Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

Advice from Experts – the Water Harvest Expert

Live within your water budget.

That was the strongest piece of advice that Christopher’s long-time friend, Brad Lancaster, gave us when he visited this weekend.  Brad has written two books on Stormwater harvesting, rainwater catchment, and other things related to water.  He is on tour right now, publicizing his second book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2: Water-Harvesting EarthWorks. He graciously accepted our invitation (ok, our formal, eager request) to come to Gumview and look at the opportunities for water harvesting on Gumview.

The whole visit was filled with ideas about how to live within our ecological means on that property – and in an era where water prices in Windsor are incredibly high, and scientists say that water will be an even greater challenge than the Greenhouse Effect in the next 50 years, we were listening.  Hard.

What Brad Lancaster had to say, in general:

  • Wait a year before making any major changes.  Yes, this is the THIRD time we have received this advice (Art Palmer, our inspector, and Jeff Hawks, the GC, also recommended this.)
  • Consider “stacking functions” ( permaculture principle) with what we are planting – design for maximum benefit.

The Creek:

One of the main principles of water harvesting is to Slow It, Spread It, Sink It.  Brad Lancaster’s site talks about the 8 Principles to Successful Water Harvesting; that is number 5.   Here were specific recommendations about the creek.

  • Bill Zydeek at the Quivira Coalition talks about 1-rock high fences along the creek to slow the passage of water.
  • Possibly create an 1-2 eddies – essentially a small pool for water to remain in.
  • Consider researching core-native species (within a solid 25 mile radius) for creating a wildlife corridor along the creek.  We may need some contract “grow-outs” through our local nursery for that – but he thought that creating solid relationships with nurseries is a great idea, as it educates them about these different ideas, and moves us along much more quickly.
  • He suggested widening the creek a bit (not deepening it) to further slow the passage of water, protecting our neighbors from flooding (something we are already hearing they are concerned with) and assisting in recharging the water table.
  • For that wildlife corridor, consider several of the following uses:  Medicinal; Food; Food for chickens; privacy screen.   It could also be an “ethnobotanical seedbank” for local native nurseries.
  • He also suggested that we plant “dry-farm orchards” in that area, as they would not need water due to the high water table.
  • Consider which of the trees to get rid of (about 40 feet.)  They block solar access, limbs drop in high-wind, they suck a lot of the water, they are certainly not native.  Use a stump grinder to really get rid of them.
  • If we get rid of any trees near the creek, mill them for lumber.  We have to check out what variety they are, but he said that Eucalyptus is the main timber in South Africa and Australia.  He recommended contacting “Gunner” in Santa Barbara for advice.

Capturing Runoff:

  • There is a lane (an easement to get to properties behind ours) that our property line extends to.  The road tilts towards our property, and the creek runs right near it.  Brad suggested forming a burm, and then planting plants between the burm and the road, using water runnoff to irrigate the plants.
  • On the eastside, which is slightly higher, there is a new property.  He recommended putting screened fencing on the bottom of the fence so that water runnoff could make its way over to our side of the property.
  • On the Northside, which faces the street, plant canopy trees that will create a sense of place, and eventually help slow the street down.  Currently people zoom up and down the street.  It would be great to put real bike lanes and otherwise slow things down over time.

The House:

  • Brad talked about a co-housing principle of being able to see to the front yard and the back yard from the main daylight area of the house – essentially so you can easily see the kids playing in the front or the back.  We can almost do that now, but it is interesting to think how we could further expand that idea.
  • Create a front porch “experience” in the front – one that is more welcoming, maybe has more “eyes” on the street (windows, etc.)
  • He recommended putting in a south-facing window so that there is more of a sense of connection between the house and the back-yard.
  • In the bathroom, offices, kitchen, and anywhere else that is appropriate, consider putting in glass windows at the top of the wall to help natural light reach those rooms.  I love this idea!
  • Put the washer machine shed area near a planted area.  Ideally, set up a cistern that feeds into the washing machine and then out to an irrigated area.  They are doing this with great success in Australia (in fact, it is now required.)  This makes a ton of sense.

Thanks Brad, for a fun and thought-provoking visit!  See you next time!

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3 comments to Advice from Experts – the Water Harvest Expert

  • Robert Brown

    you can use semidwarf rootstock apple trees to replace those trees and prune them around the 5ft hieght, they will drink up some of that water, and you get apples out of the deal, you will have to prune them regularly so they stay about 5-6 feet and they wont steal the sun from your solar panels. the washer is the easiest way to reuse grey water, the plumbing is easy to access and its one of the biggest household water consumers especially if kids are in the picture. my wife washes several loads all throughout the week, even with out high efficiency washer its still a lot of water going down the drain, have to have a really good lint trap/filter or it will clog up the leachfield underground (and quickly too)

  • We are really excited to be thinking about our “greywater system”, now that the laws were just changed at the state level. Now, everyone in CA can do single-source greywater – from washers, sinks, showers, etc. We are thinking of designing ours so the shower might have two “directions” it could go – IE, the apple tree or the fig tree. We are a big fan of Art Ludwig, who wrote the <a href=”The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems – Includes Branched Drains“>Greywater Oasis. That is the system he uses.

  • We are really excited about doing greywater – Art Ludwig, the greywater pioneer, finally got all of that fantastic state legislation so that single source greywater systems with a 2 inch mulch basin will be available. We would like to have a couple of different “directions” that each source will feed – IE, “the apple tree” and the “fig tree.” Check out his book – Christopher has read and re-read it – The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems – Includes Branched Drains

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