Tips for Sydneysiders.

Sydney Water Restrictions - Level 3

As Warragamba Dam levels hit new lows, new water restrictions are coming in June 1 (enforced from July 1). What will the restrictions be and what are the best ways to deal with them? Does it affect rainwater tanks and drip systems?

What are the new water restrictions be?
The new water restrictions have now been announced. The primary changes are:
  • Handwatering is now not allowed on Fridays (Wednesday and Sunday still allowed before 10am and after 4pm).
  • Drip irrigation is only allowed at times when handwatering is allowed.
The full technical descriptions can be found on the Sydney Water page.

You can see graphs and statistics on Sydney's dam levels on our Dam levels statistics page.

Can I still automate my drip irrigation system
Yes, with the right equipment. Some form of automation is highly recommended, otherwise you may forget to switch it off! There are several ways you can automate:
  • A 2-hour tap countdown timer, for about $10 from a hardware store, department store or garden centre. You start this going manually at, say, 5pm on a legal watering day and it will automatically shut the water off after an hour (or however long you set it for).
  • A low priced timed system. Be careful with the options that cost in the $20-$30 range. Sometimes these do not have accurate clocks or do not let you select exact times for watering. If your watering system drifts (time-wise) by an hour a week it does not take long to be watering illegally. Setting a system to one watering every 3 days will not be accurate. If you are unsure of the accuracy of the clock, you should contact the manufacturer before using.
  • A watering computer. These are often in about the $100 range and should keep a more accurate time. If you are unsure of the accuracy of the clock, you should contact the manufacturer before using.
  • An expensive system. Most systems over $100 should keep time well and have other features such as varying the watering with the rainfall and allowing computer or internet control.
  • A full computer controlled system. This is more the option for computer geeks like me. My computer controls my irrigation system and varies the watering depending on rainfall and temperature. It also makes the system easy to reprogram for any possible water restrictions. In addition my system manages my rainwater tank water and Sydney water input, determining which to use when according to the legality of the time, type of watering zone (sprinkler or drippers), and of course if there is water in our rainwater tank! I don't know of any commercially available home watering system that can cope with irrigation from water tanks and town water while keeping track of how full the rainwater tank is!

What do I do if I have a swimming pool?
Currently you are still permitted to top-up a pool with a hose. However, this may not stay the case for long.

Many householders use rainwater diverters to take water from their roofs into their pool. You can buy a rainwater diverter (to fit into a downpipe) for about $40 from Bunnings. This could be combined with 19mm irrigation pipe (and an elbow or two). Of course some sort of overflow mechanism would be helpful to deal with an overflowing pool would be handy (either overflowing water goes into a nearby drain, or use a float switch or float valve to control flow when overflow occurs).

An average summer month in Sydney produces about 100mm of rain, 80mm on average in drought. An average roof is about 250 square meters. If 100 square meters of that roof goes into a downpipe that is redirected into the pool, the 80mm of rain produces 8000 litres of water. This is equivalent to running a hose for 8 hours, and should provide sufficient water (on average) to keep the pool close to full. Of course there will be dry periods where the water level will drop, but it does still rain in a drought, and most months your pool should refill.

You can of course have a rainwater tank (a 9000 litre tank is a good size) to refill the pool whenever needed (and water your garden too). More information can be found on our rainwater tanks page.

How do I keep my garden alive without too much effort, if I cannot use a hose (or cannot use one much)?

Here are a few tips:

  • Use plenty of mulch. 15cm is recommended (except immediately around trunks). Measure it with a ruler... 15cm is very thick!
  • Don't buy new plants.
  • Put your lawnmower on the setting for the highest cut. Mow often and, if you can, use the clippings as a mulch on the lawn (use a mulching lawnmower or a push mower). Using a reel mower (e.g. a push mower) can also help. It is by these methods that our lawn is green and our neighbors aren't right now, not watering!
  • Don't water each plant every day. If it is very dry and your plants need a drink, water just a few plants each day with a watering can, and water them thoroughly.
  • Reduce fertilizer, particularly reduce nitrogen as nitrogen promotes leaf growth.
  • Get a rainwater tank and pump... you can use a sprinkler or drip system all you want with that water. If you check our statistics page you will see that a fair bit of rain is falling in Sydney despite the drought.
  • Minimize potted plants. Plant some in the ground, if possible, to minimize the need to water them (no need to plant out succulents and cacti). Even bringing some inside can save the need for frequent watering. Also, try to find shadier positions for your pots (not too shady, though).
Our Opinion:
In our opinion the refusal of the government to let the public know what the restrictions are (ahead of time) is annoying in the least. Some other water authorities have a list available of exactly what is and is not permitted under each level of restriction. In the past, the lack of warning has meant:
  • People continue to install sprinkler systems when they may otherwise have purchased drip irrigation systems.
  • Dangerous regulations such as only allowing watering after 5pm in the dark can be adjusted before they come into practice... when the level 2 water restrictions (after 5pm in winter) were originally announced, we went out and purchased outdoor lighting so that I could safely water in the dark!
  • More prior knowledge of upcoming restrictions allows planning by individuals of equipment such as rainwater tanks which take some time to install. Similarly people could buy appropriate irrigation timers for their drip systems. Many people have bought timers which are simply not accurate enough to work with level 3 restrictions.

Sydney dam levels main page
This month dam level statisticsRainfall this week
Trends of Sydney dam levelsUsage and Inflow trends
Firefox Extension (SydDams)Interactive Catchment Map
Dam levels for individual damsSydney Desalination plant impact on dam levels
Reduced Usage impact on dam levelsHow to save water in Sydney
General Information on Warragamba and Sydney's other Dams
Home irrigation/watering systems in Sydney
Old location of Sydney dam levels page
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