Water harvesting: every drop matters
In the midst of the hottest global temperatures on record combined with well-below normal levels of precipitation, it is evident that a multi-faceted approach to maintaining adequate fresh water supply is necessary. As a community, we can help by using water mindfully, practicing water conservation and reducing aquifer draw using seasonal practices like water harvesting.
Harvesting is an agricultural term, but in its root definition means the season for gathering. For residents of the Shawnigan Lake community and the Cowichan Valley, harvesting and storing rainfall and recapturing water to bridge dry periods fits this model extremely well. Water restrictions and drought are now predictable and regular summer events, and higher temperatures place greater demand on water all around.
Creative applications of water harvesting are being used out of necessity in arid climates such as Tucson, Arizona by Brad Lancaster. His practices are inspiring! Collecting and maximizing use of minimal amounts of annual rainfall (11 inches) and recapturing water are key in Brad’s water use design. With some creativity, he has transformed his parched community into a lush, invigorating ecosystem, also nourishing the hope and imagination of area residents. Please visit his site, harvestingrainwater.com to learn more.
Water harvesting on a residential level means collecting roof rainwater from downspouts and balcony runoff in barrels and receptacles, or if present on your property, in underground cisterns. Recapturing water is also part of water harvesting practice. Collect water at the start of each shower as you wait for the water to warm. Collect water in the kitchen when washing fruits and vegetables. Cooled cooking water from vegetables and pasta can also be used. Recapture useable water for hand-watering gardens and flower containers as opposed to letting it go down the drain.
Making use of gently used grey water (laundry, shower/bath and sinks) is also encouraged. Please note, using grey water is not recommended for food crops and should only be stored for 24 hours to avoid bacterial growth. However, short term and immediate use in times of drought is great for flowerbeds, trees and shrubs where the soil naturally filters contaminants. Sodium from kitchen grey water can impact plants, however, studies have shown use up to five weeks showed little to no adverse impact. All ideas of how to maximize collection of water.
When landscaping, choose drought tolerant plants and use gravity design of tiers and depressions to avoid water runoff and loss. Create natural low or flat spots to capture and retain water. Drip irrigation systems are also an incredible water conservation design and uses minimal amounts of water. Investigate your property and watering practices, and harvest, recapture and conserve water wherever you can.
Blue Grouse Estate Winery is a commercial example of water harvesting. With impressive engineering and forethought, rainwater is collected to sustain an on site riparian pond. Winery and domestic wastewater is treated and returned to their aquifer. More agricultural applications of water capture and conservation are encouraged with an estimated industry use of two-thirds of fresh water consumption.
Please note, diverting water from streams, rivers, ponds and lakes is not allowed. There are strict and rightful provincial regulations to protect riparian areas as they are sensitive ecosystems and a natural component of our aquifer contributing watersheds.
Of the earth’s water, less than three per cent is fresh water and less than one per cent of that is accessible. It’s a precious resource, we absolutely cannot live without it. It is empowering to know that we can create our own solutions and have a positive impact. There is much we can do and it all adds up. Every drop counts!
Director, Shawnigan Basin Society