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Volume 1 book reviews

Reviews for Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1

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2013 Southwest Books of the Year

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Reprinted Reviews

Book review by Midwest Book Review

(Scroll down on their site to Environmental Studies Shelf)

Now in a revised and expanded second edition with more integrated sun, wind & shade harvesting, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond lives up to its title with a massive array of tips, tricks, techniques, and procedures for collecting rainwater. Whether to save money on water bills, help preserve the environment’s local water supply, or enrich one’s garden, the methodologies of Volume 1 (the first in an award-winning, three-volume series) will prove invaluable. Chapters discuss how to assess the water resources available to one’s site; using earthworks or tanks to collect and store rainwater; applying integrated design principles to rural or urban homes; and more. A wealth of black-and-white illustrations and diagrams help make Volume 1 easy for readers of all backgrounds to comprehend and utilize. Highly recommended, especially as increasing population pressures and climate change make water scarcity an ever-more critical environmental issue!

Book review by Kirkus

Lancaster’s (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, 2007, etc.) combination reference manual, how-to guide, and environmental manifesto offers a wealth of information about “water stewardship” for gardens, landscaping and everyday household use.

Novices need not be intimidated by this revised edition’s abundance of charts and diagrams or its lengthy appendices: The material is simple to understand, and Lancaster’s friendly, conversational tone is accessible for all readers. Using eight common-sense principles as a guide—e.g., “Always plan for an overflow route, and manage that overflow water as a resource”—the author makes a cogent case for water conservation; namely, it’s ethical, and it saves money. He also details integrated permaculture practices, including the importance of understanding the sun’s angles for passive cooling and heating. According to Lancaster, it’s always best to plan drainage at the highest point of a watershed and then work down, allowing the water to spread to optimal locations—a method that can be achieved through thoughtful observation of the land. Careful planting of native vegetation also plays a crucial role, and the author suggests that “water-needy” fruit trees be placed close to the house, as they can easily be nourished by roof runoff or gray water from sinks, showers and washing machines. Readers who live in wet climates may feel underrepresented in this book—Lancaster lives on an eighth of an acre in Tucson, Ariz., and uses an average of less than 12 inches of rainfall annually—but his principles can be adapted to fit any terrain or climate. Though there are many practical ideas contained within these pages, readers shouldn’t expect A to Z gardening instructions laid out in an easy-to-flip format; instead, Lancaster presents design ideas and plenty of engaging food for thought, including some personal worksheets in Appendix 5, as well as photos and real-life examples of people who have successfully harvested water for sustainable use. For example, Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, an African farmer, feeds his family in a drought-prone area thanks to his handmade reservoirs and “fruition pits.” Likewise, the Howells of New Mexico have lived on rainwater alone for over 20 years. While not everyone will want to live completely off the grid, readers interested in preserving natural resources can apply Lancaster’s time-tested ideas to any lifestyle.

Valuable environmental insight—a conservationist’s delight.

Book review by the Mindquest Review of Books (Winter Holiday edition, 2013)

Subject: As global warning, climate change, and water shortages increase readers now have access to vital rainwater-management principles for homes and communities. The book provides understandable instructions about we can use the full potential of sun, plants, soil, water and landscaping to implement a water-harvesting plan.

Noteworthy: The author is a world-renowned educator and designer of regenerative and permaculture systems. He is well-qualified to help readers create their own inexpensive system. The 280 illustrations, detailed guidance, and real stories of people empowering themselves to save money on energy and increase their water supply is educational and impressive.

Book review by BackHome Magazine, September/October 2006

– reprinted with permission of BackHome Magazine,

A Guide to Rain Farming

It’s surprising to realize how difficult it is to locate good information on small-scale water harvesting. So Brad Lancaster’s book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1 should be a welcome resource, whether you call your home the arid Southwest or the coastline of Washington.

Clean water is such a precious thing that even those who experience occasional droughts — and that’s nearly everyone — should be informed on the subject. At the rate we are contaminating our groundwater supplies, reliable private water sources may soon be the realm of a fortunate few, with the rest searching for costly alternatives or simply living withing reach of municipal water.

Lancaster’s 198-page book is the first of a three-volume series dedicated to hydrological awareness. Volume 1: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain Into Your Life and Landscape is a broad overview of how to assess the resources available at your site and then put them to use by employing strategies that embrace not just rainwater but topography, soil, solar exposure, erosion control, and more. Included is some interesting historical and societal background, and a thorough explanation of the hydrological cycle that defines natural rainfall. The book goes on to discuss the role of greywater, earthworks, tanks, and the basis of integrated design — a valuable and often-overlooked concept. This black-and-white volume contains nearly 170 illustrations and includes six appendices, which cover calculations, water requirements and plantings for a typical arid location, erosion patterns and mitigation, traditional water-harvesting methods, summary and checklist worksheets, and a list of resources. A glossary and complete index are also included.

Book review by Ocean Arks International’s Annals of the Earth, September 2006

– reprinted with permission of Ocean Arks International,

Book Review
by John Todd

This is a seminal book. In the coming post-petroleum world, energy intensive and artificially abundant irrigation water will no longer prop up our food producing systems. Instead, farmers and household growers will have to rely on drought-resistant varieties of food plants as well as a myriad of ancient and modern techniques for managing small and intermittent amounts of rainfall. In this future scenario literally hundreds of micro techniques and technologies for managing rainfall will make the difference between hardship or famine and thriving communities.

Learn about these techniques and technologies in Brad Lancaster’s new book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1. The book describes the ways in which landscapes can be sculpted and planted to make maximum use of periodic rains in order to support agriculture and communities. Don’t be fooled by the word “Drylands” in the title. There is important information in this book for all parts of the world wherever food is grown. This book belongs in every grower’s library.

Book review by U.S. Water News, March, 2006

– reprinted with permission of U.S. Water News,

Just the book we need in these dry, arid times
By Peter Wild
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape. By Brad Lancaster. Tucson, Arizona: Rainsource Press, 2006. 199 pages, paper. $24.95

I’ve been looking for a book like this for a long time. That is, one that will tell me, armed with a shovel and not a great deal of mechanical fussing or back-straining, to begin saving rainwater immediately. And in the process, save money, salve my conscience, and, best of all, come out ahead with a greener life.

Immediately, Brad Lancaster’s new book on pulling water out of the sky does this. The very introduction shows how, with moving a bit of dirt around, the homeowner can redirect the runoff from his house and yard, harvesting rainwater to create a far more pleasant place to live.

Of course, once our mind gets into that happy groove, other possibilities open up. And it should be emphasized, they are happy ones. This is not a book for those living in self-denial and wearing camel’s-hair shirts but one of a unique combination of practicality leading to ease, satisfaction, and celebration.

After we’ve been advised to “start small and simple,” we see how that start can evolve into an integrated system of living that, through harvesting not only rainwater but greywater, planting a few trees and vegetables, will make our days far more pleasant, sane, and harmonious.

The specifics of it are pretty simple, really: mini check dams to retain water where your tomatoes need it, waffle gardens, and in summer the delight of an outdoor shower both cleaning you and greening up nearby vegetation. All this is charmingly illustrated by artists Silvia Rayces and others to point us step-by-step down our new green path.

Book review by Herb Quarterly, spring 2006

– reprinted with permission of Herb Quarterly,

When Brad Lancaster and his brother bought a house on an eighth of an acre in Tucson, Arizona, in 1994, the vegetation on their property was limited to a few drought-stressed trees — not an unusual sight in this Sonoran Desert community that averages only 12 inches of rain a year. Lancaster, a permaculture consultant and designer, decided to make the most of that limited rainwater. Through landscape design and cistern use, he now funnels 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year onto his property, creating a suburban oasis that produces 15 to 20 percent of the food he and his brother eat each year.

Lancaster has traveled the world to see how other cultures use rainwater in dry climates, and shares his expertise in a three-volume series. Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, provides an overview on how to make a property more rainwater-friendly.

Although the book looks like a textbook with its numerous appendices, tables and black-and-white illustrations, don ‘t let that fool you. It’s very easy to read and understand, and Lancaster takes the reader through a series of simple steps. You’ll learn how to evaluate a property to determine where the rainwater flows, and then design a “forested hillside” that allows this water to meander, rather than run, through the landscape. You’ll find instructions on creating a series of shallow basins that capture water runoff from roofs, hardscapes, or slopes, and how to plant within those basins. And you’ll read about the importance of groundcover and how to plant trees so your house has winter sun and summer shade.

The valuable appendices include a worksheet on calculating how much rainwater your property gets in a year; how much you need for gardens and other plantings; and how much currently runs off your property. There’s also an extensive list of books, web sites, and other rainwater-harvesting sources.
Reading Lancaster’s book will give you a completely different view of your yard and gardens. His enthusiasm for the potential of rainwater harvesting is inspiring, and you’ll want to run out during the next rainstorm just to watch the water flow through your property, dreaming of the berms and swales and permeable driveways you can create to help your garden grow.

–Vicky Uhland

Book review by Santa Fe Real Estate Guide, June 2006

– reprinted with permission of Nate Downey

A watershed of info in new book
By Nate Downey

During a drought like this, what we need is a rainwater-harvesting book that features some guiding principles to welcome rain into our lives and landscapes. Fortunately, such a book was published this year. It’s called Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, and its subtitle is “Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape.”

This is the first in a three-volume set, the second two scheduled to be published later this year and in 2009 [web editor’s note: as of December 2011, Volume 3 will be available in the summer of 2013 at the earliest]. Originally intended as a single volume, the first draft was, according to the author’s introduction, “too intimidating in size to the uninitiated and too large to carry while observing a site, brainstorming design ideas, or implementing the plan.” The result, he says will be “three user-friendly, more-portable volumes.”

As one flips through the current volume one realizes Lancaster made a good decision to break up this tome. Although the focus of the book is on water harvesting in arid lands, what you are reading is a treatise on desert survival — without any of the unsustainable groundwater-mining to which our society has become addicted.

Chapter 1 starts with an inspiring vignette called “The Man Who Farms Water.” It tells the story of Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, who, over a 30-year period, raised a family of 10 on a 7.4-acre piece of land in a region that often gets less than 12 inches of rain per year. With no money for a well, Mr. Phiri installed check dams, swales, two cisterns, and other structures that slowed the flow of runoff water through his land. Over time, this resource (which would otherwise have created, primarily, soil erosion) established orchards, vegetable crops, sugar cane, a dense banana grove, and enough drinking water to sustain chickens, turkeys, cattle, goats, and his family. The chapter ends with an in depth look at Lancaster’s eight principles and three ethics of water harvesting.

In subsequent chapters, he applies these principles and ethics to topics ranging from how to estimate your property’s water needs to how to develop an integrated, water-conscious design for your property. Lancaster concludes each chapter with a “real life” example that puts these principles and ethics to work.

I have researched a significant number of texts on water harvesting; be assured that there are few books that provide such essential information in such a readable and well-illustrated format. In fact, as water resources become increasingly scarce, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond may prove to be one of the seminal books of our time. See

– Nate Downey ( is president of Santa Fe Permaculture, a locally-owned landscape-design firm. His first book, Harvest the Rain, will be published this year by Sunstone Press. His second book will be a water harvesting “how-to” published by the State of New Mexico.

Book review by the Seedhead News and the Arizona Native Plant Society

– reprinted with permission of Kevin Dahl

For years author Brad Lancaster has sought out practical ways to create water-harvesting systems, figuring out what works well and applying it to his own home and numerous other projects. His vast array of knowledge is now available, in inviting and usable form, in a book that enables the reader to assess on-site resources (rainwater, topsoil, sun, plants, and more) and build an integrated, multi-functional landscape. As Gary Nabhan writes in the foreword, “There is both quantitatively-informed precision and beauty in what Brad has implemented, and this combination is a rarity in the modern world. Technological fixes have grown increasingly ugly, but as you can see from the drawings and photos in this masterwork, Brad’s designs sing to us as they solve our water shortages.” The simple techniques (and the principles behind them) can help anyone bring a site to life, reduce cost of living, endow the landowner and the “community with skills of self-reliance and cooperation, and create living air conditioners of vegetation growing beauty, food, and wildlife habitat.” The amazing stories of people who have successfully welcomed rain into their life provide ample inspiration to get started.

– Kevin Dahl, Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH and author of Wild Foods of the Sonoran Desert and Native Harvest: Gardening with Authentic Southwestern Crops

Book Review by Journal of Conservation Lifestyles – Deer Canyon Community

– reprinted with permission of Tami Brunk

Our Home Is An Oasis
Rain drops sputtered on the cooling pavement—for the first time in 9 months—as I stepped inside the Hillsboro Community Center on the evening of May 15 to hear Brad Lancaster’s presentation promoting his new book: Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond.

Dubbed the “Patron Saint of Water Democracy” by desert ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan in the book’s glowing forward, Brad has spent the past decade of his life in pursuit of the overarching principles and most effective techniques to conserve water in dryland environments. He and his brother, Rodd, have put these concepts to the test in their own backyard in Tucson, Arizona.

Over these same 10 years, all their needs for a productive landscape and an impressive garden have been courted from the sky and household greywater, through crafty landscaping and home design practices outlined in Rainwater.

Of course, most readers will have more modest goals—perhaps to supplement their well water supply, or to learn landscaping strategies to help their soil absorb and hold rainwater, rather than allowing it to evaporate or erode valuable soil. To assist in this process, Brad offers his “Eight Principles of Successful Rainwater Harvesting,” the core concepts that weave their way throughout the book:

1. Begin with long and thoughtful observation.
2. Start at the top (highpoint) of your watershed and work your way down.
3. Start small and simple.
4. Spread and infiltrate the flow of water.
5. Always plan an overflow route, and manage that overflow as a resource.
6. Maximize living and organic groundcover.
7. Maximize beneficial relationships and efficiency by “stacking functions.”
8. Continually reassess your system: the “feedback loop.”

Brad illustrates the principles colorfully and effectively in the first chapter, which is devoted to “The Man Who Farms Water,” Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, a farmer from the driest region of Zimbabwe who converted an “overgrazed and eroding 7.4 acre family holding” into a productive farm complete with a large reservoir, sugar cane plantation, thriving chicken, turkey, cattle, and goats, several gardens, and a lush banana plantation.

After branding these principles into the reader’s mind (and illustrating the grandest of possibilities), Brad helps the reader apply them, through use of site-appropriate strategies and tools to design and implement an integrated rainwater conservation program in their own backyard.

Rainwater is unusual in that its four chapters are exceeded by five appendices, which feature extensive lists of resources and reference materials. The visual learner will appreciate that all the text is reinforced by an abundance of diagrams, charts, photographs, and playful illustrations.

What becomes obvious once you “dive into” the book is that this is a manual, not a philosophical read. If you want to get your hands dirty and juice up your desert-dwelling mind with the eloquent language of rain, buy this book.

– Tami Brunk

Book Review by Earth First! Journal, July-August 2006

Reprinted with permission by the Earth First Collective

A Gift from the Heavens — The Joys and Uses of Rainwater
By Cleo Woelfle-Erskine

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain Into Your Life and Landscape, by Brad Lancaster, Rainsource Press, 2006

In the U.S., massive dams, wells, and levees were constructed over the last century to shield us and our food supply from the effects of drought and flood. Now urban dwellers blithely turn on the tap to distant river water, while millions of gallons of pure rainwater gather pollutants and flood down storm drains every time it rains.

For the last century waterworks and groundwater mining have shielded industrialized dryland cultures—including most of the U.S. west of the Mississippi River—from drought and flood, enabled populations to soar beyond what rainfall alone could sustain. However, all signs point to the imminent end of this watery hallucination. Natural disasters, ecological devastation and maintenance failures—including hurricanes, global warming, destruction of riparian zones, contamination of aquifers, and crumbling water drains and sewers—have resulted in a monumental and intractable problem. Soon, the affluent will join the billions of people who lack access to sufficient clean drinking water.

The solution, Brad Lancaster argues in Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, lies in harvesting the rain.

Permaculture people love bad puns, and harvesting rainwater is replete with the combined wit of Brad and cohort Brock Dolman. What you’re left with — after you’re done groaning — is a genuine and pragmatic optimism that arises from the elegant utility of the rainwater-harvesting strategies and principles presented.

Lancaster has meticulously researched strategies for capturing the rain that falls on roofs, sidewalks, streets, gardens, and bare soil. Over the last decade, he field-tested most of them in his Tucson yard. He taps the decades of experience of fellow desert permaculture designers as well as international innovators like Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maskeo, whose Zimbabwean water harvesting, agriculture and land restoration experiments Brad uses to synthesize the principles behind the many strategies he presents. Armed with these principles, urban runoff is transformed into a free and endlessly useful gift from the heavens. By harvesting it, Lancaster argues, we can foster community autonomy, discredit the rationale for expensive and destructive water systems, enhance urban biodiversity and quality of life, and reconnect the broken flows of water through our lives and landscapes — not to mention save money on water and grocery bills.

Brad’s specific focus is on urban and suburban dwellers who have land to work with. In painstaking detail, he walks the prospective rain harvester through design and construction of small-scale rainwater harvesting systems. Beginning with runoff calculations and progressing through an overview of how to site and build swales, catch basins, cisterns, downspouts, and other structures, his design strategies and informative illustrations empower the reader to use their own observations and labor to change their backyard from a rain-shedding to rain-catching landscape.

While Lancaster does not address the political strategies needed to challenge the powerful economic and political interests that exploit the current water system, he makes a strong case for the technical and economic feasibility of small-scale urban rain-harvesting and food-producing systems. Using his backyard and community gardens and urban gleaning projects as examples, Lancaster promotes urban agriculture as an alternative to chemical-dependent and water-wasting commercial agriculture. Future volumes promise to delve into the intricacies of cisterns, greywater recycling, ecological sanitation, and landscape-scale rain-catchment and erosion control strategies.

Encompassing far more material than its title suggests, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond is an essential manual for architects, planners, and landscapers; a valuable introduction to principles of permaculture and integrated design for urban dwellers concerned about depletion and insecurity of municipal supplies; a dose of practical hope for the jaded water warrior; an in-depth treatment of urban water concerns and harvesting strategies for the permaculture aficionado. In short, it is an essential book for anyone who uses water!

Cleo Woelfe-Erskine is the author of Urban Wilds and the forthcoming Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground.

Book Review by Permaculture Activist, Summer 2006

– reprinted with permission by the Permaculture Activist

Free Rain
By Kat Steele

In Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1 Brad Lancaster invites us to “throw down the welcome mat to invite rainwater into our lives and landscape.”

He successfully reminds us of the precious, life-giving value of rainwater while providing every reason why and every strategy how, we could do just that. A long-time resident of Arizona, Brad and his brother have devoted the past decade to experimenting with water harvesting strategies in their own urban backyard and neighborhood. They impressively transformed their 1/8-acre lot in the Sonoran Desert into an oasis by harvesting 100,000 gallons of rainwater annually.

Focusing on small-scale strategies, Brad tells us that they are the most effective, least expense, safest, and easiest to accomplish. “Rainwater harvesting captures precipitation and uses it as close as possible to where it falls. The process mimics intact and healthy ecosystems that naturally infiltrate rainwater into the soil and cycle it through the myriad life forms. Instead of sealing and dehydrating the landscape with impervious pavement and convex shapes that drain the gift [of rainwater] away, as most modern cities, suburbs, and home landscapes do, harvesting accepts rain and allows it to follow its natural path to productivity.”

Dryland-appropriate strategies are emphasized throughout the book, because this is where the need is the greatest. “47.2% of the earth’s land surface is dryland. A fifth of the world’s population lives in dryland habitat.” He assures us that the “principles that are outlined are universally applicable; wet and dry climates are susceptible to both drought and flooding. Rainwater harvesting reduces the impacts of dry seasons, droughts, and floods.”

This first volume is the comprehensive overview and foundation of the forth-coming trilogy. Brad seamlessly integrates rainwater-harvesting design into the context of permaculture design, philosophy, ethics and principles.

He concedes, “A truly effective, efficient and productive integrated system can do far more than just harvest rainwater.” Emphasizing infiltrating over draining and abundance over scarcity, the book offers not only contemporary techniques and strategies for integrated, regenerative design but case studies of tried and true techniques including Native American water harvesting formerly practiced in the Southwest.

I found this volume of potentially equally value for the city dweller, suburban homeowner, homesteader and professional designer. Illustrations are clear and extensive, some are even humorous. The exhaustive glossary, calculation tables, and comprehensive references provide all the reader needs to be on the way to a moist and healthy landscape.

The book is chock-full of water-harvesting strategies and real-world examples including use of roof catchment, cisterns, and earthworks. Practical topics such as estimating your site’s water needs, where to get information about rainfall rates and other climatic data, and calculating rainfall volumes are found throughout the book. Simple formulas include “CATCHMENT AREA (in square feet) multiplied by the AVERAGE ANNUAL rainfall (in feet) equals the TOTAL RAINFALL FALLING ON THAT CATCHMENT IN AN AVERAGE YEAR (in cubic feet).

I found the clear and graphic layout and structure of the book to be useful and user-friendly, featuring sidebar boxes with lists, tips, calculations, and resources.

The multiple case studies are nothing less than miraculous when compared to contemporary water engineering practices. The explanations of the characteristics of degenerative, generative, and regenerative investments give an excellent conceptual framework for any permaculture designer to start from. There is so much to learn from simply reading the patterns of water flow and erosion. “Erosion patterns, the presence of of vegetation and wildlife, the size of deposited sediment, the smoothness of rocks, and other patterns give clues to how fast rainfall runoff flows through otherwise dry areas, how much water flows there, where it pools, and where it moves.”

The passion and spirit of the author flow abundantly throughout the pages of his book and is quite contagious. This is a must-have book for all those waterphiles and aspiring eco-engineers. Brad offers a vision of the thoughtful rehydration and resultant economic abundance available to our land and communities.

“If every neighborhood in my hometown and yours harvested rainwater in an integrated way we could greatly decrease the need for our concrete-clad, water draining, multi-million-dollar flood-control infrastructure. Our yards and public rights-of-way would become a new tree-lined, water-harvesting greenfrastructure, no longer requiring us to spend billions extracting and importing water from other communities to supplement our drained and dwindling supply.”

You will find what you need here and more. Yes to life. Yes to Rainwater Harvesting! Come on in, let the rain flow, the doors are open.

Kat Steele is the founder of the Urban Permaculture Guild in Oakland, CA

Book Review by Midwest Book Review

The first volume of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond is out: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape, and it offers the core of a three-volume guide on how to design and use sustainable water-harvesting systems in both home and community. Learn about soil, rainwater and plants and how they can contribute to harvesting techniques, benefit from over a hundred illustrations, and enjoy an approach which pairs stories of successful harvesters with practical tips on basic components of a harvesting system.