Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster


PowerPoint Presentations

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Integrated Local Harvests:
Simple and Effective Ways to Enhance the Natural Abundance of Your Home, Community, and the Larger World

This dynamic presentation shares patterns and strategies to harvest, integrate, and enliven free local resources—such as rain-, grey-, and stormwaters; sun, wind, and shade; along with soil fertility, wild foods, and community fun—in a way that generates far more potential than the sum of their parts. Scarcity is re-visioned into abundance simply through creative cycling and utilization of what is already at hand. Costly and consuming habits and infrastructure, disconnected from their surroundings, are reoriented and reconnected to maximize enriching opportunities.

You’ll see many examples of such transformation, including how once-dying wetlands and creek flows are being regenerated with simple hand-built structures made of on-site materials; how ancient sun- and shade-harvesting sites are informing passively heated, cooled, and powered modern homes and retrofits; and how once-blighted, overheated neighborhood streets are being rejuvenated into thriving greenbelts of water, people, wildlife, art, food, and celebration by planting once-drained stormwater, seed, and yard prunings.

This talk is both an invitation for you to engage and partner with your natural surroundings and community, and a treasure map showing you the way—by planting the rain, dancing with the sun, growing fertile shade, and more—to live as one of your community’s inspirational sparks!
(Duration: 1.5 hours plus Q&A)


Re-hydrating and Re-enlivening Our Communities with Rain-watered Neighborhood Food Forestry
This presentation is about neighborhood forestry efforts empowering citizens, and contractors, to effectively plant the rain and native food-bearing vegetation to grow vibrant and resilient abundance where they live, work, and play. Then train them up and support them with the education, guidance, collaborations, and policy that enable them to better steward the plantings for decades to come. Dramatic results include cooler neighborhoods, healthier eating, a revitalization of indigenous cuisine, deeper connections with people and place, reduced flooding, skill building, greater soil fertility, and more beauty and joy. The strategies and practices are accessible to all and most are free or cost no more than the price of a shovel.

General Water-Harvesting Presentation:

Turning Drains Into Sponges and Water Scarcity Into Water Abundance

This inspiring presentation shares eight universal principles of water harvesting along with simple strategies that turn water scarcity into water abundance, and floods into opportunity. They empower you to create integrated water-sustainable landscape plans at home and throughout your community. Rainwater harvesting is the process of capturing rain and making the most of it as close as possible to where it falls. Greywater harvesting is the process of directing water from household sink, bathtub, shower, and washing-machine drains into the soils of the landscape where the water is naturally filtered and reused to generate more on-site resources. The two work hand in hand, and can reduce our water consumption by 30 to 50%! You’ll see examples enhancing local food security, passively cooling cities in summer, reducing costs of living and energy consumption, controlling erosion, averting flooding, reviving dead waterways, minimizing water pollution, building community, creating celebration, and more.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Water-Harvesting Earthworks Presentation:
Planting the Rain: Principles, Practices, and Tips for Water-Harvesting Earthworks and Raingardens

Plant the rain before you plant your trees to boost production, reduce flooding, conserve water, and create sustainable oases around your homes and community infrastructure. Raingardens and other small-scale earthworks quickly infiltrate rainfall into the soil where less is lost to evaporation, while reducing erosion. Living ‘pumps’ of vegetation then enable us the access that water. Come learn simple principles and tips to leverage greater success as you implement these simple and effective passive systems. This presentation builds on Brad’s basic water-harvesting talk, while offering more specifics and case studies. Working examples and case studies will be highlighted.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Greywater-Harvesting Presentation:

Learn how to create simple, low-maintenance, legal, and effective household greywater-harvesting systems that use gravity to direct greywater directly into the landscape (no stinky tanks) where it passively irrigates multi-use landscape plantings. This can greatly lower water and power consumption, and related utility bills, while enhancing and beautifying your yard. We will discuss the creation of greywater systems, greywater-harvesting guidelines, materials and suppliers, greywater-appropriate soaps and detergents, marrying greywater- and rainwater-harvesting earthworks, and how to maximize your greywater-irrigated landscape’s potential with passive solar design, food production, and oasis design. A slide show of various systems and site will give you a clear, virtual tour of possibilities. Tax rebates for rainwater- and greywater-harvesting systems will also be shared. Note: Greywater harvesting is not yet legal in all states. If needed, this talk can be given with examples of what has been legalized in other states.
(Duration: Minimum 1 hour (plus Q&A). Maximum 2 hours (with Q&A))


Regenerative Rights-of-Way:
Local Harvests and Enhancements in Our Community Commons

In the urban environment, streetscapes are our public land, our commons. They are abundant—one-third of a typical city’s footprint is pavement for motor vehicles. These streetscapes are usually designed as drains, rapidly ridding a community of such perceived “problems” as rainwater, stormwater, organic matter, fertility, and obstructions to traffic flow. This design often leads to ever-increasing costs for importation of water, flood control, pollution control, heat-island abatement, climate-change mitigation, and health problems.

But a simple shift in perception and design can enable us to see and utilize rainwater, stormwater, organic matter, fertility, and even some obstructions to traffic flow as free, local resources, which can be passively harvested to enhance local water supplies, control flooding, filter pollutants, grow cool-islands, mitigate the effects of climate change, and improve health—while generating more resources and more life.

The key is to see and enhance the free abundance that we already have in a way that transforms more of our built systems into living systems that can regenerate themselves and our communities.

Numerous successful examples will be featured.
(Duration: 30–60 minutes plus Q&A)


Harvesting Water and More To Turn “Wastes” into Resources:
The Story of Rain Beer, Urban Drool Harvesting, Managing Mega-Cities Like Forests, and more

This dynamic talk looks into how we tend to mismanage but could properly manage our most precious resource: water. Many examples and case studies are given that illustrate how we can sustainably enhance our water, energy, and food resources at home, within our communities, and beyond.  In addition, Brad will also cover water-harvesting from dirt roads, Portland’s Sustainable Stormwater Program, green burials, an urban farm irrigated solely by rain and stormwater, and more. Monetary savings associated with each example are dramatic, and these practices simultaneously enhance local resources and quality of life. Best of all, you can do the same. Includes audio where possible.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Water Harvesting for Food Production:

Food is virtual water—originating from the source of irrigation. Local, sustainable food is all the rage, but we can take it further by growing that food with local, sustainable water. This talk covers the growing of food using rainwater, stormwater, and greywater for irrigation. Case studies include rain-fed greenhouses, dryfarming, backyard market gardens, granada greywater groves, and climate-appropriate traditional and appropriate plantings.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Beneficial Ruins and Water Webs:
A Vernacular Design Challenge to Increase the Resilience of Dryland Ecologies and Human Communities

This talk explores the idea of a beneficial ruin — a creation that improves the conditions of the ecological and human communities where it resides, even when abandoned. A beneficial ruin must be in relationship with its place and its people. Typically it acts as a web, passively harvesting and enhancing natural flows, so that at its best it generates other resources, even while regenerating itself. Examples of such ruins from the drylands of the southwest U.S. and the Middle East will be shared, with an emphasis on those that improve water, soil, food, and community. And you will be challenged to create and/or enhance such ruins or seeds of resilience in your place.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Water-Harvesting Principles & the Story of an African Rain Farmer:
Design Guidelines for Regenerative Water and Fertility Management

“You must plant the rain before you plant a seed or tree!” proclaimed rain farmer Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko of Zimbabwe. By doing just that, he and his family turned a wasteland into an oasis, raised groundwater and well levels even in dry years, reduced flooding in wet years, and enhanced the fertility of the soils. This inspiring story will be shared along with the strategies used, and more importantly, the guiding principles that informed the choice, placement, and implementation of these strategies into a more integrated and productive system.

These principles work in any climate experiencing a dry season or drought, and they help us see and act more holistically by asking us questions that direct our attention to important aspects of water & fertility systems we might otherwise overlook.

We will discuss how these principles were created, and how you, too, can use them or create your own—even in other contexts—such as the harvest and enhancement of other free, on-site resources such as sun and shade.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Mr Phiri, the African Water Farmer:

Description to come. Includes simple live demo. Intended audience: elementary-school students.
(Duration: 45 minutes – 1 hour plus Q&A)


Water Wanderings and More in the Middle East:

Brad shares inspiring stories and images gleaned during his U.S. State Department-sponsored trip to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in 2009 and a return in 2010 to teach permaculture in Palestine and conduct research in Syria and Israel. Topics include: sustainable groundwater extraction with ancient gravity-fed qanats; the forgotten and refound cisterns of old Jeddah; revived Nabatean runoff farms producing almonds, carob, olives, pomegranates, grapes, figs, and more on just 4 inches (50 mm) of rain per year; Rainwater Tea; Revolving Community Loan Funds; Water Wise Women of Jordan; Tank Culture in a Water Truck Culture, the spiral cisterns of the Bell Caves, salvaged plastic bottle irrigation, and kunafa.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Water Harvesting in Urban Environments:

Overpaved, drain-like urban environments eject precious local resources such as rainwater, creating the ‘need’ to import water from afar. This creates liabilities such as flooding, water shortages, pollution, and hotter temperatures paired with higher energy consumption. But we can create sponge-like urban environments that harvest resources such as rainwater, stormwater, greywater, and condensate as close to their sources as possible. In so doing, we turn would-be liabilities into assets such as street orchards that control flooding and produce food; more resilient and more numerous water resources; living filters of soil, water, and air; and temperature-reducing, energy-conserving and -producing oases of life. Examples, from small- to large-scale, from ancient to contemporary, from the Middle East and around the world, will be presented.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)


Playing, Planting, and Partnering with Our Home’s Distinctive Genius Loci, or “Spirit of Place”

How can we each tap our unique essence and blend it with the distinct spirit of the place where we live in a way that lifts the vitality, health, and potential of all lives here? Through evolving stories of inspiration, water harvesting, wild food abundance, and local fountains of creativity, Brad will pose and seek to answer such questions with you.


Integrated Sun- & Shade-Harvesting for Buildings, Neighborhoods, Gardens, and Landscapes

This presentation demonstrates many simple, inexpensive, and highly effective strategies for the passive/free harvest of winter sun and summer shade to maximize comfort, generate energy, reduce water and power consumption, save money, and create more productive gardens and orchards. Topics/methods covered include:

  • Why we have seasonally changing sun paths
  • Sun-path dance—a fun way to wake up, as well as understand and teach the sun’s seasonally changing path
  • Ideal orientation of buildings, trees, gardens, and food forests to the sun, with examples from the present and ancient past
  • How to integrate the harvests of sun, shade, wind, and free on-site waters
  • How to further enhance a building’s thermal performance with ideally sized roof overhangs/window awnings for equator-/winter-sun-facing windows in order to maximize summer cooling AND winter heating
  • Winter-solstice shadow ratio—a quick and simple way to determine the longest noontime shadow an object will cast, and how to design around that extreme
  • Solar rights
  • Water-Energy-Carbon Nexus and how integrated design reduces the consumption of water and energy, while minimizing carbon emissions
  • Integrated retrofits of existing buildings, and
  • Solar cooking

(Duration: 45 minutes – 1 hour plus Q&A)


Desert Harvesters and Native Foods:
Put ‘em in your mouth, your yard, your street, and your neighborhood

Check out this celebratory presentation on the history of Desert Harvesters and other dynamo local-food efforts that have enriched the Tucson community, ecosystem, and palates – and how you can likewise enrich the community where you live.

Learn about grinding mesquite (and carob) pods with a hammermill or a Suzuki 4 x 4; irrigating food-producing street trees with the street; planting and picking the best tree-beans; throwing pie, mulch, and pancakes parties; creating a thoroughly delicious community-tasted cookbook; regenerating ecosystems in your pantry and landscape, and growing friendships and neighborhood networks while you’re at it!

The primary goal of Desert Harvesters, a volunteer-run, grassroots effort based in Tucson, is to promote and enhance the awareness and use of locally native food sources, which can thrive on harvested natural rainfall and runoff without additional irrigation contributing to unsustainable groundwater depletion. We’re learning that by fostering a reciprocal relationship between native plants and local people we can enhance local food security, reconnect people with the ecosystem, and build a more dynamic and sustainable community.
(Duration: 1 hour plus Q&A)

Hands-On Workshops & Classes

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How to Plant the Rain (and Other On-site Waters) to Grow Sustainable Abundance
Minimum duration: 6 hours. Preferred allotment: 7 hours.

Paragraph description:
In order to better see the whole and our place within the hydrologic cycle, each earthworkshop begins with participants learning the Water-Harvesting Principles; basic watergy facts; integration of sun, water, and community; oasis zones; how to think like a plant; and various earthworks strategies. We then assess the site, identifying water resources and watersheds, asking and answering relevant site-specific questions, and testing our observations with simple tools. Equipped with a deeper understanding of the site and its water, we then place and create water-harvesting earthworks, guided by the Principles, key integration techniques, and the goal of living within the site’s sustainable water budget. Depending on the site, typical earthworks created in an workshop can include infiltration basins/rain gardens, one-rock check dams, contour berm ‘n basins/swales or boomerang berm ‘n basins, and terracing. Time and resources permitting, we will plant guilds of vegetation within/beside the earthworks and view a presentation of earthworks from around the world.

Outline description:
We begin by learning to better see the whole and our place within the hydrologic cycle with Water-Harvesting Principles; watergy; integration of sun, water, and community; focusing on oasis zones; thinking like a plant; and an introduction to various earthworks strategies.

Site Assessment
What are our on-site resources, needs, challenges?

Identify the site’s watersheds and subwatersheds, and test our observations with simple water level tools.

Seek and find all on-site water resources (such as rain, runoff/runon, stormwater, greywater, blackwater, clearwater (air conditioning condensate, Reverse Osmosis (RO) bleedoff, evaporative-cooler bleedoff, pool flush), fog, and imported water sources such as well, surface, and municipal waters.

Determine: Where is the water coming from? How much is there? How much is needed?

The goal: To live within our site’s sustainable water income.

With a deeper understanding of the site and its water, we then place and create water-harvesting earthworks using the Principles to guide us.

To simplify and increase effectiveness we:

• Break up larger watersheds into smaller watersheds and start at the top

• For quicker results, focus initial efforts where we have additional on-site water inputs (such as runon and greywater) and human interaction

• Turn problems into solutions

Typical earthworks created in class can include:

• Infiltration basins/rain gardens

• One-rock check dams

• Contour berm ‘n basins/swales or boomerang berm ‘n basins

• Terracing

Key integrations when building:

• Get at least two uses from soil that is moved once

• 3 key elevations

• Create the sponge with on-site mulch and living pumps of vegetation

Additional Options (time permitting)
• Plant guilds of vegetation within/beside the earthworks

• A presentation of earthworks around the world

• Overview of day, where to go from here, closing circle

Greywater Assessment and Harvesting Class

Goal: All participants should be able to assess and design a system in class so they can assess and design their own system after class.

This class begins with Brad’s Greywater-Harvesting Presentation (see description above), followed by a hands-on site assessment of greywater-harvesting potential to analyze the accessibility, quality, and volume of greywater that can be harvested on the site. The assessment will include how to make and use a simple, effective, cheap water level that can be used in creating all water-harvesting earthworks. Simple calculations and a soil-percolation test will be used to determine the size of greywater-harvesting earthworks so they work, don’t flood, and don’t puddle. The session will wrap up with determining what plants can be planted in balance with the harvested greywater, so that, once established, the plants will thrive, irrigated only by harvested greywater and rainwater—no potable municipal or well water. Duration: 4–5 hours.

Note: A hands-on implementation of the greywater system designed in the greywater assessment and harvesting class can be completed in an additional 5–6-hour workshop if desired and logistics allow.

Sun & Shade Harvesting

Integrated Sun & Shade Harvesting for Buildings, Landscapes, and Gardens
This hands-on workshop uses a variety of effective, low-tech methods to map and work with seasonally-changing sun paths to provide free/passive heat and light in winter, cooling shade in summer, and reduced water loss to evaporation. Topics/methods covered:

  • Why we have seasonally changing sun paths
  • Sun-path dance—a fun way to understand and teach the sun’s path
  • How to find true south/north with sun, moon, stars, or stick
  • Sun-path diagram—tells you the location of the sun any time of day, any day of the year
  • Winter-solstice shadow ratio—a quick and simple way to determine the longest noontime shadow an object will cast, and how to incorporate that info into a more effective, integrated design of buildings and landscapes
  • Orientation of buildings to the sun and tree placements to maximize comfort and performance
  • How to design ideal roof overhangs/window awnings for equator-/winter-sun-facing windows in order to maximize summer cooling and winter heating
  • Solar rights
  • Sun & shade harvesting for a food forest
  • How to use on-site rain and runoff to irrigate vegetation for free

Duration: 3.5 hours. Class will be a combination of PowerPoint presentation peppered with hands-on applications of methods being learned.

Useful website:

Pre-class reading:

Workshop needs:

–       Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 2nd Edition, for each student

–       Handout of Sun-Path Diagram for 26? N latitude for each student

–       Pencil for every student

–       Protractor for every student

–       Ruler for every student

–       One sheet of ¼-inch graph paper for every student

–       Whiteboard (or chalkboard) and markers (or chalk)

–       Tape measures (one for each group of 5)

–       Yard stick

–       Internet access

–       Pre-drawn elevation (side) view of site’s south-facing wall, window(s), and roof

–       A-frame levels (one for each group for 5)

Integrated Design

Description to come.

Compost Toilets & Other Onsite Nutrient Reuse

Description to come.

Neighborhood Retrofits

Description to come.


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Brad offers local-to-Tucson consultation services, schedule permitting. PLEASE NOTE: Brad does not provide written reports or drawn plans as part of his consultation services; expect a verbal, information-rich, conversational approach. You are encouraged to take your own notes and make your own sketches (or hire someone with these skills to attend the consultation). Brad’s discounted consultation rate for his home community of Tucson is $250 for the first hour and $150 for every subsequent hour; a typical consult takes about 2 hours onsite. Additional preparation and/or follow-up will incur additional fees. Occasionally Brad is available for out-of-town consultations; please check the events page of the website to see where he currently has plans to be when, and/or inquire for out-of-town rates. Regardless of your location, if you are interested in pursuing a consultation, Brad recommends (but does not require) that, in order to get the most out of your time with him, you educate yourself in advance by doing as many of the following as possible:

For all consultations (rainwater harvesting, greywater harvesting, permaculture, or integrated sustainable design):

a) Read Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 2nd edition

Additional suggestions for a greywater consultation:

a) Check out the Greywater-Harvesting Image Gallery on this website—click on each image to make it larger and to view the caption;

b) Take a look at Volume 2 of his Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond (available through the local library if you don’t own it)—Chapter 12 is specifically on greywater;

c) Take a look at Art Ludwig’s book Create an Oasis with Greywater—the definitive book of its kind; and finally,

d) Think about which possible sources of greywater you would want to tap, and what living things you would want your greywater to feed.


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Brad offers tours of his Tucson homestead, integrated water-harvesting strategies throughout his neighborhood, and selected sites across Tucson. Please inquire for current rates. For more logistical details, you can view the response to this FAQ. We have begun a webpage with testimonials—take a look to see the comments from previous tour-goers.

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Upcoming Events

  1. Water Harvesting Design Certification: Tucson, AZ

    February 28, 2022 - March 12, 2022
  2. Land and Water Summit – Albuquerque, NM

    March 2, 2022 - March 4, 2022

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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