Water in our gardens—how it works & why it’s important:
Water is critical in our gardens. Of course! We know it is the source of all life on this planet. Nothing grows without water. Nothing thrives without adequate water. Adequate means both quantity of water and quality of water. As we move into the future, we recognize that careful use—and re-use—of our water resources is critical.
Why fresh water is disappearing in our world:
When we were in grade school, we all learned about the water cycle. It moves evaporated water from our oceans to the mountains and returns to the bodies of water through the streams and rivers. Rinse and repeat. If the water cycle is working, we have unlimited fresh water. Right?
It turns out that the fresh water resources of our planet also have limits. Glaciers supply water from our highest mountains to areas with high population density (think India). These are disappearing at increasing speed.[1,2] Snowpack in our own Rocky Mountains is also varying from winter to winter. California’s snowpack this year is drastically reduced.
What about wells? Aquifers are long-term water storages underground. These are often connected to sub-surface water flows (water table). We draw down the water resources faster than they replenish. See what's happening to the Ogallala Aquifer.
Indiana, like many states, draws much of the municipal water supply from surface water storages built around the 1950’s. These lakes have been silting in since their creation. Griffy Lake, a previous water supply for the city of Bloomington covers about 109 acres, but the majority of the lake is only a few feet deep. Without dredging, the storage would fill in quickly. These surface storage lakes are also poor water quality as gas powered boats swarm over the lakes throughout the year.
We can all be smarter about our relationship with water. Here are some things you can do:
- Develop a relationship with your water—where it comes from, catch it if you can (ponds, rain barrels, tanks, natural swimming pools…)
From where does your water come? Develop a relationship with your water. Because water is so important to thriving homes, aim to have three sources of water available in an emergency. Simple water storages are in the soil (by having a higher percentage of organic matter in your soil). Store water in rain gardens and ponds. Stash it away in rain barrels and in cisterns. Wells and municipal water may be your primary source, but a cistern full of water may mean peace of mind.
Many dry towns and states of the west forbid rain barrels or larger tanks. Water falling on your roof is already promised to others down-stream from you. States, such as Colorado, are beginning to realize that rain barrels and tanks positively impact the flow of water downstream. In fact--increased vegetative cover may improve the tight cycling of water in an area. It can create even more precipitation for yourself and your neighbors as plants transpire water into the atmosphere. Learn the rules in your area. Work with your local and state officials. Educate them about your careful use of water; the power of creating storages; and the transformation of landscapes by the re-use of water.
- Use it carefully (point out the GT conservation number); and re-use it. (GT design does this, too)
Know how much your household uses and what you can do to conserve water in your home and garden. Do an audit of how much water your household uses. Some households use as much as 140 gallons of water per day for showers, dishes, laundry and more. The average household of four uses 400 gallons per day. When you use low-flow showerheads, water-saving laundry machines, and low-flush toilets, you reduce the amount of water. You are saving the earth and your pocket book. Reduce landscaping that needs irrigation in favor of plants that adapted to drier conditions. With the Garden Tower design, early user, Kathryn Sharp, reported a 90% reduction in water usage. All the while, she grew veggies and composted with worms. There are lots of ways to creatively reduce your water use.
Also, not all used water is the same. Any water used in the household that has been through the shower, laundry, dishwashing, or sink is considered gray water. (Water used in conjunction with toilets is black water; please take proper precautions!).
Your garden plants do not need potable water to be happy. Minerals, fats, and bits of vegetable material enhance gray water. Plants and other organisms in a gray water system use them well. (Please do be careful. Track gray water use in your Garden Tower so as not to overwhelm the soil organisms and plants with compounds such as oils and soaps.) Match the quality of your water supply to the need.
Re-use your water where you can—send it throughout different parts of your home and garden. Water houseplants with your dishwater. The garden tower also uses this kind of efficiency by re-using the water draining through the tower. This increases productivity and preserves nutrient density. Compost—including wonderful worm castings--enhance the water!
- Clean it before it leaves your home (gray water in your garden)
Imagine a vibrant garden
Taking responsibility for the quality of the water that leaves your garden is a great way to make a positive difference in the world. Start with conservation. Include reuse. Work to clean water through systems which mimic nature. These actions will help ensure our world is greener and brighter. Thank you.