Tag Archives: Melbourne

Derek Rope on Transportation

Derek Rope has a great position paper on public transit.  You can read the highlights on City Hall Notebook.

Moreover, Melbourne, Australia provides an innovative approach to making transit more reliable: in Melbourne, the operator of the tram system posts benchmarks and its performance against those benchmarks on the tram for passengers to read. If the tram misses its targets, then passengers are compensated. Ultimately, if we can make public transport convenient, efficient and reliable, we will go a long way toward relieving congestion on the roads of our growing city while minimizing our environmental impact.

Saskatoon’s Watering Restrictions

This summer I bought and then blended the idea combination of grass seed for my drive way.  We have a large tree right in the middle of it which means paving it, putting in paving stones or really doing anything with it isn’t going to happen.  Instead I decided to copy my neighbour across the street, bring the grass into the driveway along the sides and the middle leaving two gravel paths to drive in on, something like an English pathway.

To give the grass seed something to grow on, I put down a combination of topsoil, peat moss and compost and seeded away.  Then the city came out with it’s mandatory water restrictions due to record high levels on the South Saskatchewan River and the resulting silt problems at the water treatment plant.  Eventually they loosened them up and I could water from 9 p.m. to midnight on newly seeded grass.  It was early enough in the seeding and hot enough during the day that I knew that wasn’t going to work so I left it to mother nature and some seed made it (due to some timely showers).

The South Saskatchewan River at the Weir

What has been interesting in all of this is that when we moved into our house 12 years ago, the lawn was horrible and there was no topsoil to speak of at all.  Our boulevards were worse.  Water would just run off them like you were watering concrete.  The grass was horrible and think, fertilizer and weed and feed did nothing and because of the abandoned lot in behind us, I have always had a hard time with noxious weeds (that Killex doesn’t kill).

If I had more sense and money, I should have rototilled the entire lawn and put down truckloads of compost and soil but I didn’t.  Instead what I did:

  • I stopped picking up the grass with the mower and mulched instead.  This saved me some time, energy and most importantly, gave some organic matter back to the soil (as well as saved me on watering).
  • We compost everything.  Some things compost better than others (corn cobs, pumpkins don’t break down very quickly) and something I regret putting in there.  We compost most of our food scraps and we do some grass although I tend to let it dry out first and use it as brown matter rather than green.  It eliminates the smell.  When we stopped putting grass clippings in there, it actually decomposes faster than we can fill it. 
  • After the compost is ready, it gets spread on the lawn to give it some more organic matter to use.  I will also purchase some compost as well as some renewable peat moss to put out on it.
  • We have started to make and use compost tea after seeing a segment on This Old House on it’s impact at Harvard University.  Harvard’s maintenance department has a great website on how they make and use compost tea.
  • Following some advice from the owner of the Spiritwood Golf Club, I started to buy grass seed from Early’s Farm and Garden Centre.  It’s local seeds, clearly labelled for how it’s grown and what it will look like when mature, and what kind of care it needs.  Partly because I have two boys and 1.3 dogs running around the lawn, I have gone with a hardier grass seed when seeding.

The end result was interesting to look at during the water rationing.  The areas that had compost and organic matter spread out on them did quite well.  While the mast couple of days have been hot and they have been scorched a little bit, they still were doing fine.  The boulevards looked okay as well, especially the one that I put a lot of effort into bringing back (it had a footpath worn through it when we moved in and that has grown back and has disappeared).  The only are that has taken a beating is actually a design flaw of the yard (my fault) and I have all of the foot traffic from the deck/patio area hits this spot as you move to the yard.  If it isn’t watered and/fertilized, it starts to deteriorate.  I to pull the sod out and put a proper path in that transition area.

We have a lot of lawn.  We have a small house on a double-wide corner lot.  I like my lawn but this has shown me that with some proper techniques, it can survive a couple of weeks without watering and do okay (we did get some rain during that time).

Melbourne, Australia has been in a drought since 1970.  They even have a website that updates the public on the status of their water storage.  On their water conservation website, they have a series of tips on how to save water in your lawn and garden.

Add plenty of organic matter such as compost and manure to the soil to improve water retention, plant health and soil structure. This is one of the most important steps in making your garden drought-tolerant. Remember, the healthier your plants are, the more likely they are to withstand drought conditions.

Remove weeds regularly from garden beds because weeds compete with other plants for water.

Before planting a new garden bed, condition clay soils with powdered or liquid gypsum to improve water penetration.

I know living on a river we don’t think that much about water supply and drought but I was shocked at how much less a city like Melbourne, a city with a similar economic profile as Saskatoon does uses per capita.  Canadians rank second only to the United States in terms of highest per capita water use in the developed world while Melbourne uses a fraction of what we do.  There is room for us to improve.

You may also want to check out the report on water conservation presented to the City of Saskatoon which actually recommends that the city adopt a full time outdoor watering schedule.  It’s a good first step.  Now since I am an odd numbered house, I am off to do a bit of watering under my one of my maples that doesn’t allow a lot of rain water to penetrate under.

City Report on Water Consumption

Growing up on a river, you never really think about water consumption outside of your water bill.  That started to change when we bought our house twelve years ago.  It has a boulevard out front but since we are on a corner lot, it also has a large one along the side of the house that is unbroken by a sidewalk.  The entire yard was a mess and by the time I got to the boulevard, it was a couple of years later.  We had fertilized it and watered but the problem was that the grass (basically a quack grass) was growing on clay which meant no top soil, shallow roots, and zero water absorption.  I bet 90% to 95% of the water ran off the boulevard and went straight down the drain.

Our house What I should have done was rotor till the entire boulevard, bring in top soil, organic matter and reseed but I didn’t have the money to do so and I am not sure you can do that to a city boulevard anyways.  I took another approach in that I stopped bagging my grass with the hope that it would stop some of the evaporation of the 5% of water that was being absorbed and eventually break down and decompose to provide some organic matter.  In addition to this I started to spread both some peat moss and compost down on the lawn.  Finally I started to aerate the lawn and boulevard which helped out a lot.  Over the next five years the well beaten path of people cutting through the lawn came back (we did over seed with a hearty mixtures from Early’s Farm and Garden) and the boulevard started to transition from rock hard to developing a spongy feel like there was actual soil underneath.  Now the lawn isn’t healthy enough to be organic and I do have a vacant weed infested lot behind be which causes all sorts of problems with noxious weeds which means that I tend to use a lot of weed and feed on the boulevard on the back half of our lot but we have made a lot of progress.  Last year for the first time I spread out a mixture of home brewed compost tea (recipe and instructions) after seeing how it has made a difference at Harvard (less mowing, less water, deeper roots and it absorbs wear and tear of students better).  The end result of all this has been our water consumption is way down the last several years.

Now it looks like a lot of work but it was actually less work than you think.  First of all, not picking up the grass after we mow saved a lot of time.  There are some times when a combination of rain and schedule that I do bag up our grass, plus, I do need some grass for the compost container once in a while but most of the time, it’s a big time saver and the rest of the work needs to be done anyways.  The big change has been to go to the compost tea and I am hoping that it will make a big difference over the next couple of years.

One thing that strikes me is that we don’t do a lot of talking in the city about reducing water consumption.  The average Canadian uses about 120,000 litres (26,396 gallons) of water per year which is why I was happy to see that in the full report that the Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee presented to the Administration and Finance Committee included five recommendations related to water conservation.  Here are their recommendations in summary

  1. amend existing bylaws to require water efficient fixtures (low-flow toilets and shower heads) for new and existing building construction and renovations in residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors,
  2. implement a low-flow toilet rebate program similar to other Western Canadian municipalities,
  3. enact a bylaw implementing an outdoor water schedule,
  4. report back on a strategy to implement a water monitoring program, and
  5. promote and develop new programs and incentives for water conservation.

Number 3 is the most interesting option to me.  Okotoks’s schedule works like this

Due to the increase in water consumption in town, outdoor watering is now only permitted two days a week.  One hour of watering per week is adequate for established lawns.

Odd numbered addresses may water lawns:  (Addresses ending in 1,3,5,7,9)
Thursdays &/or Sundays

Even numbered addresses may water lawns:  (Addresses ending in 0,2,4,6,8)
Wednesdays &/or Saturdays

Watering may only occur during the following hours:
6:00 am – 9:00 am
7:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Flowerbeds and vegetable gardens may be watered by hand at any time using a watering can or hose with a trigger spray nozzle.

Please respect the specified watering days and hours, as water is a limited resource. The fines for not obeying the water regulations range from $100—$2500.

Cambridge has a similar plan but will it work and be accepted here.  It’s a big shift in behavior for Saskatoon, especially when much of our water consumption goes right back into the South Saskatchewan River (once treated).  Mark and Oliver have grown up running through the sprinkler in the yard and Maggi takes a nap under the sprinkler on many days.  To lose that or have that restricted would be a big change.  It would also lead to conflicts among neighbors.  Someone is always complaining about one neighbor on our street because they think his vehicles take up too much street parking (which makes no sense to me).  Every summer someone from the city comes by because (probably the same neighbor that complains about the parking) is sure the maple firewood we have in the backyard is elm (and banned).  Watching a recent show on Melbourne, Australia which has more severe water restrictions than what Okotoks has (Melbourne has had a drought since 1997), people put up signs saying that their gardens are being watered by excess shower water.

Saving water in MelbourneWhile we aren’t in a situation of drought, the South Saskatchewan River is under some pressure and this where I get upset.  On one hand, I totally agree with the recommendations being made to Saskatoon City Council yet on the other hand, this isn’t a Saskatoon issue.  Most of the water being taken from the South Saskatchewan River is from irrigation projects in Alberta.

“We know virtually nothing about actual use or consumption of water,” she says. “No one does.” Her assertion catches There are nearly 12,000 licensed users of river water and 80 percent of the water allocated under these licences is withdrawn in Alberta’s sprawling irrigation districts. Users typically meter their intake pipes, but the standards for reporting are lax, and withdrawal numbers alone cannot tell us actual water use. Some water is taken up by growing plants, some evaporates or is lost from leaking canals, and much simply flows back to the river. Since none of this is measured, actual consumption is just an estimate based on assumptions.

The article goes on to state

When it comes to water, getting the big picture is never easy. The truth can simply vanish in the details. Since the future of the river is, in the broadest sense, a supply-demand equation, I set off to the university’s department of economics to find Joel Bruneau, co-editor of a comprehensive technical report called “Climate Change and Water Resources in the South Saskatchewan River Basin.” The ponytailed professor does his part to avert a hotter, drier future climate by getting around Saskatoon by bicycle year-round. But his report suggests the challenges are here and now.

“The whole story is irrigation,” says Bruneau before I am quite seated in his office. His studies show there is sufficient river water to cope with regional population growth and worst-scenario climate change, but not if we keep irrigating at the present rate.

In fact, irrigation is still expanding. Even though Alberta stopped issuing new water licenses in the South Saskatchewan River Basin in 2006, room to grow comes from “efficiencies” — converting leaky, evaporation-prone canals to low-loss pipeworks. Trading in water allocations, which further maximizes Alberta consumption, is on the rise. The net result of such “savings” is less water in the river for downstream users.

“They are already overallocated on the Oldman and Bow rivers and borrowing from the Red Deer to pay the ‘bill’ to Saskatchewan,” says Bruneau, who can foresee a day when Alberta will want to buy some of Saskatchewan’s share. For years a poor cousin to its western neighbor, Saskatchewan has seen its economic fortunes rise meteorically, and some farmers have called on government to directly match Alberta’s irrigation investment.

Bruneau doubts new irrigation projects would make economic sense now, if they ever did, but he dismisses the idea on more fundamental grounds. “We are taking a third of the river for irrigation already,” he says. “There’s no way we can double that. The water would become warm, covered with algae. The fish would die.”

So Saskatoon gets to pay the bill because Alberta farmer’s want to grow crops that are more profitable then would be allowed by normal farm conditions.   I remember seeing the dry river beds of California and the Colorado River and thinking, I am so lucky to have the South Saskatchewan River.  Let’s hope enough people agree and we come up with ways to guarantee that it is always going to be there.

The South Saskatchewan River