Water Harvesting to Enhance Food Production--An Introduction

By Barbara Wishingrad, Sweetwater Collaborative

You’re excited about sustainable, organic, local food. Perhaps you’ve been gifted organic seeds from crops that did well in our local area, or you've gotten seeds or plant starts another way. You’ve worked the soil, and it’s teeming with microbes aching to connect with and nurture growing crops. The sun shines on your garden plot a good six hours a day. You’ve learned how or are looking into how to can, freeze, save, or give away your excess produce. You’re good to go!

But wait! Nothing will grow, and there’ll be no harvest, because you’re missing that one essential element that sustains life—one that we can’t do without. What’s that, you ask? Water!

Water availability, use and reuse are essential elements in any local sustainable food system.We need to get our water right to get our food right.

  Creating swales around fruit trees for tank overflow in a Sweetwater workshop


Fresh water accounts for only about three percent of all the water on the planet, and only one percent of that fresh water is readily accessible for our daily water supply needs. This supply is dwindling because of contamination, pollution, political and economic policies, and climate change.

Fifty percent of water used in southern California goes to our landscapes. We use drinking water to flush our toilets. In our Mediterranean climate, we have rain in the winter and a long dry season. We cannot create food security without creating water security. A full Lake Cachuma today does not mean replenished aquifers.  For long term sustainability, we need to plan how to make the most of our water. 

Planting a food forest during a Sweetwater worksho


But solutions abound! For every inch of rain that falls on a 1000 square foot roof, we can capture 600 gallons of water through a variety of means. We can create rain gardens to store water in the soil, helping edible plants survive between the rains. We can install rain tanks so that we can use the rainwater when we need it, on the plants that need it. Greywater, which includes all reused water from homes with the exception of that which comes from toilets, comprises 50 to 80 percent of residential waste water. We can direct this reclaimed water to the landscape, where it can nourish fruit trees and other food crops, so long as it doesn’t come in direct contact with any edible parts.


Here in Santa Barbara, Sweetwater Collaborative is leading the way. By offering hands-on workshops that install water harvesting and other sustainable systems in people’s homes and neighborhoods, we are bringing community together and setting the stage for long-term local food and water resilience.

Join us! We need both workshop hosts and volunteers to work, play, and learn with us. Contact Barbara Wishingrad, Sweetwater Collaborative Coordinator, atbwishingrad@gmail.com or 805-403-4566.  We are currently figuring out how to best offer our wisdom in ways that keep our community save from COVID19. Reach out if you want more iinfo.

Visit us at www.sweetwatercollaborative.org for more information.


This article was originally published at http://solfoodfestival.com/2013/09/12/water-harvesting-to-enhance-food-production/#more-881'