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posted on October 01, 2008

The Star: Parkdale's bountiful rain harvest

New tanks to collect water help irrigate the garden residents tend to feed the area's poor and homeless

Volunteer Muzzama Younussi helps her 2-year-old daughter,
Sarah, work in the Masaryk Park community garden in
Parkdale Sept. 26, 2008.

By: Jason Miller
Published: Sep 27, 2008
Source: The Star

Two-year-old Sarah Younnussi was struggling to break the ground with a shovel at Masaryk Park yesterday, not knowing that she was taking part in something that could make Toronto a better place to live when she gets older.

Younnussi was determined to help her big brother Haru, 10, dig holes to plant flowers in the HOPE community garden, next to the Parkdale community's new rainwater harvesting system.

The massive 6,000-litre tank was designed to collect rainwater from the roof of the Masaryk-Cowan Community Centre.

The water will then be gravity-fed into the garden, where a hand pump will let people water plants with chlorine-free water.

The garden brings seniors, church groups and youth groups from across the community together to plant vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce. The produce is then donated to charity food kitchens throughout the area.

Shannon Thompson, the director for local community group Greenest City, said Parkdale is paving the way for other communities who are trying to find an environmentally friendly way to grow sustainable food.

"A full tank (of water) will last for a month," she said.

"To fill it once will just take about one inch of rainfall."

Thompson said that, with a near-record rainfall this year, the facility could have gathered more than 88,000 litres of water. With that kind of potential, she added, a lot less water would be needed from city taps, saving money while helping to feed the poor and homeless.

Hundreds of Parkdale residents are expected to converge on the park tomorrow for the project's opening.

Joe Abby-Colborne, pastor for the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church, said that his food kitchen has benefited from the produce harvested from the garden.

"It has been good for members of the community who have been marginalized," he said. "They can now plant something and watch it grow."

City councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park) said that most Torontonians don't realize that the city's running water supply system accounts for a staggering one-third of Toronto's electricity bill at a cost of $47 million each year. It also accounts for 10 per cent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

"It costs the city a lot of money and energy to pump water up from the lake to use for watering gardens and parks," he said. "If we can instead use rain water, we will save money and protect the environment, too."

Emily Alfred is the executive director of Riverside, a company that focuses on providing educational material to Torontonians about water pollution. She said it's extremely important for more communities to start implementing water harvesting systems like the one being used in Parkdale.

"Rain harvesting isn't used as much as it should be in Ontario and Toronto," she said.

"Because we have a lot of underpriced water, we don't realize how precious it is. There are other parts of the world where rain water harvesting is mandatory for drinking and nondrinking purposes."

Alfred said that several Toronto condos and commercial buildings such as the headquarters of software company SAS Canada on King St. E. have rainwater harvesting systems.

They use the water collected to flush toilets and irrigate plants. Alfred added that if more of these systems were used, it could cut back on the amount of polluted water that runs back into the lake.

Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips said that this year would have been the perfect time for every community in Toronto to fill up on rainwater.

Toronto has received more than 811 millimetres of precipitation so far this year. That breaks the record of 808 millimetres set in 1945.

"It makes sense to grab the rain when you can so you can use it when you don't have any."

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