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Book reviews for Volume 2

Book reviews for
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2: Water-Harvesting Earthworks

Kirkus Review of Volume 2, 2nd Edition

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Seeds of Change’s Cutting Edge e-newsletter

Doug Pushard of

Pima County Public Library 2008 Southwest Book of the Year

Arizona Native Plant Society’s The Plant Press (three) November 2008 Reviews of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2

Book Review by Julia Fonseca:

Whether you are tired of high water and electrical bills, want a different landscape look, need to solve drainage problems, or looking to contribute to your community or environment, productively using rainfall and greywater can enrich your life. This book shows you how to design and create water-harvesting earthworks, but in an engaging style. Imagine a Peace Corps volunteer were sent to your urban village to invite you, persuade you and demonstrate to you how to have more fun in your garden.

If you were frustrated with Volume 1’s lack of practical detail, this is the book you’ll want. Volume 2 covers everything from check dams, compost, mulch, swales, streetscape opportunities, greywater system design, and a wide variety of basins at many different scales. It’s full of inspirational stories and ideas, and offers a wealth of tables and references. Helpful graphics, drawn from real-life examples, are one of the strengths. Volume 3, yet to come, will address cisterns in detail for those of you with “tank envy.”

Chapter 11 and a related appendix discuss how to integrate plantings with rainwater harvesting features., Plant placement and form are discussed, but so are many individual species, with a focus on edible landscaping and native plants suitable for low, warm deserts.

Lancaster’s approach is rooted in “permaculture” principles, to which he adds years of experience and observation at a variety of watershed scales. One of the pleasurable aspects of reading the book is seeing how the principles come together in design, and understanding how much is encompassed in the “circle of concern” created by rainwater harvesting practices. Rainwater harvesting re-orients city dwellers to their landscape in a way that xeriscape does not. By combining water harvesting with native plants, Lancaster is showing how to re-orient landscape design toward wildlife and a more enjoyable, livable city life.

The only thing that I find wanting is more information about soils and the effects of natural soil layering upon water retention and plant selection. Lancaster does present important research regarding caliche (a calcareous soil horizon) and tree planting, but readers are presented with little additional guidance to understanding one of the most important and variable aspects of their environment.

Book review by Suzie Husband:
What pleasure it brings to see the acclaim and enthusiasm generated by Brad Lancaster’s rainwater harvesting books. Now there are two, with a third volume on the way. Early on in this ambitious project there were pre-order forms available at an ANPS meeting which asked people to make a leap of faith and send $20 for the yet to be published first volume. Enough people leaped that Volume 1 came to fruition and took the country by storm!

That first book , Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape, was so thorough, detailed and clear in its illustrations that one wondered what more needed to be said. We now know that this was just to bring us up to speed so we could enter the conversation. The introduction to volume 2 contains this heading: How to use this book, and volumes 1 and 3. In the author’s words, “The three volumes of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, and Beyond, create a series on how to conceptualize, design and implement integrated and sustainable rainwater harvesting systems.”

It seems the initial plan was for the three companion volumes, and while volume 2 reiterates the eight principles of rainwater harvesting and can stand on its own, the volumes complement one another. Roof catchment and cistern systems will be the focus of volume 3. To participate in Brad’s vision of grassroots change and a living, sustainable community, one would want to have the complete set.
These are exceptionally functional reference sources. The text is well written and engaging, so that reading it from beginning to end is not only possible, it can occur before you even realize it. However, the logically arranged and detailed table of contents enables the reader to focus and hone in one a specific aspect, such as check dams or mulching. Generously illustrated with photographs, easily interpreted drawings and text boxes that highlight key points, volume 2 is not only info-packed, all this detailed knowledge is readily accessible to the reader. As if all this were not sufficient, the epilogue features real life stories of rainwater harvesting experiences, followed by six appends, a chapter linked bibliography, a glossary and a detailed index. Included in this end material is a tree list for the Tucson area, detailed instructions for gray water harvesting and even math formulas that seem doable. (Some of them.)

It’s enough to make you swoon and hope you are revived with a splash of rainwater!

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2: Water-Harvesting Earthworks is available at local bookstores. You can also order a copy and learn more about rainwater harvesting at Brad’s website:

Book review by Gary Bachman
When I was asked to do this review, It just happened that one of my graduate interns asked if I had any favorite landscape architecture books. Rainwater Harvesting was my answer.

Rainwater Harvesting, may not necessarily changed the thinking of many professionals, but reinforced and validated ideas, hunches, concerns, inclinations amongst those who have always believe that there are better ways to develop than our current wasteful and hurtful practices. The book elevates from our subconscious what we always believed, that our reason for landscaping and using native plants is “to enhance our local resources, rather than deplete them.”

Since an encounter in the late 70’s with Bill Mollison, I considered the permaculturists to be somewhat elitist. We were working on shifting Australian plant consciousness away from Mediterranean exotics (such as Oleanders) to local plants. When asked about native plants, Mollison called them “useless.” (True story!)

Not so for Brad, an ANPS member. Brad advocates the use of native plants, suggesting a definition that places plants within the local geography and ecology. If few native plants have survived in a locality, he says, “Bring the natives back!” How do you learn about plants and their needs, “TAKE A HIKE!” and I might add attend ANPS Chapter meetings and field trips, which Brad did more than a few years ago.

He has been an innovator for sometime, carting around a mill and hosting neighborhood festivals to tell us the message about mesquite flour. Attentive, friendly, and open to new ideas, I had no idea that he was assembling an incredible and eclectic array of information found in Rainwater Harvesting (1 & 2). My observation was – this is the person who walks his talk. He hasn’t changed. He arrived for a recent workshop on bicycle, with a box of books, a bundle of plumbing devices, laptop computer and wide brim hat in tow. He deeply believes in what he is doing, and has the confidence not to take it all too seriously.

The ideas are compelling that a consensus has developed, at least in Tucson, that is leading to changing of building codes to require greywater and water harvesting systems and a major road widening project which will incorporate water harvesting demonstrations.

“Begin with long and thoughtful observation,” is the first principle of the eight that are suggested for Rainwater Harvesting. How different would our lives be if this principle, as well as the other seven governed the layout of our urban communities? To the landscape architect, this first principle is site analysis. How often are observations collected, and then put away, never to be seen again? I agree, site analysis is the most critical and challenging part of the design process. It may take many seasons and plant walks to come to an understanding of the demands of the sun, winds, soils and seasons on a site.

Brad is no cynic. His cure is the shovel and a pile of rocks. This may contradict the “careful observation” concept, but Joe Valer comments about the 20,000 check dams that have lead to the restoration of the Coronado Ranch in SE Arizona, “If I had been told that I needed to put in 20,000 stone structures I’d still be thinking about that.”

Rainwater Harvesting is full of stories, case histories, facts, solutions, equations, tips and references. There are chapters devoted to berms, terraces, French drains, basins, imprinting, mulching, paving, swales, check dams, vegetation, and finally greywater harvesting. While Tucson and dryland communities may be the focus of Brad’s explorations, examples from the arid west and around the world are included. The principles are not restricted to arid communities, but applicable to anyone concerned about preserving resources. This is not just a home landscaping manual, but a guide to restoring whole landscapes. All the information that you need may not be in this book, but with ample references you may be able to get to where you need to go.

So, what do native plants have to do with all this? He suggests a prejudice towards the use of native plants, and recognizes the need to grow exotic plants for food, shelter, and other uses. The primary value is to restore habitat, to make our cities, more comfortable, to attract wildlife. Thought I have not asked, I suspect it is up to us to enhance his plant lists with more contributions based on our experiences and observations on native plants.

Finally, a quote from an article by Brad in Restoring Connections Newsletter of the Sky Islands Alliance (Summer 2008), “The idea is to live our daily lives in such a way that we enhance our local natural resources rather than deplete them, and to have fun as we do it.” That is why I recommend that you find this book, get your shovel, start observing and enjoy the changes.

Book review by Rick Sheldon, Hummingbird Acres PRI, St. Augustine, Florida (October 2013)

The first thought that came to mind when I received a copy of Brad Lancaster’s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2: Water-Harvesting Earthworks, for a project in South Dakota was, “This will never, ever work in the swamps of north Florida.” After my work on the reservation, the book went up on the shelf and was forgotten. Why would I want to keep a book about drylands in my toolbox when we have more water than we can use? In hindsight, I wish someone would have taken his book, smacked me upside the head with it, and forced me to key in on the word Beyond in the title. It took my losing several workers out here deep in the swamp—no they were not eaten by gators, they were run off by the rising waters of the swamp—for me to realize my oversight. In desperation as I paddled my kayak through our camp site, I reconciled myself to the fact that we were not going to have any production this year.

The resulting depression from watching everything drown that we had spent a year planting took me back to my library, to a book that has become almost like a bible for me. While almost every farmer around us was standing in line trying to receive federal assistance due to flooding and/or salt-water intrusion to their wells, we resolved to begin earthworks as outlined in Brad’s second book. The results can only be described as magical. Everyone on our small farm is starting to see the difference made by harvesting the rain instead of just letting it flood us out. This book has inspired us and started us on a path that I am sure will change the landscape here forever. In addition, we have totally rebuilt and expanded our rainwater catchment to the point of its being the primary water source for the house—we wound up with so much we decided to take the final step of turning off the well pump. The system has improved everything from our clothes being cleaner to our fruit trees loving the water that comes from the laundry, the shower, and the kitchen sink. Some of our current projects are straight out of the book, and we have found the illustrations to be so well presented that during installation or implementation we often sit back and wonder, “Wow, it’s so easy, why didn’t we think of this earlier?” This winter we have even planned on flipping open the book to page 322 to build the “wash and well.” The book’s title might lead with “Drylands,” but everyone around here knows that “Beyond” is where we live. Even though we sometimes laugh and joke, wondering if Brad has ever been to a swamp, his knowledge of water should be a key tool for everyone, everyday, everywhere.

Tucson Audubon’s July/August 2008 Vermilion Flycatcher newsletter review
of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond (Vol. 2): Water-Harvesting Earthworks
By Brad Lancaster

This book fits into the genre “Everything you ever wanted to know about such-and-such, but were afraid to ask.”
So don’t be afraid to ask this book whether your swale needs a rock-lined spillway, how steep a slope you can build a microbasin on, or how to do vertical mulching. You’ll get advice on those questions and a host of others in the 419 pages of this comprehensive book.

Earthworks are the backbone of good waterwise landscapes. The best, and least expensive, place to store water is in the ground. Earthworks (basins, swales, gabions, terraces, French drains, etc.) are designed to detain or slow down water so that it infiltrates rather than running off. This provides more moisture in the landscape to support vegetation and microbial life, and ameliorates flooding in our streets and washes.
Our cities have been designed with a lot of “hardscape” that sheds valuable rainwater, directing it into streets, storm drains and riverbeds. This water is lost to our landscape and often ends up in the next county, recharging their aquifer and not ours! Earthworks are the first line of defense against these losses.

In volume one of Brad’s soon-to-be trilogy, he laid out the logic of rainwater harvesting in dryland regions and introduced his philosophy of finding “abundance” where others see only dry desert. After all, our part of the Sonoran Desert has more rainfall and thicker, more varied native vegetation than just about any other desert. Many foods can be grown, and habitat for native wildlife can be nurtured, by getting rainwater into the ground.

Rainwater harvesting earthworks can also decrease our dependence on scarce metropolitan potable water supplies. Currently about 45% of the potable water used by the single-family dwellings served by Tucson Water is used outside the house – most of it on landscaping. We badly need to reduce that amount so that we don’t take so much water out of the natural environment where birds and other wildlife depend on it.

In volume three, expected some time in 2009, Brad will tell us everything we ever wanted to know about collecting rainwater in cisterns. But for now, read Water-harvesting Earthworks and plan your yard, your landscape or your new subdivision to be porous to rainwater and the abundance it brings.
–Reviewed by Kendall Kroesen, Restoration Program Manager
Sky Island Alliance’s Volume 11, Issue 2, Summer 2008 Restoring Connections Newsletter review of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2

Book Review: Saving From A Rainy Day
By Kevin Dahl

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond: Volume 2, Water-Harvesting Earthworks
By Brad Lancaster, Forward by Andy Lipkis
2008, 419pp, Trade paperback, $32.95, published by Rainsource Press, Tucson.

On the block one down from where I live (in mid-town Tucson) there are two very different front yards right next to each other. One is a holdover from the ’60s – a flat plantless expanse covered in gravel you can tell at one time was painted green. I’ve seen a postcard of such a yard in Sun City on which the owner put an old lawnmover strung with a sign that reads, “Retired!”

There are lots of descendents of the green gravel yard, only slightly improved, covered with different grades and shapes of gravel, mined from various remote and once-beautiful places in the desert and shipped in oil-gulping trucks to provide just the right decorator color (earthtones, of course). Such a yard might boast a small hill (or an “Indian burial mounds” as my friend Dale calls them) or a couple of cactus (creating what my friend Geoffrey used to call a Disney Desert). These “xero-scapes” might be saving water over a conventional lawn, but…

Look at the yard next door: Bruce and Judith have laid out some meandering paths through several deep and wide basins filled with natural mulch, interesting shrubs, an occasional herb or vegetable, and an abundance of wildflowers in season. The basins collect rainwater (nothing runs off this yard). Cisterns store water collected from their roof to be used in the basins when it doesn’t rain. The yard supports several large native trees. It is lush, cool, productive, attractive to our eyes and all sorts of wildlife, and uses no more groundwater than the neighbor’s.

Brad Lancaster has studied, created, and championed such rain-fed landscapes, not just in the Southwest but from other arid lands as well. His new book has an incredible amount of information on how to use earthworks (basins, berms, and other features) to direct and store rainfall. His techniques, tips and success stories are inspiring. The reference material astounds me, and there are updates on his website. The illustrations make it seem all so easy (which some of it is). Put it into practice, and the result creates habitat for both wildlife and us that is so much better than what most landscapers are doing these days. It can restore and refresh.

The book is not just for someone planning for an urban lot. Developers can make good use of these techniques; instead of leaving a big hole at the lowest part of a project, how about collecting water to grow shade trees covering the parking lot (which I think you’d agree is a whole lot better than the mosquito-laden stinking pond that shows up after storms). Well-planned earthworks can also do wonders on the wider landscape, where mismanagement of forests and grasslands has caused huge erosion problems. For instance, Brad includes the story of how Arizona ranchers Joe and Valer Austin have used gabions (wire-net filled rock dams) – 20,000 gabions at last count – to bring back healthy watersheds on thousands of acres. Their efforts benefit both cattle and endangered species alike.

Brad’s first book was an overview of water harvesting, concentrating on the principles of how it works. The next in the series will cover more active systems, like cisterns. This book is a how-to manual, and if you are ready to start managing your landscape it is perfect for you. With it, you learn all you need to create functional terraces, French drains, infiltration basins, check dams and diversion swales. I know you want to build and use a bunyip (both an Australian mythical creature and, in this case, a simple water level) – who wouldn’t?. Brad shows how imprinting, mulching, greywater (kitchen, laundry and shower) harvesting, and replacing hardscape with permeable paving can improve your life. All of our lives, really.

Another neighbor of mine recently added to his front yard a classic water fountain topped with an elephant that appears to spout water from his trunk (I know, I know; I can’t make up stuff like this). It sits near a line of river rocks (pretending to be a stream) that bisects the inevitable gravel of his new landscape. He needs a copy of Brad’s book. We all do.