Harvesting Water in the Desert
Using the Permaculture Principles explained in one of my favorite books, Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway, we can learn to capture, hold and recycle water, not just in containers, but in the soil itself. “Research shows that soil with as little as 2 percent organic matter can reduce the irrigation needed by 75 percent.” -Toby Hemenway.
If you know anything about Arizona soil, then you know that it is high in minerals and very low in organic matter. Mulching with wood chips, compost, straw, leaves, etc. adds that organic matter that breaks down over time. Deeply mulching and densely planting creates a microclimate that shades the soil and reduces evaporation so that watering needs are lessened.
Another way to “catch and contain” rain water is to contour your land so that the water is directed to swales, or indents in the land where it has time to absorb. Plant in or near these areas to take advantage of that water.
Rain barrels are still a good idea.
If you do want to harvest and store rainwater from your roof (and I do recommend it), consider that every 1,000 square feet of roof area with catch about 625 gallons of water per inch of rain. That is A LOT more than a 55 gallon barrel can hold. This is when you may consider some large-scale catchment systems. Check out Living Water Industries in Cave Creek, Arizona for some great information on purchasing and installing a system. Cost is always a factor in whatever we do, so be creative if you have to. Just remember how valuable that water is.
“What about recycling water that we already use?
I love this question. It closes the gap on more than just rainwater collection.
I’m talking about Graywater. This is water that we used to wash our dishes or clothes in. It is our shower and bath water that we send down the drain to the sewer or septic system. It’s not something we want to drink, but it certainly could be used to water our plants.
Did you know that you can redirect your graywater from your laundry and showers out to your gardens? That’s like doubling our money, right? I’ve always wanted to have a washing machine outside with a drain going to a small grove of fruit trees. And why not have a clothes line next to it? You don’t have to go to that extreme though. you can simply take the drain pipe from your washing machine and run it outside (ok, it’s not exactly easy, but doable.) Check out Create an Oasis with Greywater, by Art Ludwig, for more information on how to do this.
You can always start small though. You can simply collect the water you steamed your veggies or cooked your pasta in (without salt). Wait till it cools and water your potted plants. Maybe even siphon your bathwater out your window (I’ve done this). Just make sure to use eco-friendly products for washing.
These are just some ideas floating around my head as I try to find solutions for our own desert homestead. For now, I’m working on mulching just to hold onto what I’m putting in the ground as much as possible. Chicken manure, Horse manure from the neighbors and scraps from our kitchen are being composted and added as organic matter to the soil as well.
It can get overwhelming to try to do everything at once, but if you have a vision for what you want, then each of those steps will bring it about. Trust in the process and in nature. it really works!
Here’s a Great Resource
A really great online course I recommend is Water Harvesting in Depth with the Urban Farm. The focus of this Arizona-based class is “Understanding landscapes and implementing rainwater, grey water, and many other water harvesting systems.” This class is taught by Permaculture Designers Greg Peterson and Don Titmus. I can tell you that you won’t find a better team to give you practical knowledge regarding Arizona permaculture.
As always, we are here for you.
Let us know if you have any questions we can help you find answers for. We’ve either been there or we are heading in the same direction. We would love to hear from you.