Lancaster’s (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, 2007, etc.) combination reference manual, how-to guide and environmental manifesto offers a wealth of information about “water stewardship” for gardens, landscaping and everyday household use.
Novices need not be intimidated by this revised edition’s abundance of charts and diagrams or its lengthy appendices: The material is simple to understand, and Lancaster’s friendly, conversational tone is accessible for all readers. Using eight common-sense principles as a guide—e.g., “Always plan for an overflow route, and manage that overflow water as a resource”—the author makes a cogent case for water conservation; namely, it’s ethical, and it saves money. He also details integrated permaculture practices, including the importance of understanding the sun’s angles for passive cooling and heating. According to Lancaster, it’s always best to plan drainage at the highest point of a watershed and then work down, allowing the water to spread to optimal locations—a method that can be achieved through thoughtful observation of the land. Careful planting of native vegetation also plays a crucial role, and the author suggests that “water-needy” fruit trees be placed close to the house, as they can easily be nourished by roof runoff or graywater from sinks, showers and washing machines. Readers who live in wet climates may feel underrepresented in this book—Lancaster lives on an eighth of an acre in Tucson, Ariz., and uses an average of less than 12 inches of rainfall annually—but his principles can be adapted to fit any terrain or climate. Though there are many practical ideas contained within these pages, readers shouldn’t expect A to Z gardening instructions laid out in an easy-to-flip format; instead, Lancaster presents design ideas and plenty of engaging food for thought, including some personal worksheets in Appendix 5, as well as photos and real-life examples of people who have successfully harvested water for sustainable use. For example, Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, an African farmer, feeds his family in a drought-prone area thanks to his handmade reservoirs and “fruition pits.” Likewise, the Howells of New Mexico have lived on rainwater alone for over 20 years. While not everyone will want to live completely off the grid, readers interested in preserving natural resources can apply Lancaster’s time-tested ideas to any lifestyle.
Valuable environmental insight—a conservationist’s delight.