Water harvesting for residential landscapes

This article was republished with the permission of 505Outside.com.

505Outside sat down with local landscape contractor Hunter Ten Broeck, owner of WaterWise Landscapes Incorporated, to chat about Water Harvesting in Albuquerque.  

There are two categories of water harvesting techniques: passive water harvesting and active water harvesting. Passive water harvesting is the practice of slowing water down and encouraging it to soak into the ground. Water is collected from the source (roof, canale, downspout, or sloped earth) and directed to the landscape where the water can be immediately used by the plants. Active water harvesting uses rain barrels, cisterns, and other types of containers to store rainwater for later distribution. These typically hold as few as 200 gallons of water up to 10,000 gallons. A good calculation to remember is 1” of rain on a 1000 sq. ft. roof equals about 600 gallons of water.

Hunter says the key to any type of water harvesting system, whether active or passive, is to incorporate it into the landscape design. Thinking through how the rain water will interact with your landscape and designing for that should be first and foremost.

When asked what a homeowner could easily do to start water harvesting in their yard, Hunter recommended starting small and trying passive water harvesting. Passive systems can be as simple as a swale, a French drain (or rock burrito, as nicknamed by his staff), or more complicated systems that include building an underground soil sponge area. He says to start by finding the roof’s downspouts and canals, then provide a catch area underneath them. A catch area could be a concrete splash block or cobbles. Then direct that water away from the home via a cobble swale that runs into a planting area. This can be done easily by digging down a few inches and creating a slope away from the house into the planting area. Once the swale is dug, add cobble on top to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.

Cobble swale located at downspout next to house.

To make Hunter’s “rock burrito” simply dig an 8” wide trench at least 12” deep and as long as necessary for the space. Slope the bottom of the trench toward the drainage area. Layer the trench with filter fabric followed by cobble or rocks. Roll the fabric over the rocks then backfill with soil. This will provide an underground collection area for water. Water will slowly soak into the ground providing moisture to adjacent planting areas.

“Rock Burrito” French drain under construction in an Albuquerque landscape.

For homeowners who are ready to tackle an active water harvesting system like a rain barrel or cistern, Hunter recommends adding a passive water harvesting system next to the active one for when the container overflows.

Passive water harvesting swale next to active water harvesting cistern.

Using every drop of water through water harvesting is an important feature Hunter incorporates into all his landscape designs.

Local Expert: Hunter Ten Broeck, Landscape Contractor and owner of WaterWise Landscapes Incorporated in Albuquerque, NM.
Author: Jill Brown, ASLA Landscape Architect and owner of My Landscape Coach in Albuquerque, NM.

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