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Drops in a Bucket Blog, www.HarvestingRainwater.com, © 2008, 2014

Russ Buhrow standing in his field

Russ standing in his urban, stormwater-irrigated field

The following is one of my favorite water-harvesting stories. It comes from the life experience of one of my mentors, Russ Buhrow, and has inspired me in much of my work. It is amazing what Russ produced with stormwater, something too many people consider to be a waste or a liability. However, as Russ shows, stormwater is actually a great resource.

In the summer of 1980, plant-sciences graduate student Russ Buhrow decided to take a break from the books to gain hands-on knowledge through dry-farming in the middle of the simmering desert city of Tucson, Arizona, where annual rainfall averages 11 inches (280 mm). Taking his cue from the ancient traditions of indigenous Tohono O’odham, Russ raised his crops solely on direct rainfall and runoff harvested from short bursts of sporadic summer monsoon rains. Russ’s situation was somewhat different from his Native American neighbors, though. He didn’t farm alluvial flats of a healthy desert ecosystem where runoff from surrounding mountains flows down a braiding arroyo to a field. Instead, he farmed a semi-urban vacant lot between a dry riverbed and cinder-block apartment buildings. Rather than intercepting runoff from low-desert mountains and foothills, Russ learned to harvest runoff from rooftops, yards, parking lots, and a city street.

Runoff-irrigated gardens. Roof runoff from building in the background is caught in the diversion swale and directed to the gardens.

Runoff-irrigated gardens. Roof runoff from building in the background is caught in the diversion swale and directed to the gardens.

Russ began by observing the gradually sloping, arable vacant lot. Wheel ruts crisscrossed it. Random piles of compacted debris were strewn about, and dense weeds grew in depressions where rainwater and organic matter collected. “Ah ha!” thought Russ. “The weeds grow where the water is, so that’s where my garden will go!”

Click here [] to read my story about Russ’ urban water-harvesting endeavors in its entirety on my website, HarvestingRainwater.com.
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2 Responses

  1. Karl Lohmann says:

    The City of Gallup wants me to research and report about street runoff and contaminants that would prohibit its use for above ground agriculture. Can you help me find something authoritative that will persuade City authorities that street runoff and agriculture are compatible.

  2. Hey Karl! I definitely recommend checking out Brad’s books on rainwater harvesting: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

    Thanks for reading!

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