How to cut plastic and ocean pollution - oh, and your local council and water bills

It’s easy to stop our ocean and river pollution.

And we can stop it. Doing so saves us money, and is easy and cheap.

Here’s how and why.

•   Sydney Water sucker trucks sucking up plastic and other road pollution beside Bondi Beach, Australia. Regular removal of the pollution from the huge underground sump is an avoidable cost to ratepayers and Sydney Water customers - and, of course, our lovely beach and ocean

Sydney Water sucker trucks sucking up plastic and other road pollution beside Bondi Beach, Australia. Regular removal of the pollution from the huge underground sump is an avoidable cost to ratepayers and Sydney Water customers - and, of course, our lovely beach and ocean

Every few weeks these trucks arrive at Bondi Beach to pump our plastic and other pollution trapped in a large underground sump from which water flows to the beach and ocean. For a good reason explained below these types of trucks are commonly called, “sucker trucks'“.

Urk. When I walk past these trucks for a swim in the beach waters below a part of me shrinks inside.

This sucker truck routine is an ongoing cost to the ocean, the fish, the swimmers, local ratepayers and Sydney Water customers. The cost can be reduced and avoided - easily, cheaply.

Here’s how.

Firstly, where does the water and the pollution come from before it goes into the big underground sump?

•   The Sydney Water sign says “Improving the local stormwater system”.      No. Sydney Water is keeping water pollution as it is, and the costs they charge customers as they are, year after year - that’s the truth.

The Sydney Water sign says “Improving the local stormwater system”.

No. Sydney Water is keeping water pollution as it is, and the costs they charge customers as they are, year after year - that’s the truth.


The pollution comes from the thing we call ‘stormwater’ and which we also call, “rain”. By itself this rain is nature’s beauty, her gift to us, pure, clean and delicious to the tongue. Add local councils, red tape and indifference and we get what we see all around us - failed water systems in our cities and towns.

Rain falls on roofs, paths, roads, parks. When rain is directed quickly off these roofs and hard surfaces it picks up speed as it goes downhill. That speeding water carries all in its path with it - soil, sediment, straws, cigarette butts, grease, oil and petrol from the roads and so much more. Eventually that urky stuff (read this for data on how ‘urky’ this ‘stuff’ is) goes into lakes, rivers, oceans and beaches.

Remember how sometimes we get warnings not to swim in a beach or river after rainfall? That warning is caused by our houses, paths, roads and parks sending rain water away down the hills and slopes of our roads and cities to the waters that lie at the bottom of the hills and valleys of our towns and cities.

Solutions are fun, and any of us may do them where we live and work. Beautiful streets, cool in summer with healthy plants and trees, and water in rain tanks and gardens are given to us by these solutions.

Here are some examples and costs.

Leaky drains

In Chippendale, Sydney, where I live in NSW, about 20 of our households put in a leaky drain outside our houses. We dug up the pipe in the footpath that was running down from the roof and under the footpath and road verge outside our house. We sawed off the pipe and replaced it with a geofabric-covered slotted pipe with hundreds of holes through it. Now, since we did this in 2008, the rain from the front roof of the house drains through the pipe holes into the road verge to provide invaluable water directly to the tree and plant roots and soil in our road gardens.

Hands-free irrigation!

So you may copy us we made a 2 minute 20 seconds video about how to make a leaky drain.

•   Ag pipe for holding and dispersing water below ground

Ag pipe for holding and dispersing water below ground

Cost was less than $300 which we paid for the pipe - called, agricultural drainage pipe (“ag pipe”) - and we recycled broken bricks and stones we found to use as a bed to lay the ag pipe in.

On average, for that one-off cost of $300, each year we keep about 2 million litres of rain water in our road gardens. Plants and trees there do better than those in road verges which don’t have this sub-surface irrigation.

•   By draining water from buildings to footpaths, to bicycle paths to roads and then, finally, to cuttings in kerbs we can direct rain water direct to the trees and vegetation which needs that water to grow. This abundant and healthy road garden shows what can be done even during two years of drought in inner Sydney, NSW.

By draining water from buildings to footpaths, to bicycle paths to roads and then, finally, to cuttings in kerbs we can direct rain water direct to the trees and vegetation which needs that water to grow. This abundant and healthy road garden shows what can be done even during two years of drought in inner Sydney, NSW.

Cut through kerbs are another solution.

The image above shows how simple it is to achieve a self-watering road garden using cuts in the kerb and by directing rain water from adjoining buildings, paths and roads to those breaks in the kerb.

•   Sludge and mud that was hidden from sight when covered by surface lake waters and which was carried to the lake by rain which was not held where it fell on footpaths, grass and verges at Victoria Park, Sydney, near Sydney University. The avoidable cost of removing it by works being carried out and shown in this photo are also in most city rivers, lakes, oceans but rarely seen so rawly as here.

Sludge and mud that was hidden from sight when covered by surface lake waters and which was carried to the lake by rain which was not held where it fell on footpaths, grass and verges at Victoria Park, Sydney, near Sydney University. The avoidable cost of removing it by works being carried out and shown in this photo are also in most city rivers, lakes, oceans but rarely seen so rawly as here.

What lies beneath the ocean and rivers when we don’t keep rainwater where it falls? The photo above shows the truth that’s out of our sight - mud, pollution, plastic, soil, toxic chemicals.

Another solution: catch the footpath water and drain it down the footpath edge to the plant roots below.

•   In Shepherd Street, Chippendale, NSW, we locals with Sydney City Council designed, built and planted road gardens and made them self-irrigating.

In Shepherd Street, Chippendale, NSW, we locals with Sydney City Council designed, built and planted road gardens and made them self-irrigating.

To irrigate the new plants we ran ag pipe beside the edge of the concrete kerb. Rain runs over the path down the edge or vertical face of the path edge down to the buried ag pipe below, and then to the roots of the trees and plants.

The image above shows a local kid helping install the ag pipe. It’s that easy. And fun.

The image below shows the edible plants we chose with Council and which it supplied and we planted.

Sweet!

•   What we planted - and enjoy to this day

What we planted - and enjoy to this day

• Sydney City Council is installing leaky drains this week in Pine Street, Chippendale - see the leaky pipe in the photo? Later today concrete will put placed over the top of the pipe to keep the garden soil there.

• Sydney City Council is installing leaky drains this week in Pine Street, Chippendale - see the leaky pipe in the photo? Later today concrete will put placed over the top of the pipe to keep the garden soil there.

And this week Sydney City Council is putting more leaky pipes in Pine Street, Chippendale as it makes a new pale (cool in summer) path and directs the roof water from the adjoining buildings to the road verge. I took this photo (on Thursday 25 July 2019)as I walked out on this unusually dry winter day - true, ‘you don’t miss your water ‘til your well runs dry’ - but now when it does rain the trees will have some water too.

•   In this part of Sydney we get about 1200 litres of rain water each square metre of roof, path, road . . . these buildings in the photo have over 200 square metres of roof and catch about 240,000 litres of rain a year. Now, with these leaky drains perhaps 100,000 litres of rain will stay to feed the trees and plants. Roughly half to two thirds of rain in Sydney falls gently and its this soft and slow-flowing rain which leaky drains absorb to the soil.

In this part of Sydney we get about 1200 litres of rain water each square metre of roof, path, road . . . these buildings in the photo have over 200 square metres of roof and catch about 240,000 litres of rain a year. Now, with these leaky drains perhaps 100,000 litres of rain will stay to feed the trees and plants. Roughly half to two thirds of rain in Sydney falls gently and its this soft and slow-flowing rain which leaky drains absorb to the soil.

Great work Sydney City Council - thank you.


Another solution: put nutrients that plants and trees need to live and grow directly into the soil - use a pipe buried in the ground and standing up straight.

•   This yellow capped pipe is buried about 350 cm in the ground. Slots are cut into the pipe where it is buried below ground level and the end of the pipe is open to the soil. Householders nearby or cafes unscrew the yellow cap and pop in left over food. The food decays and directly feeds its nutrients into the soil down below. Notice how healthy the plants are? The subsurface nutrients and the subsurface ag pipe that feed rainwater from the footpath make a powerful food in the soil.

This yellow capped pipe is buried about 350 cm in the ground. Slots are cut into the pipe where it is buried below ground level and the end of the pipe is open to the soil. Householders nearby or cafes unscrew the yellow cap and pop in left over food. The food decays and directly feeds its nutrients into the soil down below. Notice how healthy the plants are? The subsurface nutrients and the subsurface ag pipe that feed rainwater from the footpath make a powerful food in the soil.

These nutrients will also increase the power of the soil to hold water and can change dry or clay or sand soils to be productive and a better home for both insects living in the soil or above such as bees, butterfly and even birds which need to eat from the soil or the plants.

The nutrients are in your left over food.

Just put your food scraps into the top of the pipe. The food decays directly into the soil. No smell, no rats, no maintenance. Hands-free composting.

What lies beneath?

• Look at this tree root running down into the gutter and then into the gully where rainwater drains to - trees drink too!

• Look at this tree root running down into the gutter and then into the gully where rainwater drains to - trees drink too!

The ‘dining table’, the place where plants and trees ‘eat’, is out of sight, below ground.

That tree root in the photo above isn’t being naughty.

Denied the water that falls on the footpath, road, gutter and is sent to Bondi Beach about four city blocks away down the hill, the tree root found water where it could - and so the tree survives to cool the street, to provide beauty and homes for birds, bees, insects.

Tree roots that lift up paths, buildings are not being vandals.

Denied water by our buildings and roads that treat water as a problem or a ‘waste’ to be got rid of, the water that once fell as rain on the tree and soaked into the ground around the tree roots, this tree and all trees and plants go looking for water wherever and however they can.

As would we humans go looking for water if the water that comes out of our taps was turned off or lost because of pipe leaks or, more so every day, because of our breaking climate.


The best solution is a rain tank

Rain is free.

The water from a town water tap in a house, office, cafe is rain but it costs money to use as someone else has made a business out of harvesting and selling it.

For 23 years in Sydney’s Sustainable House I’ve paid no town water or town sewer bills. No usage payments, no fixed cost payments. $nil. My 10,000 litre rain tank does the job I need it to do for the water needs of 4 people.

The rain from the roof is used for drinking, cooking, showers. and the sewage is treated and re-used for toilet flushing, clothes washing and gardening. Lab tests show the rain water is cleaner than town water. Details are here.

No rain water has left the clay site in 23 years, not even when we used to have four days of intense rain from an East Coast Low storm.

Most Australian local councils, including the one where rain water is treated as a waste that causes the Sydney Water sucker truck to visit Bondi Beach every few weeks, Waverley Council, don’t promote rain tanks.

There are wonderful exceptions such as local councils in South Australia and Western Australia where water is scarce.

But even country towns where drought is now forcing those towns to import water have standard conditions which treat rain as ‘stormwater’ and something to be sent away from houses, buildings as if it is a waste product. Why? Because the councils have a business of harvesting the rain - the same rain that falls anywhere - and selling it to their ratepayers. Rain tanks are considered competition by these businesses . . . until the rain disappears as it is now. But who pays for carting the water to the towns when the council dams run empty? Ratepayers who have no rain tanks.

Conflicting rules and silos in local councils, not evil, is the problem

 If we stacked printed copies of the laws, regulations, policies, codes, guidelines, forms and ‘red tape’ Councils have to administer it would be about 1.7 metres high.

I know this because these rules take over 2 metres of my library shelving space.

When we look to see how these rules manage rain we see these rules are:

  • Full of conflicting requirements;

  • Administered by different departments in Council who rarely co-ordinate their decisions;

  • Not reviewed for conflicts at the time they are made or later for their effectiveness.

 Council’s are not so much evil as bent down by this mass of rules.

Councils seek in their different departments to apply these rules about rain when they decide their budgets, their rating structures, the individual development and building approvals.

These rules are typically, “you shall”, or “you shall not”.  Bossy.

 Citizens seem to respond more to incentives and rewards for doing or not doing something than to bossy rules.

 Incentives can be rate rebates, low cost products such as compost, quicker approvals for development that complies with rules and so on. See here for a list of examples that do and do not work.

So it is that Waverley and other local councils have standard conditions of approval for development and construction which assume and direct rain to be sent off the building site.

This standard condition of approval drives up ratepayers’ living costs, the costs of cleaning up rivers and oceans, and costs like those Sydney Water has - and passes on to its customers - for sucker trucks and other things like works to stop pollution at the end of the large stormwater pipes that discharge into Sydney Harbour.

For an analysis of the avoidable, extra costs, pollution, waste of food, water and energy this article, When self-deception is a standard condition, provides further details and examples. Standard conditions when put into development and building approvals over-ride council policies and daily such approvals undo the goals which councils and councillors say their policies are implementing - unfortunately, the truth is often hidden in complex red tape buried in local council approvals and bureaucratic back rooms.

Here’s an extract from Waverley Council’s (388 pages!!!) Development Control Plan:

• Waverley Council standard condition directs all developers to treat rain as a waste product and send it to the street where it runs downhill to the rivers, gullies, beaches.

• Waverley Council standard condition directs all developers to treat rain as a waste product and send it to the street where it runs downhill to the rivers, gullies, beaches.

This standard condition directly conflicts with, undermines and over-rides another Council policy which says Council will implement “Water Sensitive Urban Design'“.

Because the condition when put into a development approval runs with the land for the life of the approval and also takes precedence over the policy to conserve water the policy is not being implemented in almost every development approval.

Here is an extract from the worthy but largely lifeless and un-implemented policy:

• The largely ignored “Water Sensitive Urban Design Guideline of Waverley Council with terrific but mostly ignored goals. Each development approval with the standard condition quoted above that ignores the policy continues to send plastic and other pollution down the gutters and hills to Bondi Beach, Coogee Beach and the ocean we swim in. Oh - and this Guidelines plan (called, Public Domain Technical Manual) is . . . 256 Pages!!!

• The largely ignored “Water Sensitive Urban Design Guideline of Waverley Council with terrific but mostly ignored goals. Each development approval with the standard condition quoted above that ignores the policy continues to send plastic and other pollution down the gutters and hills to Bondi Beach, Coogee Beach and the ocean we swim in. Oh - and this Guidelines plan (called, Public Domain Technical Manual) is . . . 256 Pages!!!

More solutions?

Yes, there are more easy and cheap and simple solutions to keeping rain water where it falls to grow plants, trees, beauty and to cool our cities.

This list is just some of those solutions.

I love designing, obtaining any necessary approvals for, and building these solutions for houses, units, offices and subdivisions.

Do contact me if you wish to discuss what we can do together to keep rain where it falls and bring little pleasure gardens alive and well to where we live and work - here.

I look forward to getting my hands on my shovel, using my imagination and sharing my passion for water so that lovely rain is doing something with you and your plants, trees and insects and birds where you live or work.

May the rain drops be with you, your tank, your garden, your road verge,

Michael










































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