Summary: Turn water scarcity into water abundance: guide on how to conceptualize, design, and implement sustainable water-harvesting systems for your home, landscape, and community.
Author: Brad Lancaster, published by Rainsource Press. 2006. 8.5x11, 183 pages, over 150 illustrations. ISBN 0-9772464-0-X. $24.95
"Through some bizarre irony, rainwater in the arid west is typically deflected away from water-starved land and shunted off to storm drains. Not so in Brad Lancaster's universe. He welcomes rainwater into the landscape with creativity, intelligence and humor and puts it to use growing food, shading houses, reducing erosion, improving wildlife habitat, and enriching the urban environment. In Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, he welcomes us to join him in exercising the radical common sense of harvesting rainwater."
— Ann Phillips, Manager of Restoration Projects, Tucson Audubon Society
Buy this book now. If you live in a dry place, buy it. If you live somewhere subject to droughts (which is everywhere), buy it. The simple techniques (and the principles behind them) can help you save bunches of money, and make the landscape around you more productive and beautiful, with less work and upkeep than you can imagine. Lend it to your neighbors, and you'll benefit as well. (Heck-buy them each a copy.) This how-to manual has enough stories, illustrations and simple ideas to inspire even the most unhandy among us (such as myself). Buy it, try a couple of projects in your backyard, and in a few years be sure to send Brad and me a thank you note!
— Kevin Dahl, Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH and author of Wild Foods of the Sonoran Desert and Native Harvest: Gardening with Authentic Southwestern Crops
Excerpts © 2005 Brad Lancaster
Turn water scarcity into water abundance! Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, Volume 1 is the core of the complete three-volume guide on how to conceptualize, design, and implement sustainable water-harvesting systems for your home, landscape, and community. This book enables you to access your on-site resources (rainwater, greywater, topsoil, sun, plants, and more), gives you a diverse array of strategies to maximize their potential, and empowers you with guiding principles to create an integrated, multi-functional, and water-sustainable water-harvesting landscape plan specific to your site and needs.
Clearly written with more than 40 photos and 115 illustrations, this volume helps bring your site to life, reduce your cost of living, endow yourself and your community with skills of self-reliance and cooperation, and create living air conditioners of vegetation growing beauty, food, and wildlife habitat. Stories of people who are successfully welcoming rain into their life and landscape will invite you to do the same!
By Gary Paul Nabhan
Although rainwater harvesting has been accomplished by humans in virtually every drought-vulnerable region of the world for millennia, our society seems to have some collective amnesia about the utility, efficiency, sustainability, and beauty of these time-tried practices. Fortunately, this book and Brad's lifelong passion for practical, ecological, and aesthetically pleasing solutions to our water woes may cure us of that amnesia just when we most desperately need to remember such solutions are readily at hand. From where I write this is Northern Arizona, nine out of every ten trees outside my window are dead, due to the worst drought in fourteen hundred years, and the artificial reservoir known as Lake Powell is projected to go dry within six more years. And yet, those of my neighbors who harvest water off their roofs, parking lots, or slopes (as we do) have never had to haul in water during the last six years of subnormal precipitation, and elderly Hopi farmers have still produced crops every year in the floodwater (ak-chin) fields. At a time when surface- and ground- water is becoming increasingly privatized, fought over, and transferred between watersheds and aquifers as if were but one more globalized commodity, Brad demonstrates a diversity of strategies that can quench our thirst, sustain local food production, and keep peace among neighboring cultures. Because struggles for access to water are likely to be one of the most frequent causes for warfare and social unrest over the next half century on every continent, Brad should be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace for offering the world so many elegant means of avoiding such struggles through local harvesting of both water and traditional ecological knowledge.
Like many arid land ecologists scattered around the world, I was first inspired to consider the supreme importance of water harvesting for desert cultures by reading Michael Evenari's classic, The Negev -- The Challenge of a Desert, about Israeli Jewish attempts to learn from their ancient neighbors, the Nabateans, who drew upon diverse runoff catchments and storage practices to make their prehistoric civilization flourish at Petra, the Negev, and Sinai. With the likes of arroyo-of-consciousness journalist Chuck Bowden and straw-bale movement founder Matts Myhrman, I sought out older treatises and surviving practitioners of O'odham (Papago) ak-chin farming in the Sonoran Desert. We found that there was much to learn from our desert neighbors about the harvesting of both water and nutrients; Brad has continued and extended our earlier, haphazard efforts of rescuing such knowledge from Native American elders. But Brad has also gone two steps further than many of us. He has essentially accomplished a worldwide survey of water harvesting practices, humbling his predecessors by compiling a dizzyingly diverse portfolio of strategies, techniques, and technologies. He has then tried and fine-tuned every one of these strategies, so that he now has firsthand knowledge of how they function, and at what cost. His own desert abode is a like a walk-through encyclopedia of water harvesting techniques gleaned from cultures and innovators from around the world.
There is both quantitatively-informed precision and beauty in what Brad has implemented, and this combination is a rarity in our modern world. Technological fixes have grown increasingly ugly, but as you can see from the drawings and photos in this masterwork, Brad's designs sing to us as they solve our water shortages.
A half century ago, Thomas Merton prophesized that "some day, they will even try to sell you the rain," warning us that the privatization and corporate control of our hydrological destiny could become our doom. What Brad's genius safeguards for us is "water democracy," and I predict that this concept will become a keystone of environmental justice throughout the desert regions of the world, if not everywhere. We will no longer think of desert living as "lacking," or "limited," but celebrate the abundance before us. With tongue in cheek, we may even offer our sympathies to those who live in soggy, "drought-deficient" places, who may never be able to share the joy with us of harvesting our own fresh, delicious water, just as horned lizards have done off their very own backs since they first emerged on this dry planet. Blessings to you Brother Brad, the Patron Saint of Water Democracy.
Gary Paul Nabhan is desert rat author of The Desert Smells Like Rain and Coming Home to Eat, and Director of the Center for Sustainable Environments. Although he has a Ph.D. in arid land resources, he has learned more from Brother Brad than all his professors combined.
List of Illustrations
List of Boxed Information
Foreword by Gary Paul Nabhan
Chapter 1. The Man Who Farms Water and the Rainwater-Harvesting Guidelines
Chapter 2. Assessing Your Site's Water Resources
Chapter 3. Overview: Harvesting Water with Earthworks, Tanks, or Both
Chapter 4. Integrated Design
Appendix 1. Patterns of Water Flow and Erosion with Their Potential Water-Harvesting Response
Appendix 2. Water Harvesting Traditions in the Desert Southwest by Joel Glanzberg
Appendix 3. Water-Harvesting Calculations
Appendix 4. Example Plant Lists and Water Requirement Calculations for Tucson, Arizona
Appendix 5. Worksheets: Your Thinking Sheets
Appendix 6. Resources
© 2005 Brad Lancaster and Joe Marshall
Rain is always free....Rain as our landscape's primary water source.
A landscape draining resources. Arrows denote runoff flow.
A landscape harvesting resources. Arrows denote runoff flow.
A landscape on the wasteful path to scarcity. Rain, runoff, and
topsoil are quickly drained off the landscape to the street where the
sediment-laden water contributes to downstream flooding and
contamination. The landscape is dependent upon municipal/well water
irrigation and fertilizer.
A landscape on the stewardship path to abundance. Rain, runoff, leaf
drop, and topsoil are harvested and utilized within the landscape
contributing to flood control and enhanced water quality. The system
is self-irrigating with rain and self-fertilized with harvested
Keywords: rainwater, water, catchment, basin, landscape, harvesting, precipitation
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