A Smart Start to Rainwater Harvesting

A Smart Start to Rainwater Harvesting

Since there was such a great response to the earlier letter on water resilience, I thought you might be interested in another one.  It’s a different way to think about it.

Let’s start. Think about all of the rain that falls on your property.  The entire property and not just your house.

Does most of it run off into your neighbor’s yard or the street?  If so, you are squandering your water.  Wasting it when you should be saving it for future productive uses.

A smart strategy for rainwater harvesting doesn’t start with expensive and complicated cisterns or tanks.  It starts with landscaping your property to maximize its ability to store water in a productive way.

To enable your landscape to capture a large volume of rainwater in a safe way, here are some tips:

  • Create curved basins (known as swales) in the landscape to allow water to naturally pool below surface.
  • Add pervious material such as rich soil, compost, and mulch to these basins to soak up and retain the water (or wood as we used in Hugelkultur if you are in an arid environment or on steeply sloped parcel).
  • Plant trees in these basins to naturally utilize this captured water and transform it into productive output such as shade (to lower temps), fruit, or nuts.

IF you want an excellent introduction to this thinking, please watch this entertaining YouTube video by Brad Lancaster (to view it from e-mail, click this link ).  Brad has been working on permaculture strategies for harvesting rainwater for over a decades.  He’s a natural born teacher.

Hope this is useful.

Your faithful guide on this resilient journey,

John Robb

PS:  IF you are interested in teaching rainwater harvesting concepts, here are some teaching materials from the University of Arizona that should be of use.

PPS:  Here’s Brad’s site.  He’s published the definitive series of books on the topic (and there’s lots of anticipation for his 3rd volume in the series).


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  • http://supak.com Scott Supak

    In all the many places where I have started gardens in my life, this is the first thing I do. No piece of property I’ve ever left behind had a bad water strategy. Rain runoff zig-zags through various channels bordered by raised beds that keep the roots above the water line. Now we live near the top of a hill, so to make sure our well stays topped-off, I immediately channeled the little creek that forms during the snow melt (something that apparently won’t be happening this year) into a large holding area under the maple tree and over the well, which then runs off to the garden, which terraces down after holding the water back at various stages. Make sure you don’t leave puddles that stand too long, or you wind up with mosquito problems. I have various sluices I can open up to drain quickly when it’s really wet.

    Perhaps it’s not as necc. here as it was when we lived out west (shade is really key out there, as evaporation will rob you blind), but it’s still a good habit to have as Global Weirding will ensure that there will be some dry years (like this one) up here in the “rainy/snowy” north east.

    • johnrobb

      Thanks for the additional info Scott. JR

  • http://www.paulcline.com Paul Cline

    I’ve been working on completing some required continuing education units and I came across this article on rainwater harvesting. Thought I would share.

    Harvesting Rain: System Design for Strategic Rainwater Capture via McGraw Hill Construction at [http://goo.gl/Zv50E]

    • johnrobb

      Thanks Paul. JR

  • Jay Boyle

    Love your stuff John! Thought you might like to see this on permaculture

    • johnrobb

      Thanks Jay.