ECO ACRE WATER AND GARDENING
One of the most important if not the most important resource for sustainable living in the desert is Water. Development, sanitation, gardening and life itself requires water. We started at EcoAcre bring up enough water to drink and later would have a barrel in the car and pump it into another one in the house. We learned to use very little water for all our activities. After the well was drilled the well driller said we were only getting a quart a minute, which he though would not be enough to live on. After more than a month of only having what we could carry One quart a minute from our own land seemed like a miracle. After a full day we would get 60 quarts an hour or 1,440 quarts a day or 360 gallons all free from our land and pumped by solar energy. There are many villages in the world that would be able to thrive on that much water.
The well in the early days when we lived in a trailer and just had a few solar panels. But after carrying all our water in a barrel in the car a quart a minute was like a gusher. The well, electrical connection and controls are left of center behind the beach chair. The sand is from drilling the well.
The drill rig uses a massive compressor to operate a pneumatic drill head that rotates and hammers an 8 inch bit that cuts through the granite rock. It took two days to drill 200 feet in order to reach enough water for our needs.
A very simple solar powered well. The PV panels charge a battery that runs a small inverter to power a submersible pump 200 feet into the granite. The large white pipe in the center is the well casing. Battery is in the background. The blue tank is a pressure tank needed to avoid cycling the pump. This was an initial installation that would provide less than 100 gallons per day. For more irrigation we added more PV panels and batteries.
Close-up of the well. The blue tank is a pressure tank that stores and pressurizes some water. The white pipe is the well with a blue well cap that supplies the electricity to the pump and delivers the water from the center pipe. To the right is a pressure relief valve, next the pressure switch and the pressure gauge. The blue device next to the faucet is a water meter to track the amount of water delivered. The larger grey box is the electrical control and the plug for the pump. On the right is a water filter to remove the sand and grit that comes out of a freshly dug well. On the ground is an air compressor used to pressurize the water tank and to determine how high the water level is in the well.
Even though water from your own well might be considered “free” it is limited and uses capacity from the solar panel which also has daily limits. If water is over used the well can run dry and will take a day or so to refill. Also the batteries can be run down and require generator power to recharge if enough solar is not available. If a faucet is left running we can empty the well and discharge the batteries. Leak can do the same. So at Eco Acre we use the most water saving measures, devices and appliances to conserve our precious water supplies. Once the well kept running out along with the batteries and I was worried that the well might have run out which could require several thousand dollars to redo or we would have to connect to the public water system down the road at a cost of about $50,000. After investigating I finally found the flapper valve in the toilet had failed and water was coming into the tank and flowing right out. A $5 part fixed the problem.
A flapper less toilet from Glacier Bay has a float valve that fills the little plastic bucket in the tank. When the flush handle is pressed the little bucket tilts to the side and dumps water in the bowl. This model uses 1.2 gallon per flush. Toilets used to use 3 to 5 gallon per flush. This model is no longer available.
This is the new toilet made by Glacier Bay. It was developed by Niagara Conservation and uses only .8 gallons per flush. It is extremely effective and quiet as well. It is called the “Stealth” model and uses an innovative system that utilizes the vacuum created by water leaving the storage tank to help evacuate the bowl. Using less water and reducing the noise made by high pressure flush systems. Note the sprayer on the left it is connect to the warm water supply and makes cleaning easier.
The shower and bath have hose mounted pressure heads that are water saving, allow the spray to be directed where desired. Have a massage setting and can be turned off to rinse without having to turn off the faucets. Old style handles are used instead of the newer single handle controls because it is easier to ensure that only cold or hot water is flowing and they’re easier and less expensive to repair.
The kitchen faucet uses the two handled valves and also has a sprayer to direct water where desired. The faucet aerator can also spray and the little lever on the back of it is a fingertip control to turn off the water instantly while rinsing dishes. On the far right is a dispenser for the reverse osmosis system if ultra-pure water is desired. The well water is safe and tasty for most uses.
Above and below are solar water distillation units. They can turn salty, dirty, microbe invested water into pure distilled water and be a life saver. The one at the top is plastic and portable and can make a few liters of distilled water a day. I use the water for the batteries on my PV system.
This is a simple homemade system made of glass and silicone rubber. It is 30 years old and has been patched together after a few accidents. This design can be scaled up to produce many gallons a day.
Collecting rainwater is a good idea in the desert, but with only occasional rains the large size and the problem of keeping water fresh over long periods of time made us consider other options. Since we had to excavate more than 2000 cubic feet of soil to build the home we chose to dig from a site on the property where rain runoff from our property and nearby land would stream through during heavy rains. The runoff also flooded the back half of our acre and a neighbor’s lot. This deep hole went down to the bedrock and was near our well so it could serve as a percolation pond that could fill with rainwater and allow it to soak into the water table effectively storing large quantities of water underground protecting it from evaporation and contamination. Essentially free secure storage for several thousand gallons of water.
After heavy rains the pit fills with thousands of gallon of water. In a good year the pond with still have water in it for a few months and toads may even breed. If there are any mosquitos we put in mosquito fish that control and eliminate the larvae in a few days. The water table in our lot has risen and what was once very hard water has much less minerals after all the rainwater has percolated down.
This has reversed the usual fate of water in the desert where human activity usually depletes the ground water and adds salt and minerals that may eventually make the water unsuitable for drinking or agriculture.
WATER FOR GARDENING
For truly sustainable living at least some food production is desirable. The best part is that that many vegetables grown from your own garden can be easily and cheaply produced, can be picked as needed and are fresher and are totally organic if you use your own compost and avoid chemical fertilizers and treatments for pests.
We use these battery powered irrigation controls instead of the usual lawn sprinkler controls because of garden’s distance from AC power. These can be fairly easily set to operate for as much time as desired either for different lengths of time and mutilple times a day or for different days of a week. There is also a manual setting that will run for as many minutes as you set. There are solar powered multiple station controllers and even water sensors that will only turn on water when the roots need it and turn off the water when a desired soil moisture level is reached. Those system are fairly expensive but for larger operations well worth the expense.
To distribute water with minimal waste drip or micro-sprinklers are used. There are many types of emitters which spray, sprinkler, fog or drip some have fixed delivery rates while some are adjustable. The important feature is that they can deliver just the right amount of water in the best way to the desired location. You can see the little sprayer in the middle of this picture watering a container cherry tomatoes.
Above is a dripper for a strawberry plant in a container. Slow deep watering is the best for most plants.
This is a mini sprayer they are adjustable to water an area up to a few feet.
Here is a dripper on a set to water an area about a foot in diameter for a cherry tomato.
A mini sprinkler watering part of a keyhole garden. The wire cylinder to the right is for composting and pouring wash-water directly in to the garden.
A sink with a garbage disposal next to the garden. Food waste and some wash water is put into the disposer to be ground up and then poured into the garden. It is much easier, faster and effective than traditional composting and recycles the water as well. When vegetable are first cleaned here the trimmings and water can go right back into the garden. It is also convenient for potting plants.
Keyhole Gardens were developed for use in Africa it uses permaculture principles to produce fresh vegetables in hot arid climates the design conserves water and nutrients. The wire basket in the back is where food wastes and water can be poured to nourish the plants.
This is the garden right after construction in August. The rocks also stabilize the temperature and allow the soil to breathe
This is the same garden a month later with a variety of lettuces, spinach, beets, basil, peppers, green beans, snow peas and eggplants. It provided greens, cabbages, carrots and cool weather crops through the winter. And many plants had re-seeded themselves for the spring and summer season. We have other organic garden beds on the property and some container plants , but the keyhole garden is far more productive for the effort, resources and l