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Thanks to an abundance of sunshine  in the Valley and a longer stay than usual, it was difficult to tear ourselves away from Nova Scotia this year.  We had guests this summer, both friends and family, in greater numbers than other years. It was a challenge, but it gave us an appreciation for some aspects of life in Grand Pre that we may have started taking for granted.  The friends just up and down Old Post Road, the amiability of the local population, the wonderful fresh produce at the farm stands, and the amazing art.  We managed to squeeze in a vacation to Newfoundland and take several long swims across Lumsden Pond, but a couple of magical moments arrived right before we left.

The first came completely out of the blue.  One of my wife’s former colleagues at McGill University arrived in the area with his wife and sons in tow to attend his niece’s wedding.  Let me be the first to say that I am not, by nature, a wedding crasher. Neither is my wife.  But when we learned that the wedding would take place out on a spur of dyke land just outside Wolfville, and that the bride would be transported to that particular spot on a wooden boat that the groom had built, well, we just had to see it.

Our friends had invited us to share a feast at the lobster restaurant in Hall’s Harbour the night before the wedding.  We drove out there in a downpour.  The ferocity of the rain, which taxed the capability of the wipers and the patience of the back seat drivers, did not bode well for a late morning, outdoor ceremony the following day.

But the next day broke with a smile.  It was Saturday, the day of the farm market in Wolfville.  We had convinced ourselves that it would be gauche to crash the wedding, but when we drove into town and looked out over its little harbour, we could see the wooden dory just getting underway.  It was too good to miss.  We joined the throng of familly and friends in their fancy clothes and braved the muddy path.  They had chosen an idyllic spot for the ceremony. When the applause subsided, we slipped quietly away.

The Bay of Fundy is part of the Atlantic, a long inlet with the highest recorded tides on earth.  It is a large, mud bathtub that fills and empties twice every 24 hours, about twenty minutes later each day.  Geographers tell us that the amount of water that runs in and out is equivalent to all the water in all the rivers on the planet.  At low tide, one third of the bottom of the Bay is exposed to the sun.

We have a tide clock in the parlour which keeps reasonably good time.  I had promised my wife that we would go for a swim in the Bay before our departure for Durham.  On the very last day, in the middle of packing and putting away any number of things, local high tide arrived at noon.  It was 1 or 1:30 before we reached Hidden Beach, a stretch of rock and mud where  semipalmated sandpipers stop to feast on mud shrimp before taking off again for their long journey to South America.

These tiny birds come in the thousands from their summer habitat in the far north. They settle in the same spot for a couple of weeks and do nothing but eat, doubling their body weight in the process.  They are spectacular in flight, synchronizing with one another, flashing alternating colours as they bank and turn, low as bats over the surface of the water.  We try not to disturb them because this is their rest period before the long flight South.  Right now, their mud shrimp are covered with salt water, and the birds are biding their time.  A handful of fishermen nearby cast their lines.

We slip into the ocean, surprised by the buoyancy of the water after a summer of freshwater swims.  It is warmer than Atlantic water has any right to be, baked by the sun over the long summer.  It will get warmer still, but we have run out of time.  The tide rocks us, massaging the water against our skin.  Occasionally, a handful of sandpipers take flight, alarmed by some danger invisible to us. They are beautiful, flicking through the air with the grace of aerial ballerinas.

We float and swim and stare at the puffy clouds, not going anywhere.  We feel strangely comfortable, at home in in the bath of the Bay.  It is natural magic.  It is the kind of day you want to last forever.


I have no doubt there are many other cities in the world that would love to have some of Melbourne’s problems, but there is one issue which is fairly intractable and raises hackles in polite company.  That issue is, of course, water.  The City has been on Stage 3a water restrictions since April, 2007.  Even though It seems like it has rained every day this winter, the reservoirs are still far from full.  And we are entering the dry season.

Under Stage 3a water restrictions gardens can be watered on specified watering days only in the morning:

  • a hand-held hose fitted with trigger nozzle, a watering can, bucket and manual dripper system can be used to water from 6am to 8am;
  • an automatic dripper system can be used to water from midnight to 2am;
  • even-numbered houses water on Saturday and Tuesday and odd-numbered houses on Sunday and Wednesday; and
  • households with at least one resident aged 70 years or over, may water their gardens manually on specified watering days between 6am to 8am, or 8am to 10am.

These efforts have paid off.  Ordinary citizens have reduced use by 30% since the 90’s in Melbourne.  If the rainwater that fell on the city were captured with tanks or cachements, the problem would go away.  But that would require far more storage tanks than are in use now.  It is a low tech, decentralized solution.  The political honchos in the State Government of Victoria have signed on to two expensive fixes: a north-south pipeline from the Goulburn River that will bring in up to 75 billion liters (one liter is slightly more than a US quart).  and a desalinization plant in Wonthaggi, 150 kms south of here. (150 billion liters).

Both projects seem to be responding to the city’s anticipated growth rather than current requirements.  In an average year Melbourne consumes 500 billion liters of water. Compared to agribusiness users, city dwellers are rather stingy with water, consuming only 11% of daily water in the State.  But even the volume of water used on farms has slumped in recent years due to cutbacks in the supply available for heavily irrigated crops like cotton and rice. Victorian farmers have been turning, increasingly, to groundwater.

The desalinization plant is the most expensive, energy intensive, environmentally problematic solution to the water issue at hand.  It is expected to be online in the Fall of 2011.  Costing 3 billion dollars, fresh water produced by the plant will use 400% more energy than current supplies.  It will require 90 megawatts of power, most of which will have to be produced by coal.  200 billion tons of brine will be returned to the ocean and more than 1.2 million tons of greenhouse gas will be pumped out each year into the atmosphere.

Putting the three billion dollars into water tanks and pumps in Melbourne could provide more water than desalinization without pumping any water anywhere.  Household water bills are expected to double over the next five years to pay for the infrastructure.  Wonthaggi, the plant site, is on a spectacular bit of coastline.

We have reached a point in historical time when problems such as this are going to come up more and more frequently.  Our watery planet can’t afford many more uncaring, unintelligent solutions.  When nature can’t readily accommodate our needs, we must find a way to make fewer demands.  Like it or not, we are the stewards of the blue planet.  I would like to believe we’ll be doing that job for a long, long time.

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