Rain Water Harvesting

Design Ecology Santa Fe promotes the sustainable use of our precious water resources through the exploration of a variety of water harvesting design and planning strategies. Here in the South-West we are all familiar with the importance and scarcity of water. We are also all becoming familiar with the benefits of harvesting the storm water than falls onto our landscapes.

What are the benefits of water harvesting? The benefits of water harvesting are not restricted to reducing the amount of water we use from our limited supplies delivered by the existing infrastructure in our area – city water, wells, etc. Water harvesting also helps to promote more natural and healthy ecological processes on-site as well as in the greater landscape. By catching water, either temporarily or indefinitely, we slow the movement of water across the landscape. This is critical as developed landscape both increases the amount of ‘run off’ and the speed at which it travels causing severe erosion of the land and pollution of our natural water bodies – streams, lakes, rivers and the like. Catching water and retaining it on site also benefits the plants on your landscape, to re-establish natural biotic communities and increase aquifer recharge. Whether  you develop a system of passive water harvesting strategies to help slow and infiltrate water or develop an active catchment system to store water on site you will be helping to protect and promote a healthier planet Earth.

What is water harvesting? As a natural landscape is transformed through the construction of human features such as houses, driveways, roads, paths and other hardscapes that natural patterns of water flow are fundamentally altered through the addition of impermeable surfaces to the environment. The addition of impermeable surfaces creates an increase in the amount, or volume, of storm water run-off. The increase in volume then leads to an increase in the speed, or velocity, at which the run-off travels. This increased volume and velocity are the two main factors contributing to erosion and the addition of pollution to our waterways. Water harvesting is the practice of capturing storm water run off on site and using it either passively or actively to irrigate your landscape. By capturing storm water on site we help reduce the volume and velocity of water that moves through and leaves our landscapes, help reduce erosion on site and beyond, help reduce pollution loads in our natural water bodies and support the plant life on our land. The EPA has a slogan for storm water management, which is slow it down, spread it out and soak it in, which is exactly what water harvesting does. DESF is well trained and experienced in the design and development of passive and active water harvesting systems as well as the integration of artful rain water design.

What is passive water harvesting? Passive water harvesting is forming the landscape in a way that slows down, spreads out and soaks in as much run-off as possible. Common strategies in passive water harvesting that many people are familiar with are detention basins, ponding areas, swale-berm systems and dry stream beds. These are all good representations of what passive water harvesting works to achieve – catching water in the landscape and infiltrating it rather than allowing it to escape into the larger landscape. Through the a proper assessment of your land and the movement patterns water follows through it we develop a strategy for catching an infiltrating water in your landscape that is beneficial to your land as well as the greater environment. Through our expertise in the disciplines of landscape architecture, permaculture and ecology we are able to develop highly functional passive water harvesting systems that are both beautiful and environmentally beneficial.

What is active water harvesting? Active water harvesting is the process of capturing storm water and storing it for later use in the landscape via an automatic irrigation system or even to be filtered and used as potable water in the home. Active water harvesting systems are made up of three primary components – the catchment, the conveyance and the storage. The catchment would be any impermeable surface on your property such as your house, out buildings, driveways or sidewalks. We develop a system of catchments to capture the water that runs off of these surfaces. These catchments are connected to the conveyance system that moves water from the point at which it is captured to the storage system. Examples of conveyance include features like gutters on your house, channel drains in the ground or underground catch basins. Conveyance systems are typically pipes either above or below ground that move water form one point to the next. There are two typical types of storage – above ground and below ground. Above ground tanks are visible tanks that range from 50-gallons to 3,000-gallons. Storm water is typically fed to these tanks from above meaning your conveyance system is typically something you see. Under ground storage is made up of buried tanks and buried conveyance and can range anywhere from 1,700-gallons to 25,000-gallons and beyond. In both situation the storage systems can be tied directly to an automatic irrigation system to sustainably use the water in the landscape. Other typical features include an automatic refill connected to your city of well water supply to keep enough water in the tank during periods of drought or even purification system to use storm water as potable water.

What is artful water harvesting? Artful rain water harvesting is the practice of developing water harvesting systems that are visually appealing. It is in many ways taking the practice of water harvesting and making it sculptural. At Design Ecology Santa Fe we are huge proponents of artful rain water harvesting because we feel that it allows us to help create a more intimate connection between humans and nature. Creating artful rain water harvesting elements draws peoples attention to the topic of rain water harvesting and to our most precious resource – water. This attention and appreciation helps to instill in people a sense of respect and stewardship that is often missing in today’s world where we are so disconnected from the natural world. In addition artful rain water harvesting is just that – artful. It is an opportunity to create beautiful features in the landscape that make your home that much more special.