Water Resilience – A Necessity

090826_robyntanktops.jpgI haven’t gotten around to sending a Peak Moment newsletter this past couple of months because all our energy has been consumed with necessities: Infrastructure. In particular, our water systems. The requirement for water resilience has been underscored by Reality this summer.

We got our gravity-fed 4000 gallon water system functional (but not finished) for high-pressure fire hoses only one day before a wildfire broke out about eighteen miles down the canyon. Smoke and ash drifted into our woods, and the sunlight through smoke was an eerie yellow cast. By the time nearly 4000 acres burned, we were only two fire-widths away.

Our primary goal was to have the high-pressure water for fire hoses near the homestead when fire season was in full swing. We made it barely just in time, but those hoses have 75 psi (pounds per square inch) and could spray a dandy arc over the house.

The next water system emergency came about ten days later — last weekend. Our well is not recharging sufficiently to meet the needs of the three tenant-gardeners and four homesteads on our property. We risk burning out the existing pump. We had been working towards setting up a backup well — and now it’s on a fast-track of necessity. This second well will be connected to the existing water system, hopefully supplying water to everyone. (Note as of 8/30: it looks like the problem is circuit breakers in the generator. Good thing we already had the backup generator to swap in).

Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover from a difficult situation, a shock to the system. Water resilience for us means increased storage capacity and locations, redundant supply (multiple wells, pumps and generators), interconnections so any well can supply any site. (That doesn’t count rainwater catchment. Yet.)

The wildfire was a potent reminder of why we’re building water resilience.  We need resilience to response to climate chaos here in the arid west: extended drought, longer summers, increasing wildfires.

I’ll get to the newsletter and other niceties once this more-resilient water system necessity is functional.

Say, how are you set for water resilience — during drought, or if a water main is broken, or a power outage disrupts water pumping?


  1. Hi Janaia, Last year Jane and I found a paper online written by a retired physicist in a San Diego area where wildfires are also a high risk. He devised something he calls WEEDS (wind-enabled ember dousing system). You can check it out at http://www.mbartek.com/ . From studying fires he realized that a high percentage of homes catch fire from embers and firebrands blowing ahead of the fire front. Se he devised a system that consists primarily of ordinary lawn shrub nozzles mounted about every six feet under the eaves of his house. Within a year of installing this system, unfortunately, it was put to the test and his house was one of only a few that survived a wildfire in his neighborhood.

    We were sufficiently impressed that we decided to implement this system at our house in Grass Valley. We buried our 250 gal. propane tank underground, installed a 12kW backup generator tied directly to the propane tank, with a transfer switch in the garage to kick over to generator whenever PG&E drops out. This supplies, among other circuits, the power to our well, where we now have two pressure tanks and two 2600 gal. backup storage tanks tied-in both to the ordinary house and garden water system, and to the WEEDS system for fire defense.

    The pressure calculations turned out to be a bit tricky, because the particular brand of shrub nozzle specified in the original WEEDS document turned out to draw water at too high a rate, and — in the aggregate (36 nozzles on the whole house) — over-drew our pressure in relation to the pump rate (about 27 gal/min). So, we shopped around and found a nozzle that worked.

    Based on the well pump rate plus the pump rate in the backup storage tank system (two 2600 gallon tanks tied together to form a single 5200 gal system), combined with the low draw rate of the nozzles, we could actually keep our water defense system running for weeks, limited only by the amount of propane in our tank. It should keep running until the propane is gone.

    Here’s a photo gallery of our system in action:


  2. terri alice says:

    Hi Janaia, We are between Mariposa and Yosemite. The veggie garden is gravity fed. We have a Toto toilet. Working on refining a greywater system. Would like to use greywater to flush the Toto but want to avoid having to use a pump. Need to think it through more.
    I think the work of people like Geoff Lawton and Brad Lancaster on how to get more water into the ground as well as into tanks is very inspirational.
    We need to get over the idea that we can dominate nature and learn to live within our means.

  3. You know how when something’s on your mind, you attract things related to it? Well, water security is on my mind, what with the fires and all. So in one day these two articles came across my radar:

    Maybe these recent challenges with our own water infrastructure have simply heightened my awareness, but Water — and the limits to growth — sure are showing up on my radar.

    A Washington post article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/21/AR2009082101773.html) noted that “A water crisis is threatening many parts of the country — not just the arid West.” Why? “Droughts make matters worse, but the real problem isn’t shrinking water levels. It’s population growth.”

    And another: Water shortages wilts California’s agricultural San Joaquin valley. (http://www.newsweek.com/id/211381)

    That’s just one day. Water is showing the limits to (human population) growth all over the planet.

    It may turn out that water at Lone Bobcat Woods will determine the limits to growing food here in future. For now, we’re building resilience into our water infrastructure. We’ll have to wait and see.

  4. Hi terri alice,
    Thanks for your note — looks like you’re in really good shape, water-wise. Remind us where you’re located — You’ve got a prodigious amount of water storage. Do you have to pump your rainwater to the vegie garden, or is it gravity fed?

    Our house supply has two filters: one for sediment, and a Multi-Pure for drinking water.

    Do you use water for toilets, or have a composting toilet?

    Way to go!

  5. terri alice says:

    We have our well and pump using solar, or propane generator into an 8,000 gallon tank. Water is gravity fed down to the house. We are developing a rainwater catchment system. Thus far we collect off the back half of the house into a 3,000 gallon tank which we use to irrigate the vegetable garden for part of the summer. We need at least one more tank for the veggies. We want to put in several tanks under a collecting roof up above our small orchard. Goal is to get all food production from collected rainwater.
    We are going to put a whole house filter coming into the house supply and looking at a Berky ceramic gravity fed filter for emergency use.

  6. We have water stored for 2.5 gallons per person/day (and 0.5 gallon/day for the cats) for two weeks in addition to water filtering and water purifying equipment. In our location we also live about 1 mile from the American river and Sacramento river. We feel relatively resilient for a water emergency but more redundancy is always a good idea.

    Wow those cisterns are huge next to Robyn! Do y’all get enough wind to justify a wind mill water pump?



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