Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster

Images for 8 Steps Article

Sterile public right-of-way adjoining property with asphalt driveway freshly removed, 1994

Tree-lined footpath through the now revived right-of-way, 2006. We planted the water before planting the trees by creating sunken, mulched basins that would harvest the rain and runoff from the adjoining raised path and street. 5-gallon native, food-,medicine-, shade-, and wildlife habitat-producing trees, shrubs, and cacti were then planted and irrigated for a few years to get them established. Now established, this entire landscape is irrigated solely by harvested rainwater and street runoff, while helping control neighborhood flooding and cooling the neighborhood in summer.

Rain-fed abundance in the public right-of-way. Chi Lancaster holds and nibbles on native mesquite pods harvested from the tree behind her. The pods are ground into naturally sweet edible flour. In the jars are mesquite flour, cholla cactus buds (which taste like artichoke hearts), home-cured olives, chiltepines (wild perennial chiles), prickly pear cactus jelly, and honey from our bees – all of it grown and harvested on site. Note: the curb cut behind the jars that enables us to harvest street runoff in the tree basin.

The curb cut letting in harvested street runoff during a summer monsoon rainstorm 2006. Note: the path surrounding the basin is the elevation of the top of the curb so excess water runs down the street rather than flooding adjoining property.

Our site at time of purchase in 1994. Most runoff drains off site, up against home, or through the garage. All greywater goes down the sewer. Palm tree blocks winter solar access.

Our site in 2006. No runoff leaves site. On-site runoff is infiltrated before it gets to house or garage, and we have positive drainage away from buildings. Street runoff is directed to basins and trees along the curb. All greywater is directed to and recycled within the landscape. With palm trees removed, winter solar access is regained. Solar panels have been installed on roof providing all our electricity, and a solar oven and a solar hot water heater have been installed on the ground south of the south-facing trellis. (The solar hot water heater is on the ground because our old roof was not strong enough to hold the heater’s weight.)

The winter-sun side of our home in late winter. The solar panels (on roof), solar hot water heater (on ground to right of house), homemade solar oven (in front of water heater), solar food dryer (wood frame and screen set on top of rebar trellis), and winter garden are placed within the same solar envelope of open access to the winter sun for the south-facing windows. We then strive to shade the rest of the site with trees where the winter solar exposure does not need to be maintained.

Late winter garden grown entirely from rainfall and roof runoff harvested in 1,200-gallon ferrocement tank in 2005.

Washing machine greywater drains (marked with destination: fig, white sapote, orange, and peach trees). Drain hose from washer is placed in a different pipe with every load of laundry. An option for households occasionally using non-biocompatible detergents is to include an additional drainpipe going to, and marked “SEWER” or “SEPTIC” with “(groundwater),” “(local river),” or (local bay)” below to remind us of where those detergents ultimately end up. Drainwater containing non-biocompatible detergents can then be directed to the sewer pipe as needed. The very efficient washing machine is made by Staber.

Each greywater drain outlets to a mulched and vegetated infiltration basin that also harvests rainwater and runoff, and quickly infiltrates the water. The drain pipe outlets/daylights 7.5 cm (3 inches) above the mulch to ensure the pipe never clogs with roots or debris. They greywater rapidly infiltrates right through the mulch and then the living soil below, so there is never any standing water. To further ensure optimal performance the mulched basin is sized to handle the peak surge of greywater flow. The rock lining the basin stabilizes the basin’s edge.

These higher water-use fruit trees are only placed close to the home where roof runoff and household greywater can be easily directed to them to meet their water needs.

Three drains at the bottom of the outdoor shower, each diverting greywater to different plantings in the landscape. White rubber stoppers are rotated among the drains enabling us to direct the water where it is needed.

A hose shower we demonstrate for those afraid of plumbing. Just throw a garden hose over the branch of a tree planted within a mulched basin. It works great in summer when folks need of a shower – and the water needs of the plants – are greatest.

Organic produce grown on site with harvested rainwater and greywater.

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Umbrella Newsletter

The Umbrella: Summer 2020

THE UMBRELLA: A catch-all of resources, events, media, and more from Brad Lancaster In this time of Covid-19 and spending more time at home to be safe, I’ve been grateful for the solace, inspiration, and bountiful sustenance my water-harvesting gardens, landscape, and neighborhood forest has provided me, my family, friends, and neighbors. Record summer heat […]

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