Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster

Events for September, 2011

Watershed Maps Are Community Maps

by Brad Lancaster

A watershed is “that area of land, a bounded hydrological system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”
— John Wesley Powell

Political boundaries are arbitrary. Watershed boundaries are real.

See below for John Wesley Powell’s 1890 map of the “Arid Region of the United States, showing Drainage Districts.”

If the western states of the U.S. were delineated by their watershed boundaries we may have far fewer water disputes. This map was made in 1890 by John Wesley Powell


United Watershed States of America map by the Sonoran Institute

Click here for another version of the United Watersheds of America map.


Watershed Map of North America by the USGS.

Neighborhood watershed maps
What watershed (or smaller subwatershed), what naturally bounded community, do you live within?
Have you walked, run, biked, danced, kayaked it in a big rain?
Have you watched the water flow, its volume, its quality, its source, and its destination?

I recommend you do. You will better know the Place you live within. You will better know the community to which you are connected, and with which you could connect better still.

Below are examples of how some communities are encouraging the strengthening of this connection.

Excellent watershed maps are available for Oakland and Berkeley, CA, showing current and historic boundaries and conditions.

The even more-elaborate Mannahatta project shows us what Manhattan looked like in its natural state (in 1609) before the city was built.

Watershed Management Group, with TerraSystems Southwest, has made a some great Tucson Basin Watershed Maps.

You can use these resources to make signs that highlight your neighborhood’s or community’s watershed(s).

This 17″ x 16″ all-weather reflective aluminum sign was made for $42 at a local sign shop in Tucson. We provided the pdf image, they made the sign, and we posted it on the Dunbar/Spring community bulletin board on the southeast corner of 9th Ave and University Blvd.

Click to download the JPEG of this Dunbar/Spring Washes and Watersheds sign.

I collaborated with Mead Mier and Melanie Alvarez of the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) to elaborate on this map to create the one below. To see how you can make a similar map see here.

This map highlights the two subwatersheds that make up the larger watershed of my Dunbar/Spring neighborhood in Tucson. By doing so we see our watershed neighborhood is much larger and connects to much more of the community than our yellow-bordered political boundary. The map also highlights green infrastructure installations in the neighborhood, water flow, and surface temperature. We can see the hotter (yellow to orange) areas of the neighborhood lack vegetative cover, while the cooler (green to dark grey) areas have more vegetative cover. This map is posted on a community bulletin board on the SE corner of University Blvd and 9th Ave.


Watershed signage programs
Santa Cruz County, in California, is one municipality that places watershed signs where roads cross over watershed boundaries/ridgelines.

This was a follow up to a watershed road-signage project in Sonoma County conceived of by Brock Dolman and the Water Institute, funded by the State Coastal Conservancy, and partnered with the Southern Sonoma RCD. Download the how-to guide: Creek Signs: Guide to Developing a Local Watershed and Creek Signage Program.

These efforts help show the flow, instead of obscuring it within drain pipes and other hidden infrastructure, so we can better celebrate the flow, and enhance it and the watershed by turning draining watersheds into harvesting-water catchments.


For more on how we can do this on our own sites and within our own neighborhoods, read:
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

For images of examples you can also check out my Water Harvesting Image Galleries.

Also check out Brock Dolman’s excellent Basins of Relations booklet, and while you’re at it check out his wonderful Bioneers presentation.


More watershed maps for the U.S. and other parts of the world
For maps of major watershed boundaries in South America and Europe, click here.

Check out the Veins of America watershed maps by Fejetlenfej, showing the vein-like network of rivers and streams in the continental 48 U.S. states.

The Veins of America map by Imgur user Fejetlenfej showing the complex network of rivers and streams in the contiguous United States. More can be found at: https://imgur.com/gallery/N4cUA

Images of Contemporary Water-Harvesting Art

by Brad Lancaster © 2011

Show the flow. Cycle it. Celebrate it. Know it. And as you do, show others the way.

The following three images are installations that I feel show and celebrate the flow. Their beauty lures me in, and invites me to look deeper. See more images in the Contemporary Water-Harvesting Art gallery, part of my website’s larger Water-Harvesting Image Gallery.

And for more how-to information see Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Images of Ancient Water-Harvesting Art

by Brad Lancaster © 2011

There is a tradition of harvesting rainwater in all human-inhabited drylands of the world where it rains (and a great many wet areas that also experience dry seasons). I’ve been very lucky to have been able to travel to, and learn from, some of them.

Below are three images. One from Israel. One from Jordan. One from India. If you are traveling to any of these countries, I highly recommend you seek these sites out. They are all open to the public, and you can find them via the information I give in the captions of these and many more images in the Ancient Water Harvesting Art image gallery within my Water-Harvesting Images Gallery.

What I find consistent in surviving ancient water-harvesting systems is their beauty and the incredible quality of work. What I am most drawn to is the example set by ancient dryland cultures who strove to harvest and enhance their local waters, their local rainwater, and their local runoff, all while living within the limits of their local waters — in a way that enhanced their watershed community without draining and degrading others. We today have much to learn from that.

These ancient water-harvesting systems typically deposit rainwater into the watershed, which in turn tends to feed aquifers, springs, creeks, and rivers. So over time there is more water. More cycles in the hydrologic cycle, with gravity powering the system.

Modern pumped and piped water systems typically extract water from the watershed, which in turn often drains aquifers, springs, creeks and rivers. So over time there is less water. Fewer cycles in the hydrologic cycle, with fossil fuels powering the system.

See Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1 and Volume 2 for more case studies and how-to information on strategies that enhance our watersheds and watercycles.

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