Rainwater Harvesting and Earthworks with Brad Lancaster

Brad Lancaster with RainbowAbundance or Scarcity.  A-bun-dance or Scared to be in the City.  Brad breaks these two words down beautifully in his Presentations and design work.  Brad Lancaster is one of the leaders in rehydrating landscapes in dry areas especially in urban settings.  He really demonstrated how cities and landscapes have been altered to be hydrophobic and shed water very quickly and efficiently.  In officials eyes this is good but it leads to water scarcity in places like the desert southwest of the states which is already dry.  Because of that plants are kept alive with water that is brought in from long distances extending our water use further than our local watershed.  Meanwhile we could be harvesting rainwater into tanks and diverse earthworks providing water to our vegetation and small-scale food production.  The course was mainly lecture in the form of highly entertaining slideshow featuring Brad wiggling his rear to symbolize a-bun-dance.  However we did get out and do some work during this two-day workshop.

Observing the site before the work

We were working with a water problem next to the Ecovillage Training Center Building and hostel at The Farm.  We were dealing with clogged pipes, dense vegetation and a slope bringing the water back towards the hostel.  Brad then led us in a rain garden hands on so that we could learn a basic technique for the hydrating of landscapes.  I always go back to the following Bill Mollison’s quote when I think about Rain gardens, “Though the problems of the world become increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple”.  This is so true for Rain Gardens, its a hole in the ground where water is directed that helps to vastly improve the water quality of a region.  Flooding and non point source pollution have been shown to be drastically reduced in a study by the Environmental Protection Agency in my hometown of Cincinnati.  Again not rocket science but just a pattern in nature, the wallow of the pig or bison.

Yellowstone Bison

The idea with rain gardens is that they are built to deal with the catchment of the roof or some other impervious surfaces run-off.  They are not a pond rather an uncompacted basin for water to have a chance to sink into the landscape.  The depression is mulched heavily and planted out with water loving plants.  Species are selected by their ability to withstand flooding as there should always be increased edge within the rain garden providing several ecological niches for the plants to fill.  So on this site we began to dig and unclog pipes and trim vegetation.  The room that was closest to this water problem was very moldy while being dark and cold during the winter.  So we fixed this problem while adding a very much needed aesthetic feature to the ETC building.  Bamboo was the main shading culprit so the plant was trimmed back heavily and the roots taken out as much as we could.  This was the most intense part of the process.  Had the bamboo not been there it would have probably taken us 15 minutes to do this.  But as always it turned from a  problem to a solution as we need some mulch for our newly dug, seeded and planted rain garden.

Rob and Jeff busting through the bamboo roots

All the while of the digging others were working on reconnecting a pipe that plants had clogged and inadvertently caused more water to be directed towards the house.  Once we had dug our level bottom we put in place a spillway in case of really heavy rainfalls overloading the system.  Clay soil combined with this work with us stomping over the ground, the soil was not going to be as open and free draining as we would like to see.  However with the action of plants roots and biology in the soil, the clay will loosen and there will be a greater percolation rate.

Rain Garden in bottom left hand corner

We got to see the rain garden in action very quickly.  As we were putting the finishing touches on the Earthwork, we had a very typical summer rainstorm for the southeast of the states.  Hard rain for 15 minutes and looking like all hell was going to break loose, then breaking and a rainbow to even grace this new creation.  plant the rain and it will come.

Day 2 featured greywater primarily.  We saw some powerpoints about it and then broke up into groups to look a the potential and design constraints surrounding the harvesting of greywater from the hostel.  It was astonishing to calculate the size basins we would need for our greywater system there because of the high water use.  Lots of people use that site so it would need to handle a large load.  However Brad had some really good insight saying how we could reduce this input and alter our designs.

We also covered rainwater tanks and the systems surrounding the inflow and outflow.  Brad had lots of good stories and insights that he showed in his slideshow.  His years and years of work within this field will be conveyed at future courses.  Materials will be shared from his slideshows and a greater comfortability with design and installation as well was garnered.

Overall it was a really fun two days with one of the masters in the field of rainwater harvesting and greywater.  I highly encourage all to attend a workshop with Brad or stop by his place in Arizona to see just how powerful small, simple acts can make such a huge difference for biodiversity.

One Comment on “Rainwater Harvesting and Earthworks with Brad Lancaster

  1. I really appreciate this post and hope that more individuals join in the practice of “rehydrating” landscapes. There is an opportunity to learn from Brad Lancaster at the Earthship Campus in Taos in August. This course will be supported by the Earhship team with extensive Earthwork experience and a Backhoe excavator. It is a rare opportunity to learn with masters in the field that no one should miss. http://earthshipstore.com/es-learning-opportunities/earthworks-workshop-2014

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