Different Sources of Water Off-Grid Include:
Rainwater - Rainfall is one of the most effective and most affordable ways to have water while living off grid. Depending on your location, you can have more or less of it, more or less frequently.
In order to effectively harvest Rainwater, you need to have catchment systems, filters (remove large impurities), purification (remove bacteria), and storage containers.
You also need to ensure your system is going to work well in your area. If you’re in the desert, you need to be able to catch more water (higher surface area). If your rain is all in one season, you’ll need larger storage containers (to last you throughout the year). If you get a lot of rainfall, you need to deal with flooding, overflow, and excess.
Rainwater is the first place to look for all your water needs but I highly recommend having backup systems in place as well for dry years, faulty systems, and excessive consumption.
(see the other blog on Rainwater Formulas and Calculating Usage)
Earthworks - This is designing your land to best use the water it gets. This includes rain as well as your watering systems. You want to make sure that every drop of that water is used in the best way and that none of the water becomes destructive.
Again, this depends highly on your location. As I’m in New Mexico, the 15 inches of rain all comes in August. I don’t want to lose that water, but I also don’t want it to flood my garden or wash away my soil.
So I build the land up to retain the water and at the same time protect my plants and soil.
A great resource for this is the book “Dryland Agriculture”.
An inspiring documentary where they used these methods to completely change a desert into a Garden of Eden is the Loess Plateau in Northern China. Check out the video on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QUSIJ80n50
There are a few steps to making earthworks work for you.
First, know your location. What is your rainfall? When does it come? Is it constant? Its it rough or gentle rain?
Then assess your property. Where does the rainwater pool? Where does it flow? Where does it irrode your soil? Where do you want it to go? How much leaves your property? How much is lost on wasted areas? (Driveway)
Once you have your basic understanding of the way things ARE, now you can figure out how you WANT them to be.
Use native plants, topography (slopes of the land) and man-made structures (retaining walls, berms, and logs) to direct water, hold water, and make sure it is where you want it to be.
In general, you don’t want to lose a single drop off your land.
Use elevation to your advantage. Collect as much runoff on the top or side of the hill and hold it there so it trickles naturally watering the whole slope rather than letting it pool at the bottom of the hill and your slope getting eroded/having no water throughout the year.
Video on Earthworks
Wells - Make sure your area has water beneath it before you start digging a well. Some areas are quite the journey to get to water and digging a well can be expensive. Other areas are more well friendly. Also you need to check with your local area to see if you can dig a well on your property. Luckily for New Mexico, all residents are permitted to dig wells on their property.
Beneath my property I have a water shelf and an aquifer. A water shelf is a smaller underground reservoir that is closer to the surface. An aquifer is much deeper and much larger underground body of water. I can dig to either one to get the water I need.
You need to talk to your local zoning department to check for your water availability.
There are a few videos on digging your own well on YouTube. Unfortunately, at my location the water is too deep so I have to hire professionals to do the digging.
This is my backup for my rainwater system. If the rain doesnt provide all the water I need, then I have a well from which I can supplement my water usage. I don’t depend on either one exclusively for fear of depleting it and being without.
How to dig a well:
Reservoirs - these are man-made ponds/lakes where you retain your water. These work best in areas of high rainfall. Check with your local authorities to ensure reservoirs are permitted on your property. Some locations have ruled that water is public use and cannot be stored like that.
New Mexico is dry and hot so reservoirs lose a lot of water to evaporation. While still possible to have one, it would lose water every year. I dont plan on using one just because I dont want to deal with the headache. If you can maintain a reservoir or even a natural pond or lake, be sure to take care of it. Plant shade trees over it to block some of the evaporation. Plant shrubs and bushes along the banks to hold the soil together with their roots. Keep the area clean and free of runoff, pollutants, and waste disposal. (see my humanure guide)
If you take care of your reservoir, you’ll be glad to have a large pool of water available when you need it. Plus you can go swimming, fishing, duck hunting etc whenever you want.
How to make a reservoir:
Natural Bodies of Water - If you have the money to buy or already have a property with a natural body of water on it, you are one of the few. Having a lake or pond on your property is a blessing but you still need to take care of it just like the reservoir above.
Control your evaporation. Whether you believe in climate change or not, you want to keep as much of that water on your property as possible. That includes controlling evaporation.
Use shade trees over the water, plant along the banks to stabilize the soil and do some research on how to best take care of water in your area. You don’t want to lose your pond in a few years because you didnt take care of it properly.
Tips for pond care:
Dew harvest - This is really cool. Some locations dont get a lot of rain but the temperature difference between night and day is huge. You have hot days and cold nights. This difference causes condensation and dew.
There have been organizations in Africa that have developed ways of collecting this dew for drinking water and cleaning usage. They use a plastic mesh hung high in the sky. When the dew collects on the mesh, it drips down into a basin at the bottom. Every day and every night it collects more and more water. Even without rainfall.
This is a brilliant invention and requires no mechanical assistance to maintain. They were designed to be built and maintained with only unskilled manual labor.
I don’t have one yet but I plan on building one and tracking how well it works in New Mexico.
Some different designs of dew harvesters:
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