Saving water from the sky

  • Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands: Volume I, Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape

    Brad Lancaster, 200 pages, softcover: $24.95. Rainsource Press, 2006

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands should come with a warning: Read it only at home, with tools handy, because what’s inside inspires action.

Tucson author Brad Lancaster explores strategies to "plant" rainwater where it falls. He should know: Lancaster harvests more than 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year, transforming his one-eighth acre of urban desert into fruit trees and gardens. The sheltering landscapes he builds cool surrounding buildings as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting drop in water and energy bills is often drastic enough, Lancaster says, that utilities check for broken meters.

All he’s learned is packed into a three-volume resource, with the second volume, Water-harvesting Earthworks, due out this summer. Volume 1 offers core information about water democracy — treating water as a public resource instead of a corporate commodity. Lancaster visits the Zvishavane Water Resources Project in Zimbabwe, Africa, run by a farmer who transformed his family’s overgrazed landholding into a Garden of Eden. Photographs and illustrations help the reader visualize each rainwater-harvesting strategy.

Lancaster suggests eight principles to make the most of precipitation, beginning with observing what happens as rain meets ground. He advises starting small with berms and earthworks to spread rainwater and help it soak in. We can take a cue from the desert horned lizards that harvest water off their backs. Using Lancaster’s tools, we might create lush Edens in our own backyards using only what falls from the sky.

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