Water Management for Sustainable Living

by Traci Knight

 It is time for collective society to start independently managing water resources in our immediate environments. Looking back to ancient civilizations shows us that humans have always worked with the land to harvest and conserve water through a series of catchments, reservoirs, irrigation, and terracing.

With ecological knowledge and permaculture principles we can now use bioremediation to recharge the water table, using simple rainwater harvesting, along with swales, french drains, and planting native plants and trees. Recycling water is another important way to preserve water security by stretching vital resources.



Rainwater Harvesting

In some parts of the world rooftop rainwater harvesting is mandatory. Collecting rain for later use is highly beneficial. A good way to start is with a rain barrel, connected to the gutter with a hose attached to it. Upgrades include cisterns for longer storage.


Controlling runoff is especially important in the case of rainwater. Planting native vegetation in the drainage area will absorb and hold water in the root system and recharge the water table rather than allowing it to be swept into the streets and sewers where it mixes with toxic chemicals and oil.


Greywater and Blackwater

Greywater is recycled water from a variety of sources such as the sink, laundry, shower, or dishwasher, that is able to be used again for watering and irrigation. This is a safe recycling system used in over 8 million homes in the United States alone. Simple grey water systems are more effective than expensive manufactored models and allow you to add water directly to the biologically active layer of topsoil. Use the greywater to hydrate ornamental plants, trees, and shrubs rather than food sources, when possible.



Blackwater is human waste water. Even that can be filtered back into the environment via a wetlands and reed bed treatment. Creating a marsh or bog, helps utilize the blackwater and break it down quickly and efficiently. Composting toilets are also working to close the loop on waste stream.

Swales and Diversion Ditches

Swales are ditches cut into the contour of a landscape which harvest water and recharge the water table. Used in home gardens, on farms, and in serious bioremediation efforts, swales are effectively re-greening the desert. Swales can be used in combination with targeted vegetation and tree planting to revitalize even arid, salted earth. First the swales go in, then the landscape is filled in with organic matter. After that a series of native trees are planted in order to create a root system that regenerates the earth. At that time crops can be planted, aided by the canopy the trees create.



Swales are built with flat bottoms so that water is slowed to a standstill as it drains off the slope. Erosion is then eliminated and the water seeps slowly into the groundwater table and creates hydrated, fertile soil. Self watering raised “wicking beds” can be used on flat land instead of or in conjunction with swales for gardens and small farms. Bioswales and curb cuts can divert water from streets and parking lots and reintroduce it to plants and vegetation instead of draining contaminants into waterways.

According to expert permaculturist Geoff Lawton, “You can fix all the world’s problems in a garden.” One of the most exciting aspects of permaculture is it’s ability to use intelligent design to move beyond water conservation to actually increase groundwater stores. In this way we can regenerate growth in dry, depleted soils while conserving freshwater.











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Categories: Permaculture

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1 reply

  1. Traci, special thanks for the video link to Geoff Lawton’s work!

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