Adaptation – Volume 6 – Water Conservation and Harvesting

Is Peak Water going to be a Limiting Factor to growth and production?

Peak Water is getting a lot of discussion lately.  In 2010, the New York Times used “Peak Water” as one of the Words of the Year!  Morgan Stanley has conducted a large study on it’s impacts as has many various scientific organizations!  If both our Financial Institutions and our Scientific Organizations are worried, maybe we should be too!  Will anything happen in the short term, probably not.  Is it a knock on the door to pay attention to what is going on in our world?  Yes!

Click to access gic_peakwater.pdf

Climate Change is making Water Harvesting an important Adaptation to Relearn!

We have for years accepted “easy water” in our lives.  Easy water comes from water impoundments (dams and/or canals) or wells (bores in some parts of the world)!  In other words “surface water” or “ground water”.

The numerous drought situations that are going on right now are causing dilemmas within many irrigation districts.  Guess what, impounded water that is found in a large dammed stream or lake situations is typically used for both agricultural irrigation and for human consumption.  Cities in California may be at risk of reduced flows in order to keep agricultural production at the needed levels or we deal with reduced crop yields!  Endangered species such as the Snail Darter are being impacted, and on the other hand Farmers are being squeezed because of the high cost of water and the need for water to protect the Snail Darter.

Water restrictions have hit not only California but other urban areas around the world.  Australia, routinely has water restrictions placed on their citizens during the 1990s and up until 2012.  Only recently has the drought been broken.

Some laws (as in Arizona) define surface water as different from ground water and are extremely complicated.  Water rights are worthy of fighting over in this state.  Unfortunately, like the old song “the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone”, surface water is integrally tied to ground water supplies!

Ground Water

Surface Water

January is usually one of the wettest months!

January is usually one of the wettest months!

Water Harvesting to grow crops is nothing new.

Since Mankind began their agricultural pursuits, one of their key issues was how to get water to the land.  In temperate climates this wasn’t much of an issue, in the more dryland areas that receive less than 20 inches of precipitation annually it was!

Terracing has been used for Millenia

Terracing has been used for Millenia

Ancient Americans used the Simplest Methods to water their crops in the dry southwest.  Intercepting Terraces!  What could be more simple than to plant your crops on a gentle slope and build up terraces that would catch the run off from natural rainfall events.  The terrace concept was good as long as rainfall fell in adequate amounts and in regular intervals to meet the needs of the plant species you targeted for growing.  Most notably corn in those days!

Many Scientific Papers have been written about water harvesting in marginal areas.  This one gives the toils and troubles associated with harvesting water for crops in West Asia and North Africa!  These areas probably have the most harsh environments in the world to try to grow crops in.

In an Urban Setting, Tucson Arizona has used novel methods to Harvest Rainwater!

Tucson  has used groundwater wells to supply water to their citizens for years.  So much so that there has been evidence of subsidence throughout the city!

Brad Lancaster in Tucson, Arizona is one man who has spent a considerable amount of time pondering Water issues.  How can natural water be captured and made effective for plant growth without impacting ground water is one area that he has excelled in.

The FAO has promoted techniques for water harvesting for years!

The Food and Agriculturure Organization of the United Nations has fought drought in Third World Nations for years.  These nations typically do not have the resources to impound and transfer water to their cities or to fund drilling deep water wells to supply agriculture.  Resulting famines for years have been publicized in newspapers and on television.  In the west, this has typically meant you donate to a cause to help them.  The lack of water in our societies has typically not been an issue!

The FAO has a document out that gives basic information on water harvesting.  If you research the web on water harvesting you can find many different applications that may meet your needs.  Many of the University based studies require a funding source and hard construction techniques (concrete and steel, pipelines and heavy equipment).  Many of you out there will not have those resources or need them.  Small tracts of land can sometimes be modified quickly and efficiently with rock placements and digging!

Simple catchments can be effective

Simple catchments can be effective

How can you make your natural water supply more effective?

It’s pretty simple if you give it some thought.

1) Terracing your garden areas.  You don’t necessarily have to dig trenches!  How about using rock?  How about decorative stone?  How about using lead off ditches from natural water flow areas to capture some of that flow to your trees?

2) Rainwater capture from your roof!  This technique is becoming more and more popular.  A one inch rain over a  20′ x 40′ roof when captured will provide a lot of water!  Storage will be your main concern!  Fiberglass tubs, lined depressions, or rain barrels can help store this roof water for later use.

3) Plant drought resistant plants or crops.  Do some research and find which trees, shrubs or veges require the least amount of water or have the shortest growing period.

4) Convert your lawn (especially if you are in the Desert Southwest) to decorative stone or gravel.

5) Use a drip irrigation system.  One of the greatest losses of water is over-watering! Evapotranspiration is scientific term that basically means that during the water cycle, a certain amount of water from solar heating is used by the plant and the rest will go back into the atmosphere from both the plant and the surrounding soil.  In cases of over-watering, excess water is wasted back into the air!

Per wiki “Evapotranspiration (ET) is the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth’s land and Ocean surface to the atmosphere.

ET does not stand for Extra-Terrestrial!

ET does not stand for Extra-Terrestrial!

6) Monitor your use of water.  If irrigating, use the least that’s needed for your plants.  At home, many time we find our selves letting the tap run while we brush our teeth or do dishes.  Turn it off when you aren’t using it!  If you are unsure about how much to use, purchase a simple soil hygrometer that will measure soil moisture for you! Amazon has a lot to choose from or go to your favorite plant nursery!

Here are a few suggested sites to find more information on!

The Cyprus Garden blog offers a list of plants and vegetables that are drought resistant.  Check their blog out for good examples!

The Arizona Department of Water Resources offers suggestions in their 28 page publication.  If you live in Arizona you need to know these plants!

Click to access LWU_Plants1.pdf

Don’t forget Sunset Magazine.  This magazine has been helping Southwestern Gardeners choose the right plants for years!

Learn more from wikipedia on Xeriscaping and where the term came from!

“In 1981, a Denver water employee coined the term xeriscape, which is a portmanteau of xeros ξήρος (Greek for “dry”) and landscaping, and xeriscape is used for this style of garden. Xeriscape is a registered trademark of the water department of Denver, Colorado.[3]”

You can always make Tequila out of an Agave!

You can always make Tequila out of an Agave!



About rsingram

Environmental Specialist, Disaster Reservist, Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control, Para-Archeologist
This entry was posted in Adaptation, Australia, Climate Change, Economics, Environment, Gardening and Composting, Native Americans, Water Conservation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Adaptation – Volume 6 – Water Conservation and Harvesting

  1. 2me4art says:

    thank you so much for all this information. We are lucky to have a stream in our backyard, it helps give us an idea of what our part of town is going through. Last year there was but a trickle, it was a bit scary. We are going to buy water barrels for our gutters to catch rain from the roof-to water our gardens with. ~amy

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