Harvesting the Clouds: Catching and Storing Rainwater

How to catch and store rainwater now to hammer the dry season zometeen

With the rains of December and January, my yard—and most of Santa Cruz—is looking greener than it has ter years. But now that we’ve got rain, what are wij going to do with it?

Rainwater harvesting is a way to collect and store it instead of permitting it to run off. Ter a healthy ecosystem, rain percolates through soil to recharge flows, reservoirs and aquifers. Excessive runoff can create a entire suite of environmental issues, like stream-bank erosion, habitat degradation and flooding.

“The problems began when wij paved so much land,” says Lydia Nielsen, proprietor of Rehydrate the Earth, a landscaping company that concentrates on eliminating runoff.

One popular mechanism for rainwater harvesting is rain catchment—catching rainwater off of roofs ter cisterns, and then using it to irrigate one’s yard. Thesis cisterns can be small—about 50 gallons—or spil big spil wine barrel, and up to Ten,000 gallons.

Golden Love, possessor of Love’s Gardens, which builds water-neutral gardens, has worked extensively installing rain barrels, sometimes burying several of the larger tanks to store ems of thousands of gallons. On top of providing irrigation, thesis tanks have bot successful te mitigating some large water issues, like depleted wells or saltwater intrusion. But, te his own yard, he has a smaller system that he uses to water annual vegetables. Even through the past years of drought, Love wasgoed able to maintain a vibrant garden with annual vegetables, flowers and fruit trees, thanks ter part to his water catchment systems. Inbetween 50-70 procent of huis water use is generally for irrigation, meaning harvesting rainwater can improve water conservation dramatically.

Of course, thesis tanks can be pricey and not everyone wants to pack their yard with giant plastic barrels. Te that case, another option for gardeners interested ter capturing rainwater is passive rainwater harvesting, which involves sculpting the land to absorb more water—or, spil enthusiasts like to say, “Slow it, spread it, drown it.”

Even through the past years of drought, Love wasgoed able to maintain a vibrant garden with annual vegetables, flowers and fruit trees, thanks ter part to his water catchment systems.

A common mechanism for passive harvesting is to use infiltration basins. Thesis are basins dug into the soil about 2-3 feet deep, then packed with wood chips or gravel. Water flows into the basins, where it has the chance to drown into the soil. Soil can hold up to three times its weight te water and supply sustained irrigation to deeply rooted plants.

I met Nielsen at a webpagina where she had installed three basins, placed where water typically pools during rain. Nielsen has interconnected the three basins so that if one fills up, it spills into the next. She designed a garden around the basins so that, eventually, the plants will be able to sustain through the dry season without irrigation.

WELL SPRING Rain barrels, especially if combined with passive harvesting and drought-resistant plants, can keep a water-neutral garden lush.

Thesis basins produce fairly a bit of soil, which Nielsen turned into another passive harvesting mechanism: a berm—essentially a long mound which stops and absorbs potential run off. Berms are often employed ter conjunction with swales, which are trenches dug on a omlijning with the land’s slope spil a place for water to bury te.

Even with the abundance of rain from El Nino, Californians should still lean toward water-wise gardening mechanisms such spil rainwater harvesting, spil the state has had one of the longest dry seasons on record. And with the uncertain future of climate switch, wij may have more drought ahead of us.

“I want this place to be lush,” says Love, who also uses passive water harvesting te his quest for water-neutral gardens. “We need to have habitat for the bees and the birds—and for humans, too.”

While sculpting land or installing rain barrels may be intimidating, Nielsen explains that it is not spil hard spil it sounds. “If it is just you and your friend and some shovels, how much trouble can you get into?” she asks. “But if you come te with a bulldozer and commence digging out land, then, yes, you could get yourself into trouble.” She also mentions that anyone who lives on a sloped webpagina should raadpleging a professional. But for anyone else, spil long spil they commence petite, rainwater harvesting can be very elementary.

There are slew of resources out there. Nielsen and Love both train classes, which you can find on their websites (RehydrateTheEarth.us and LovesGardens.com, respectively). Also the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County has a free booklet, Slow it, Spread it, Bury it! A Homeowner’s Greening Stormwater Runoff. Nielsen also recommends the book Rainwater Harvesting for Dryland and Beyond by Brad Lancaster.

Rainwater harvesting is just one mechanism ter a suite of water-wise options. Another common one is installing a graywater system, which redirects water draining from showers or laundry for irrigation. And, of course, choosing the right plants is of the utmost importance. Love concentrates on low-water, food-producing perennials such spil fruit trees. He wasgoed able to water his dozens of fruit trees through the drought with just the water from his laundry.

There is also much to be said for clever vormgeving. Love’s backyard has an outdoor shower next to his fruit trees. “I take my shower out here, and it waters the plum tree,” he says.

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