The Milkweed Diaries

Monday, December 10, 2007

Water catchment, consumer culture, and living systems

AT LEFT: Our 2,500 gallon cistern arriving at its new home!

This tank will hold rainwater for all of our household and garden needs. Every 1,000 square feet of roof catches more than 600 gallons of water per every inch of rainfall.

In this time of drought, more people are thinking about water conservation. But what if local governments, neighborhoods, and individuals looked at water as a whole system? Thinking of water as a "resource" implies that it is a scarce consumer product--a hot commodity--in our economic system. A lot of people pay for drinking and household water, in a paradigm that makes water a consumer product like most everything else.

In the meantime, we treat other water (which is just the same water at a different point in the natural cycle) as "waste" -- runoff, stormwater, and grey/black household water. This water is thought of as something we have to get rid of.

In other words: even if you're doing all of the usual things like turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth, most water systems are based on using energy to move water from place to place, either as a product or as waste. This is part of the whole way of thinking that informs our economic system and our culture: extract resources, create products, transport and distribute them, consume them, and dispose of the (abundant) waste --otherwise known as "the materials economy," otherwise known as predatory capitalism. More on the materials economy at The Story of Stuff and more on alternatives to this model at The Story of Stuff: Another Way.

Anyhow, back to water. In thinking about water systems for our land, we wanted to replace the cycle of extraction, distribution, consumption, production of waste, and disposal with one of conservation and reuse. In our river valley/wetland home, we wanted to shift from thinking of water as a troublesome problem to be battled to thinking of it as a valued life-sustaining ally. We also liked the permaculture idea of producing more resources than we consumed. While we are not technically PRODUCING water, we are capturing it and using it on our site, rather than just thinking of it as something we have to get rid of or bring in from off-site. The water is part of living systems on our land -- and by retaining it, we can use it to support life rather than treating it as either waste or consumer product.

Part of how we're doing this is by making ponds and rain gardens to retain and recycle water back into biomass, or plant life. More on that later.

Once the monster-sized cistern above is hooked up to gutters, we'll be catching all of the water from our metal roof and using it for drinking, watering gardens, bathing, washing dishes, and etc. By supplying household and drinking water from a low-impact collection system on our own home site, we'll be responsible for meeting our own needs in a sustainable way.

By catching water in ponds, rain gardens, and our cistern, we'll drastically reduce runoff, ameliorating stormwater issues and at the same time retaining water to support living systems on our land --gardens, wild areas, human habitat, animal habitat.


More information:

Harvest - the online water harvesting community

Urban Permaculture Guild

Permaculture Principles

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