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DIY recycled watering system that 'mimics rain' keeps garden alive in drought-stricken Queensland city

David Chen and Nathan Morris, Saturday September 21, 2019 - 19:28 EST
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Charmaine and Peter Williamson have multiple places to escape to in their flourishing Toowoomba garden. - ABC

As Queensland's Darling Downs continues to experience one of its worst droughts on record, a couple has developed a recycled watering system that mimics rain.

"I've got jack fruit, star fruit, guavas, things that you wouldn't normally think would be [grown here]," said Charmaine Williamson, a horticulturalist.

Her flourishing garden, which rambles over three quarters of an acre in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, is the result of decades of hard work by her and scientist husband Peter.

"We started with nothing, there was grass, basically a rental before we arrived 25 years ago," Ms Williamson said.

Southern Queensland continues to battle a severe drought, with towns like Stanthorpe soon to run out of water.

Toowoomba's water supply has been secured by a $187-million, 38-kilometre pipeline connecting it to Brisbane's water supply.

But with rainfall across catchments still well below average, the regional city's 134,000 residents are on water restrictions.

Recycling greywater to save 100 litres a day

The variable weather prompted Charmaine and Peter Williamson to develop a system that redirects recycled water to their garden, which is saving them 100 litres a day.

"It's literally taken decades to develop, I must admit not by me, I did have technicians working on that," said Mr Williamson, a plant scientist who has drawn on his industry experience while developing his garden irrigation system.

He has plumbed his house to direct greywater from showers, baths and sinks to a large tank in the yard.

From there he runs water through two compost bins filled with vegetable scraps and garden clippings, capturing the concentrated brown compost liquid.

The compost concentrate is then mixed with his watering system, and spread over his garden via a spinning sprinkler.

"It's really only keeping it alive, maintaining it, it's not turning it into a tropical garden," Mr Williamson said.

"We still need to rely on rain for the for the real growth."

$26-million boost

The couple's focus on saving water saw them win Best Sustainable Garden at the 2019 Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.

The annual event draws tens of thousands of people to the Darling Downs, and has won consecutive major tourism awards at both a state and national level.

"This means a lot of to us. We believe last year it generated about $26 million of economic activity," Mayor Paul Antonio said.

But as drought continues to drain local water-supply dams, thoughts are turning to what will need to be done if more rain hasn't fallen by next year's Carnival of Flowers.

Mr Antonio said the council was looking into its options, including overhauling the region's ageing water pipes, and recycling more water.

The Williamsons hope that their example will encourage others to be more efficient with the precious resource.

"We're eating from our own garden through the greywater, it's wonderful," Ms Williamson said.


© ABC 2019

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