. See the Savewater website for specific advice 
  • Never hose down paved surfaces such as driveways and paths within your property. This is not permitted under Victoria’s new Permanent Water Saving Rules – see the relevant section of City West Water’s website:


Recommended Reading

This 2008 Victorian Government publication provides comprehensive guidance to permanent water savings in the home.  The document details how both new homes and those subject to renovation can accommodate water saving initiatives. 

For any Yarra residents with a desire to investigate domestic water conservation further, Stuart McQuire’s book is highly recommended and very relevant to a Melbourne context, although written with a national audience in mind.  Despite being a few years since initial publication, it is still full of useful advice and information, along with insights into his own inspiring story of domestic water saving. 

Copies may now be more difficult to obtain, but can be sought from CSIRO Publishing at 150 Oxford St., Collingwood (ph. 9662-7555) or from the Alternative Technology Association (ph. 9639 1500 or Email: ata@ata.org.au).

McQuire, S. Water – Not Down the Drain, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood 2008

Further information

Kathleen Burke
Asset Drainage Engineer
9426 1599 

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