Table of Contents
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Join Nicole and Brad Lancaster as they discuss harvesting rainwater.
What You’ll Learn
- How harvesting rainwater is done.
- Is harvested rainwater safe to drink?
- Ways to use collected rainwater.
- How one farmer made a thriving oasis in Africa from rainwater collection!
Brad Lancaster is a dynamic teacher, consultant, and designer of regenerative systems that sustainably enhance local resources and our global potential. He is the author of the award-winning, best-selling book series Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond; the website www.HarvestingRainwater.com; and its ‘Drops in a Bucket’ Blog.
He is also a co-founder of the Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters which helps neighbors become citizen foresters the plant and steward rain-irrigated native food forests throughout the public rights-of-ways of their neighborhoods. Brad has taught throughout North America as well as in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia. His hometown projects have included working with the City of Tucson and other municipalities to legalize, incentivize, and provide guidance on water-harvesting systems, demonstration sites, and policy. He has likewise collaborated with state agencies to promote practices that transform costly local “wastes” into free local resources. Brad’s aim is always to boost communities’ true health and wealth by using simple overlapping strategies to augment the region’s hydrology, ecosystems, and economies—living systems upon which we depend.
Brad lives his talk on an oasis-like demonstration site he created and continually improves with his brother’s family and neighbors in downtown Tucson, Arizona. On this eighth of an acre and surrounding public right-of-way, they harvest 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year where just 11 inches per year fall from the sky. But it doesn’t end there. The potential of that water is then integrated with the simultaneous harvest of sun, wind, shade, and fertility. Brad is motivated in his work by the tens of thousands of people he has helped inspire to do likewise, go further, and continue our collective evolution.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Harvesting Rainwater Website
- Harvest the Rain Book
- Drops in a Bucket Blog
- Harvesting Rainwater Facebook Page
- Harvesting Rainwater Twitter Page
- Harvesting Rainwater Instagram Page
- Harvesting Rainwater YouTube Channel
- *Berkey filters
- *Dr. Bronner Peppermint soap
- *Oasis laundry detergent
- *Oasis dishwashing/all purpose-soap
- *Biopack brand soap
- Chicken nipples
*Denotes affiliate links
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
Welcome friends to another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole, and today we're going to be learning about rainwater harvesting, with my guest, Brad from "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond". So, Brad, thank you so much for joining me today.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Absolutely. So rainwater harvesting. I know it's something that a lot of people are interested in, whether they're living in, you know, sort of a sustainable sort of situation or even people that just have some backyard urban gardens and as simple as it sounds, you know, harvesting rainwater, there's really, I think, a lot of confusion and a lot of details that go into it. So maybe we could start out by learning a little bit more about your history with rainwater harvesting and what exactly rainwater harvesting entails?
Sure. So I grew up in the dry land community of Tucson, Arizona, that gets about 11 inches of rain a year. So water was always present, the issue of water and it's perceived scarcity. And I didn't get into water harvesting or any of this until I took a course in sustainable design, a permaculture course. And that's when I was first introduced to the idea of water harvesting. Loved the idea, but it didn't really come together for me until I got to visit some people that were doing it on an integrated way. And the primary inspiration for me was a, an African water farmer, Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, from the driest region of Zimbabwe, and I just happened to be very lucky and had the opportunity to hear about him, seek him out and find him and he have turned a relative of wasteland into an oasis by doing the opposite of what everyone else in his area was doing. So instead of draining the rain, he was planting the rain or harvesting it. And by planting, by reinvesting it into his soils and his vegetation, he was able to raise his groundwater table. And over a number of years, he's actually been able to do this to the point that he no longer needs his wells. He's actually brought the water level up to the root zone of his plants. And he's helped raise the water table of his adjoining neighbors. So whereas folks in that same community more distant from him that where they don't harvest the water, their wells are all going dry. But his are becoming ever more resilient because he gives back more water to his watershed and system than he takes from it. So that's was super inspiring for me. And at that time when I visited him, I was very worried about the dwindling water supply in southern Arizona and told him I wanted to leave. And if he could give me any advice on where I should move to, and he very sternly said, "No, you cannot leave, if you leave the run from your problems, you'll just be planting problems everywhere you go. You've got to go home and set your roots deeper than you thought possible. And you've got to try and figure out how to turn those problems into solutions". And for whatever reason at that time that really resonated with me and using his example as my inspiration I tried to create systems that would work for the unique conditions of my site, my community and have just gone on from there learning from many others since Mr. Phiri and learning from my own successes and mistakes. So to then answer your question of how does one harvest water? What does that look like? I say there's two distinct different ways: one is active water harvesting with tanks where you're say directing your roof runoff into a tank. And then you access that tank water with a valve. It's called active system because somebody has to actively turn on or off that valve to be able to access the water. And more complex active systems have pumps and all that. Then the other system is passive, which means it works whether you're there or not, nobody needs to turn on any valve or anything because there is no valve. And that's predominantly what Mr. Phiri, the African water farmer was doing the planting of the rain. That's where you're using the soil and all its life as the tank you're not physically building a tank or buying a tank and then you use the gravity to move the water into the soil. And you use plants as living pumps to draw up the water into their tissue and make it accessible in the form of shelter, food wildlife, and so on. And of course, by planting the rain, you can also access that stored water via your wells, springs, creeks, and so on.
So I think that when most people think of rainwater harvesting, you know, the active system that you described is what most people kind of default to, you know, go down to the hardware store and buy a rain catch barrel and hook it up to my gutters, and then I'll go outside and use that water to, you know, water, my flowers or my garden or whatever, but this passive route of planting the rain, I think this is something that I haven't heard of before. So I imagine that this is kind of a unique take on the rainwater harvesting.
Well, maybe the terminology I use for it, but it's pretty common the practice of creating rain gardens, which are depressions or basins within the landscape, that you then direct to the adjoining hardscape surfaces, they're run off to that basin. So next to a driveway or a patio, you might have a base and that collects the runoff from that adjoining surface and by doing that you can increase your available rainfall by multiple times. And especially in the built environment, it's very common to have more paved area than unpaved area. So let's say your roof area is 10 times that of your garden area. Well, if you direct the roof on off to your rain gardens in your garden in your yard, you can increase available rainfall by 10 times because now that water's all being directed and infiltrated as opposed to drained off site.
Sure that makes sense. Where I live is also a semi arid region. I don't know our exact amount of rainfall but this year, it certainly seemed like less than nothing but can you kind of explain the process a little bit more about how with the passive system how you direct the rain and how with the use of plants and stuff, how we can use that water, harvest the water again?
Sure, so when I created my vegetable garden, I did not make raised beds, I made sunken beds. And that way the pathways between my planting rows were higher than the planting rows. So I could direct the runoff from the pathways into the planting rows, thereby doubling or tripling the available rainfall to those planting areas. Then I went a step further, and I installed a couple of above ground rainwater tanks, each 1300 gallons. So with the two together that's almost 3000 gallons of tank capacity, and I directed the roof runoff to those tanks because the roof was higher than the tanks and then via gravity, I direct the water from the tanks to the earthworks so I'm using both systems there, the passive and the active. So the passive system is my sunken garden beds. That are collecting direct rainfall and the runoff from the adjoining pathways. And then I'm boosting that with an active system that collects roof runoff via roof gutters, then direct water through a horizontal downspout into my tanks. And then I can access that tank water via valve and a hose that I direct to my vegetable garden sunken basins. And you can do the same thing with perennials. In fact, it's easier to succeed with perennials than annuals, I find the easiest thing to succeed with is perennial, native food bearing plants. Now, when I say native, in a more strict sense, I mean plants that are native or indigenous to say a 25 mile radius of your site in a similar microclimate. I don't have a perennially flowing creek on my site. I'm a very dry site. So even within 25 miles if they were a creek, I would not use the vegetation growing along that creek because that area has more water than my site does. So I'm trying to select plants that are best adapted to the unique conditions of my site. And then I looked at the ethno botanical record to see what plants that people used for food medicine, livestock fodder, and so on. And I select which natives have the greatest uses that I'm seeking to generate on my site. Now I can grow exotic fruit trees and stuff too. It's just they're not as hardy as the native. They're not as well adapted to the climate, soils and wildlife that the native plants are. So the non native fruit trees require more water. So what I will do to make everything more efficient, is I tend to put hardy perennial native plants on the perimeter of my site, and then within the sheltered core of my site, that's where I'll plant the less hardy non plants like the fruit trees. So the hardy natives help deflect the hot desiccating winds, they shade out the hot afternoon sun. And thereby my tender exotic fruit trees don't need as much water within that protected core. And thus, I can meet far more or all of their water needs with rainwater, or other free on site waters like household grey water, or air conditioning condensate and that kind of stuff.
So for this system that you've been describing, can you tell me about how large it is? And is all of your catch? Or the majority of your catch rather from the roof? And then these other systems that you just mentioned, like the gray water in the air conditioning runoff?
Yeah. So there's two houses on the property. My brother and his family live in a 750 square foot house. So it's a small house by American standards and I live In a one car garage turned cottage, so I call it a "garattage". So that's got a 400 square foot roof. So my brother's house, the 750 square foot house, half of its roof on the South side of the house is directed to those two 1300 gallon rainwater tanks. And the on the east side of those rainwater tanks. I have a vegetable garden, and it's about, let's say two 10' by 10' planting basins. So 200 square feet of vegetable garden, and again, that garden is lower than the joining paths. And it's lower than the tanks and the roof obviously. And then when we go to the North side of the house, that's where my "garattage" is there. We've kind of upped the game. I direct that roof runoff into two 1000 gallon tanks and that provides all my Domestic water needs. So my drinking water, my cooking water, washing water, bathing water, all of that. So I'm very conservative in my water use. So even in this desert community, just a 400 square foot roof is enough to meet all my water needs. But should it run out I have backup. I have run a city faucet, a city line to my kitchen sink so I have a backup if my system went dry. But what I found really fun and far more efficient is after I've lightly used my rainwater say in my kitchen sink, I use it again because I direct the drain water from the kitchen sink through a branch drain pipe system to a number of my plantings in the landscape around my "garattage". So I'm first using rainwater in the kitchen sink and then I'm using the drain water from the kitchen sink in the form of grey water To grow the vegetation that shades and cools my "garattage", and also provides me with food. So these plants that are providing the shade and food around my structure, they are all planted within water harvesting earthworks or rain gardens, the space and shapes again. So they're not just getting the gray water, but they are also capturing rainwater and runoff from adjoining raised pathways. And this stuff along the property line is getting runoff from my neighbor's yard. So I'm really trying to make the most of every free drop of water I have on my site, and that will be rainwater, the grey water from the drain of the sink and the drain of the shower and the drain of the washing machine. And I'm even collecting yet another water source, which is the storm water that runs down the street in big rains. So I've along with my neighbors, of course a whole bunch of street side tree basins that are lower than elevation at the street. And then we cut the street curb to allow the street runoff to enter those street side basins. And thus we're able to then use the street runoff to grow the shade trees then grow to shade and cool the street. And again, we're selecting native trees that produce food, medicine and whatnot. So we're also growing a native orchard along the street, irrigated with nothing more than the water that used to flood the street, but now we're reducing flooding because instead of just sending it down the street, we're using it for a benefit for the whole neighborhood.
So I think that those are some really wonderful ways to repurpose water that would otherwise just be wasted and be lost but it does bring up several questions. Are you able to strictly use your runoff water or Do you need to supplement with hose water? And then my other two questions would be, you mentioned drinking the water. And I've certainly heard some concerns about drinking water that was collected on a roof. And then with the gray water, I assumed that you know soaps and things are used in in the dishwasher in the washing machine. So those are my immediate three questions that came up.
Yeah, yeah, I'll start with the first one. So is the rainwater in the runoff enough to provide all the water needs. So it depends on what area we're looking at. So along the street, we planted hardy, native food bearing multi use plants, and we had to supplementary irrigate the first year or two to get the plants established, okay to get their root system growing and whatnot. Once they were established, so, you know, after three years of establishment, we ceased all supplemental irrigation and now it's irrigated entirely solely by direct rainfall and street runoff. For my vegetable garden, I am able to provide 95% of the vegetable gardens water needs, just with direct rainfall and the runoff from the pathway and tank water the roof runoff collected in the tank. But there are times when the rains are too far apart, and the tank goes empty before we get another rain. And so that's why 5% of the time, I might need to tap the city water to get me through until the next rain. In terms of my drinking water, I have only run out of drinking water once and that was because I was away and a neighbor was taking care of my system. And he accidentally forgot to turn the tank off when he was irrigating some of my plants so he drained my tank.
Yeah, and that happens. I've since learned so I have you know two tanks the system. So now when I have someone take care of my system, I turn one of the tanks off because I have a valve on each tank before the plumbing joins the other tank, so I've got a little resiliency there. So even if they drain one tank, I am still going to have the other tank with water when I come home, I do need to conserve at times like I'm monitoring the water level in my tanks. So for going into the dry season, and my tank water is going low, I'll be more conservative in my use so that it'll last longer.
And what about the safety of drinking rainwater that's come off of a roof. Do you do any sort of filtration or anything like that?
vesYeah, that's a great question. So I've got a set of principles in my books on how to create a safe water harvesting system for drinking. So first off is I don't use any toxic materials in my system. So when I get a rainwater tank, if I'm going to buy one, I only buy one that is rated for potable water, drinking water storage. And I see you know, a lot of people save money and they'll just buy an inexpensive tank, but it's not necessarily rated for potable water. And sometimes people use garbage cans and stuff, which have biocides in the plastic to keep stuff from growing on the plastic. You don't want that in the drinking water. That's something you have to filter out. And then I don't use toxic roof surfaces. I use a Galvalume metal roof, and I'm very careful with the gutters and whatnot. I'm not using any lead flashing or anything. I do have one section of roof that's an elastomeric painted roof. So I selected non toxic elastomeric paint again, many of those elastomeric paints contain biocides so you don't have moss grow on your roof. So I did the research, found one that does not contain that and I list a lot of these on the rainwater harvesting page on my website under the materials section. Under the roofing section, I list some of these non toxic materials. So that was the first step. Make sure there's nothing in the system that's going to pollute my water, then to address the issue of airborne contaminants or whatnot that I don't have a control over. So I then have a rain head screen just below my gutter before the water enters the downspout. This is a screen box with a 45 degree angle screen. So the water coming out of the gutter, the water can go through the screen, but the leaves and large debris slides off the 45 degree angle screen like a slalom jump and that also keeps out mice or rodents, you know keeps out animals and whatnot and mosquitoes. So that's first line of filtration. second line of filtration is just below that screen box. I have what's called a first flush, it's kind of like a j shaped or dogleg shaped section of pipe with a screw cap on the end so that has to fill with water. Before it then overflows two pipes going into my tank. So the idea is the dirtiest water, the first flush of dirty water coming off the roof, where dusts and bird poop has accumulated on your roof since the last rain, that goes into that dogleg section of pipe the first flush section of pipe. And then once that section pipe fills up now cleaner waters coming into the system, and I just make sure I drain that dogleg after every rain, that I drain that first flush after every rain. But even if it doesn't catch all the poop and stuff, it's okay because what isn't caught by that the rain head screen and the first flush, it goes into the tank, and most of that will drop and settle in the bottom of the tank and I just make sure I'm drawing water higher than that. So you want your outlet from the tanks at least four inches off the bottom of the tank, so you don't draw off that sludge water and I also make sure the tank is closed off. to any sunlight, so there's no green algae growing within the tank. So all those steps do a great job of making the water much, much cleaner. So I can use all that water to bathe with, you know, wash dishes, everything, no problem with no additional filtration, but if I'm going to drink it, or if I'm going to cook with it, I take one additional step. And I have a Berkey activated charcoal filter and,
I love Berkey filters.
So it's a stainless steel container with the filters in it, you basically fill the top of the top container with the water you want to filter. And then the filtered water is caught in the bottom container below it. It's all gravity, there's no pumps, there's no power required. And I've had the water tested, pre Berkey filter and post Berkey filter and it's great. I do want to point out that for the first time just a couple years ago, some lead showed up in the pre Berkey filter part.
You know, out of the tank before the filter. And that happens sometimes. Because here in Arizona, we used leaded gasoline for years. And until that was banned, that lead was from the exhaust of the vehicles, made it into the top layer of our soils, and then the dust storms that precede our rains, some of that can be carried up onto your roof.
So that's where the Berkey filter's great. So that takes care of that. It filters that out and the lead levels so low, it's not a problem at all for me bathing in that water. And also, that low lead level, it only shows right after the first rain of the rainy season after a long dry spell. And so that's before it is settled into the sludge layer, it's still in the upper layers of the water in the tank. So as we go longer into the rainy season, more and more of those heavy metals and whatnot settled down into the sludge layer at the bottom and cleaner water comes out of the tank.
And I assume that the tanks every now and then you need to clean them out and get that sludge layer out.
Actually, I have not had to do that. The sludge layer is a benefit. There's beneficial life in that that's binding up to heavy metals and helping filter. Same thing with the clear biofilms that form on the inside of the tank. I'm not talking about green algae, these are clear life forms, and they help clean the water. So you actually create this ecosystem that helps clean the water.
So because I've got that rain head screen, that 45 degree angle screen that diverts the bulk of the debris and stuff before it gets into the tank. It will take decades before that sludge layer ever gets thicker than four inches.
Okay, in my mind, it would just keep getting thicker every year.
Well, it does. But it's so it's so slow.
The accumulation. So it's going to take at least 60 years, probably over 100 years before there's that much sediment.
So the touching on the gray water, I assume that you use some sort of soaps, you know, for cleansing. Do you have to change what kind of soaps that you use? And are those okay for the plants? Or how do you work around that?
Yeah, so I'm definitely selective on the soap use. But just before I jump into that, I want to point out that because I'm using rainwater at my shower and my kitchen sink and all right off the bat, I'm better off than all my neighbors using city water because our city water using pumped groundwater and imported surface water from the Colorado River is really high in salt and salt is a toxin to soil life and plants. So a lot of the farmers in the area they have to over irrigate with groundwater, so that they can leach the accumulating salts that have been introduced by their use of groundwater, they can leach them further down into the root zone. So since I'm using rainwater, which is salt free, right off the bat, there's a toxin that's not even in my system, but is in everyone's system using city or well water. But then when it comes to the soaps on the gray water page, my website "HarvestingRainwater.com", I have extensive info on what's good and what's bad, and different products. But basically you want to avoid salt. So look at the ingredients of any soap you get. And if it has sodium, anything, put it back and try and get something without sodium. And liquid soaps tend to be better than bar soaps or powdered soaps because with the bar soaps and the powdered soaps, they're using more sodium based products as filler material. So you think you're getting more for what you buy but you're just getting filler material. So on the whole liquid soaps are better, but even still look at the ingredients to make sure there's no sodium in the liquid soaps you buy. And then I don't use chlorinated bleach. I can use hydrogen peroxide bleach but not chlorine based bleach because the chlorine is going to kill my soil life and plants. So, by doing that things are great and like I like to use Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap.
In the shower and, and just for washing my hands and stuff. And then I use Oasis laundry detergent and the laundry and Oasis dishwashing detergent in the kitchen sink because it's made to be plant food. Oh wow. And Biopack is a another brand that makes laundry and dishwashing soap that's plant and soil compatible. And I list even more on the gray water page, on my website.
So obviously your website is going to be a great resource to answer maybe some of these more detailed questions for setting up the system and and utilizing it to its full potential.
Yeah, and I just want to share one advantage I found is by selecting soaps and whatnot that are not toxic to my plants and soil. I found that their health is better, but so is mine because over the long term, those same products can be detrimental to my health.
So that was a great unanticipated benefit of being more careful and conscious in the purchase of my cleaning products and my roofing materials.
Yeah, absolutely the more we can cut toxins out of our life the better.
So we've touched on ways to use rainwater in our home in garden but what are some other ways that we can use this water? You know, maybe some ways that most people don't think of?
Yeah, well, I'd like to kind of jump to some of the homesteading stuff then incorporate some of livestock and whatnot.
So I set up my chicken yard, around the outdoor shower, and we we set up an outdoor shower from my brother's household, because the plumbing for their shower is inaccessible for gray water reuse. So we made a beautiful outdoor shower that is higher than that. The adjoining landscape so we can gravity feed the water to the plantings around the shower, no pumps needed. And then we're growing abundant vegetation that shades, shelters, and feeds the chickens. That also creates a privacy screen around the shower. So what's great is I love showering outside because I'm under the open sky, I love the view, and at night I've had a Great Horned Owl visit me out there. And I just feel a lot more connected to the world that enables me to live and the chickens love it when we shower out there. So we actually created down by our feet, we just have cage wire so the chickens love to check us out while we're in the shower now.
Everyone should shower with their chickens.
Right, right. And I don't I don't think it's because they're into nude human bodies. I think it's actually because they they love the cool mist from the shower water that is bouncing up off the floor of the shower. Sure. So it's awesome cool down for the chickens. So they all start squawking with joy when they see us coming up, take a shower and they all get set up by their little window mist area. And then even though they're well watered with the five gallon bucket of rainwater being distributed through your great nipple waters...
...they still really love running water.
Yes, they do.
So after they get the mist and cool down, then they all run to, we have a branch drain graywater system from the shower. So there's two drains on the bottom of the shower floor. And then each drain goes to a separate section of pipe, which we then branch with a double L or basically a T section of pipe which branches it so it's two sections. So two drains have four openings within the chicken run landscape. So the chickens then run to the ends of the pipe and they love drinking the grey water. So it's key again, we use good soap so we're not making our chickens sick and they're all perfectly healthy with what we're doing. And keep in mind too, we're diluting those soaps through the shower. And then all around these pipe outlets, we've got multi use chicken feeding, sheltering, shading, native plants. So the shower is growing the shelter for the chickens as well as the shelter for the shower. And then there's one added benefit. So then after we're done with the showers, and we've gone off, the chickens love hanging out in the moist soil where the gray water was distributed. So most days it's 110 degrees this summer, which is crazy, but our chickens are very content and cool hanging out in the shelter and the moist spots provided by the outdoor shower. And it's way easier to clean than an indoor shower.
So for some of folks that are maybe in cold climates or areas that have really cold winters, you too can have an amazing outdoor shower that recycles it's great water into the landscape. It's just you don't use it in winter. You use it in summer when it's hot and pleasant to use and the plants need your water.
So what are some other ways that we could use either the rain water or the gray water?
Yeah, well, let me jump to a whole nother water source. So if folks have an air conditioner or whatnot, that's generating condensate drip, and just that most the times we're not aware of that because the way that air conditioners installed, the installer puts a like a one inch PVC pipe that directs the condensate drip to the sewer line. So that's a great free water source. It's low volume, but it's a great water source. It's it's basically distilled water that you can also direct to your landscape. So you just redirect that PVC drain pipe to a beneficial planting and wear with residents is It's not a lot of water. If you're in a dry climate, if you're in a humid climate, it's a lot. So folks in Austin, Texas, they get a lot of water from their air conditioners because that's a very humid climate, but commercial units doesn't matter. humid or dry climate generate a lot of condensate. So it's hundreds of gallons a day per air conditioner, sometimes many thousands of gallons a day. So in downtown Austin, Texas, again, a humid climate. They have a whole waterfall at City Hall, massive waterfall, and all the water for that waterfall is from the air conditioning, condensate of the city halls, air conditioning. Now they could have gone further and not only had a waterfall, they could have had this abundant food for irrigated with that. So at the University of Arizona, here in Tucson, dry climate, the architecture building on campus has three air conditioning units. And those provide 95,000 gallons of condensate a year to the landscape surrounding that building.
Wow. That's amazing.
Yeah. So there's a there's huge abundance that we very often don't see. And along that line, you know, I mentioned earlier how we're directing street runoff to street side plantings. So an average residential street not talking about a big multi lane road, I'm just talking about a residential street in a neighborhood in Tucson drains over a million gallons of rainfall per mile per year. So there's over a million gallons of rain falling on that one mile section, neighborhood street. I'm not even talking about the runoff that drains off adjoining properties industry only what follows directly on the street. So that's enough water to freely irrigate over 400 native food bearing trees per mile or one tree every 25 feet on both sides of the street. So we already have more water than we need for every street and desert communities like Tucson to be a shaded Green Belt irrigated with nothing more than the runoff from that street and in wetter climates. Same thing. And you might be like, "Well, wait a minute, then are we going to get too much water?" No, because the plants and wetter climates are adapted to more rain.
So it's a, it's a self balancing system. The exact same model works in Georgia, they get 50 inches of rain a year compared to our, you know, 10 to 11 inches of rain a year. It's just that they're trees, well, they're bigger. And they use more water. But same thing, street runoff can be the sole irrigation source for their trees.
Yeah, that makes absolute sense. And I know that you just mentioned that, you know, by using natives that they're going to be adapt to your area. But would you say that there's a threshold that makes rain collecting worthwhile, i.e. if you receive less than "X" amount of rain that you know, it's not really worth it? Or do you think that this system is useful for just everybody regardless of where they're located,
So anywhere that has a dry season, or occasional drought, it makes sense to harvest rainwater, so in some of the wettest climates in the world, they have dry seasons. And they have droughts. So it makes sense there. A colleague and soil advocates that every building have three tanks, one for me, one for you and one for everybody. So the one for me, well, that's water for me to use however I want. One for you, well, that's water I'm storing so that it doesn't flood you downstream.
And the third one, one for everybody. Well, that tank we're going to reserve for times of catastrophe. So if power goes out, or there's fire, whatnot, we've got water. But then let's talk about a drier climate. So I had the chance to go to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the State Department sent a colleague and I there to talk to locals there and have a cross cultural exchange about water management and they only get two and a half inches of rain a year. Yet, the old city of Jeddah, the entire city was set up to harvest rainwater. And that's how they sustained this thriving city for generations. So in the basement of every building is a rainwater tank that collects water from the roof and the adjoining streets and so on. So if you ever have a time of scarcity, it makes sense to harvest rainwater. And if you ever have time of excess and flooding, it makes sense to harvest rainwater.
Because rainwater harvesting buffers all extremes, it reduces the effect of drought and it shrinks the duration of drought. And it also shrinks the effect of flooding and reduces the duration of flooding. But the key thing is when you're using it for flood control, you want to start at the top. Well, you want to do this with all water harvesting, you want to start at the top of the watershed and work down so you're addressing the issue. before it becomes an issue, a lot of people they want to control flooding at the bottom of the watershed where there's maximum flooding. Well, you don't start there, you start at the top, and all the areas that are draining their water and causing the flooding right to the area below. And that's also principal on your own property. You want to start harvesting water the top first and so my roof tends to be higher than most of the landscape. So if I go to the roof and direct the roof runoff to the landscape, I can set up my downspout so it actually drains water to the highest part of the yard. And then I can gravity feed the water from the highest part of the yard to all points below. So everything is watered in a rainstorm instead of only the bottom area. And if I want to put in a tank, I can put the tank in at the high point and then distribute water from the tank and also its overflow, which is another rule I have is anytime you put in a rainwater tank, you always want to plan an overflow flow and use it as a resource. All too often I see people put in tanks with no conscious consideration of the overflow. And oftentimes the overflow water just backs up against the corner of the house. They didn't plan for beneficial use of that water. So it causes more problems. So I really lay out in my books, how you can get maximum benefits and efficiency and safety, and how you avoid all the typical problems with just simple principles and guidance.
Yeah, the rainwater harvesting is something that I've been interested in in a while, but it was actually illegal until recently. So it's not something that I've explored too heavily. But just in the time that we've talked here, my mind's been kind of racing with so many different ideas and ways that I could incorporate this into my own my own home and my own little Hobby Farm. But I imagine this is probably information overload for a lot of people. So can you tell me again, about your book and your website, and where we can go in and get more information and maybe digest it as we go along?
Sure, yeah. So I've just come out with new full color additions to my books, which are titled "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond". And then the first book is Volume One, the second one is Volume Two, you can get those at deep discount direct from the my website, which is "HarvestingRainwater.com", and get signed copies. And I'd recommend people start with Volume One. That gives you the big overview of how to do all this, how to harvest all the different waters, rainwater, storm water, gray water condensate, all that and how to assess and plan your system, the Volume Two book, that's "Water Harvesting Earthworks", that's much more detailed step by step instructions how to create all the various water harvesting earthworks, more rain gardens and has a whole chapter dedicated to greywater harvesting and then the website itself "HarvestingRainwater.com" also has a lot of great resources, links to videos, other publications, free downloadable publications and whatnot, image galleries, podcast interviews. One thing I just wanted to mention. You're in Colorado, right?
So I just want to make clear that nowhere in the US or the world is it illegal to harvest rainwater with the passive water harvesting earthworks or rain gardens?
That's a good point.
So it's totally fine, totally legal to plant the rain everywhere in the world. As I advocate in my books, my books are not talking about ponds, okay? And they're not talking about dams. That's different. Okay. I'm talking about systems that harvest the water in the soil, not on top of the soil. But in Colorado, it used to be that harvesting rainwater in tanks was illegal.
Yes, sorry. I should have specified that.
Yeah. So Colorado is kind of an anomaly that way because it's legal everywhere else. But we just want to point out that what helped change that law is an engineer in Douglas County, South of Denver, Colorado, was working for a development that wanted to set it up so all the homes were just on rainwater. And so she did a lot of scientific studies and found that on an undeveloped part of land that still has its native vegetation intact, you get no more than 3% of the rainfall running off the site. And then she did computer modeling, and she said, "Well, what if there was some biblical rain event?", even then there would be no more than 15% of the water running off the site. So, this would be the undeveloped site. Okay, it's not paved over. So she was able to get the law change. So now anyone who is in Colorado who is not hooked up to the water grid, meaning you're not getting municipal water, you're not hooked up to the sewer. You can harvest your roof runoff in tanks, it's no problem. And you collect 85% of that water. But unfortunately, if you are hooked up to the water grid, you have city water coming to your faucet or you're hooked up to the sewer, the law's changed a little, but it's still lame. You can put in 100 gallons of tank capacity, but no more than that. So it used to be you couldn't do any leasing on 100 gallons now, but I think that's ridiculous.
Yes, well, fingers crossed, we can make progress in time.
Yeah. So start with and start with the earthworks and actually work where I recommend everyone start anyway. So the more your landscape harvests and infiltrates rain, the more your garden harvest and infiltrates rain, the less supplemental water it will need. So the more you do have those passive planting the rain techniques, the less capacity you need in a tank so you can actually get by with a smaller, less expensive tank.
Wonderful. Well, those are some really good takeaways. And leave it to Colorado to be unique there. And I appreciate you touching on that. But no, this is some really wonderful information. And hopefully people will be inspired and want to start planting the rain in their yard. And I think we all want to have our own backyard oasis. And I think that this is a really, really sustainable and wonderful way to to move towards that. So thank you so much, Brad. I really appreciate your time today and sharing, oh, my gosh, your abundance of information with us today!
Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Yeah, absolutely. It was it was a pleasure to have you on the show. And for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. If you'd like to be notified of weekly episodes, be sure to sign up in the link in the description to have them sent to your inbox. And as always, we will put all of the links from this show in the show notes as well. And we'll see you again next week.
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