Rainwater Harvesting Making News In Joshua Tree

( Joshua Basin Water District volunteer and Transition Joshua Tree Initiating Group member Karen Tracy authored this article. An edited version of the article appeared in the Hi-Desert Star, September 4, 2013. This is the complete article updated with hyperlinks. — ED)



“The wars of the next century will be about water.”

Ismail Serageldin

Former vice-president, World Bank in 1999


What great news to hear about Joshua Basin Water District’s (JBWD) interest in rainwater catchment! This is a step in the right direction. We’ll look at why in a moment, but first, what is rainwater harvesting or storm water catchment?

“Rainwater harvesting is the capture, diversion and storage of rainwater for a number of different purposes including landscape irrigation, drinking and domestic use, aquifer recharge and storm water abatement.” –Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting (PDF)

You may have seen storm water abatement next to the new JT Elementary School on Sunburst. Rainwater catchments in cisterns dot the landscape of India like immense art installations.



When storm water recovery came up at a recent meeting of the Board of Directors for the Joshua Basin Water District, I sat up, paying instant attention to this most important issue. This is the first time I’ve heard this vital topic brought up; it shows a promising direction for JBWD. The context for this deviation from business as usual is the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, IRWMP. (Some of us pronounce this alphabet soup “ir-wimp” referring fondly to this plan)

Water planning at this regional level as established by state law provides for the research and design of many kinds of water projects, as well as grants to pay for the studies and infrastructure. Mojave Water Agency, one of the stakeholders in this process describes the goal this way:

“The IRWM Planning process is a collaborative, stakeholder-driven effort to manage all aspects of water resources in the region, and will set a vision for the next 10-plus years of water management in the High Desert.”  www.mywaterplan.com

In other words, combining common interests, larger geographical areas must now plan for development of water distribution and its use, in 10 year increments.

Technicalities of IRWM Planning can be complicated; suffice to say that any local community falls to the bottom of the list when it comes to passing out grant money, if their projects are not well defined. I’m glad to see that JBWD is starting to define its grant requests, as the IRWMP cycle, which began recently, will be completed in 2014. You are invited to have your say in the planning process by visiting www.mywaterplan.com

By placing a study of storm water catchment, or rainwater harvesting, on this list of projects, JBWD joins a larger group of arid areas planning on putting to use this most precious resource, rainwater. All of us have witnessed sometimes-destructive flash floods running down our driveways and streets, washes and gullies. That water, often found pooling on the impermeable pavement of Hwy 62, is irretrievable and lost to a thirsty desert.

The definition of rainwater harvesting quoted above is taken from the Texas Water Development Board. The entire State of Texas is onboard with projects like this! So is Tucson, AZ. Many books are written on this subject; one author in particular, Brad Lancaster produces prolific advice regarding water usage in the desert. Check out his YouTube videos about rainwater harvesting.  I highly recommend a new film, “Last Call at the Oasis.”

We needn’t “re-invent the wheel” here with our studies. I advocate for JBWD because I care deeply; I wear a couple of different hats, both volunteer. I’m a citizen advisor and a docent for the demonstration garden, but this is not about one water district. This is about water basin-wide.

Locally, Transition Joshua Tree (TJT) teaches Permaculture principles and emphasizes the importance of slowing the rainwater runoff, spreading it around and sinking it into our land. Success stories of catchment include wells that used to seasonally go dry are now running wet year-round thanks to a Permaculture-based solution!  TJT Water Group advocates rainwater catchment off your roof. They have conducted free, public, water catchment workshops for the community.

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To Morongo Basin residents convinced that we don’t have enough rainwater to warrant this effort, the tanks pictured in the Water Group slide show have captured in excess of 3,000 gallons from rainfall this calendar year, 2013.

One of our ultimate authorities on ground water, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will be presenting a public workshop all about our aquifers this coming Oct. 18 here in the Morongo Basin. Save the date and stay tuned for more information. I am far from being “satiated” when it comes to learning about our precious water.

Water is everything in being able to stay here. Collaborating, working together, we can address longevity in the Mojave.

— Karen Tracy, Transition Joshua Tree Initating Group member