The Value and Importance of Water Retention on our Land

One of the most valuable things to do for ourselves, future generations and all life on earth, in this climate crisis, is to find ways to capture rainwater on the land to soak into the groundwater and aquifers as it is meant to and regenerate the life of our planet.


“Water Retention Landscapes are the healing impulse urgently required by the Earth and all her creatures. They can and must arise in every place where people regain the courage, strength and also of course, the knowledge needed to create them. (…) We must not get accustomed to a state where something that is actually self-evident appears to us as an unrealistic utopia. A world in which all people have free access to sufficient water, energy and food is completely feasible.”   (Bernd Mueller)



“We humans have the knowledge of how to transform deserts and semi-deserts back into living landscapes traversed by fresh spring water streams. In most cases desertification isn’t a natural phenomenon but the result of incorrect water management on a global scale. Deserts don’t arise because of a lack of rain, but because humanity treats water in the wrong way.”  Source



“There are plenty of ways to hold the rainwater on the land that can be used in various combinations. Creating retention areas can involve building check dams, swales, terraces, deep plowing along the keylines or using land stewardship techniques such as reforestation, organic farming and special pasture management, e.g. Holistic Planned Grazing.The basic principle of a Water Retention Landscape is that no rainwater should run off, but rather infiltrate into the soil where it falls. The absorbed rainwater goes into the aquifers and is purified, energized and mineralized. All outflowing water is spring water, steadily supplying humans, flora and fauna with liquid life – even during long periods without rainfall.”


Key Learnings

  • Water is the missing link for reversing climate change.
  • It’s possible to achieve water autonomy in our region and everywhere in the world.
  • When restoring the natural water cycles, we take the first, indispensable step for restoring ecosystems and lay the foundations for self-sufficiency.
  • Wherever you are, make sure rainwater doesn’t run off, but instead filters into the aquifers.”  Source

Catching Rain Water (Source:

Water Retention Landscape (Source:


Hope in a Changing Climate – by John D. Liu

Hope in a Changing Climate optimistically reframes the debate on global warming. Illustrating that large, decimated eco-systems can be restored, the BBC World documentary reveals success stories from Ethiopia, Rwanda and China which prove that bringing large areas back from environmental ruin is possible, and key to stabilising the earth’s climate, eradicating poverty and making sustainable agriculture a reality.

December 2017 Update on RCC Raingarden/Bioswale Project


Here are pictures taken this summer and fall of the progress on the Project. Chas Rogers has done an amazing job – not only writing the grants, but coordinating the work and DOING a huge amount himself!  We just had a big planting day before Thanksgiving and LOTS of folks showed up – RCC students as well as SRV members!

There is more to come (big boulders and more plants in early 2018), so check back from time to time to watch the progress!  And go to RCC to check it out in person!

Shaping the land
An unusual summer rain storm gave a nice test of the newly shaped waterway!
Digging out an old culvert
Chas – the rock guy!
Lovely mountains of wood chips to top dress it all
Coir bales to slow the flow of water down as it flows into newly created rocky spillway


Lots of help on the first Planting Day!


Newly installed full color metal interpretive Sign and some happy planters!
And the first good test of the flow…


Well done! Yea team!

Water Conservation Done Creatively

The following article was just posted by Utne – an online and paper magazine.  Sustainable Rogue Valley is presently in the midst of creating a large demonstration Rain Garden and Bioswale at Rogue Community College Campus in Grants Pass, OR., and created and care for a small version at the Josephine County Fairgrounds in 2016.

Communities across the country are devising creative ways to make water conservation work.

By Cynthia Barnett, from Orion

Rain-Tank jpg
Trudge the sidewalks northwest to Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, hang a left on Vine Street toward the sound, and a ten-foot-tall, bright blue rain tank pops from the dullness, tipped whimsically toward a red brick office building.
Photo By Buster Simpson

On a winter’s day in Seattle, a leaden monotony hangs over the Central Business District, dispiriting to this part of downtown. Contrary to reputation, the urban pallor is not born of rain, which falls almost imperceptibly from silvery clouds that match the nearby waters of Puget Sound. Rather, the gloom rises from the cement hardscape. The busy streets are paved dark gray, the wide sidewalks beside them light gray. The skyscrapers rise in shades of gray. The hulking freeways, ramps, and overpasses: gray. The monorail track and its elephantine pillars: gray.

Trudge the sidewalks northwest to Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, hang a left on Vine Street toward the sound, and a 10-foot-tall, bright blue rain tank pops from the dullness, tipped whimsically toward a red brick office building. Atop the tank, green pipes in the shape of fingers and a thumb reach out, the stretched index finger connected to a downspout from the rooftop. Rainwater flows from roof to finger to palm to thumb, from which it pours to a series of descending basins built between the sidewalk and the street. They, in turn, cascade to landscaped wedges growing thick with woodland plants. For two blocks, as Vine slopes toward the sound, water trickles down a runnel and through street-side planters, shining stones, and stepped terraces, enlivening the roadway with greenery, public sculpture, and the sounds of falling water.

The project, called Growing Vine Street, began as a small, water conservation effort among residents and property owners to turn their stretch of a former industrial neighborhood into an urban watershed. Twenty years later, it is a big part of the answer to the largest single source of pollution fouling Puget Sound and most of the major bays and freshwater ecosystems of the United States—stormwater.

The gray shellac of a city repels more than the imagination. When rain flows along streets, parking lots, and rooftops rather than percolating into the ground, it soaks up toxic metals, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, feces, and every other scourge that can make its way to a gutter. This runoff impairs virtually every urban creek, stream, and river in Washington. It makes Pacific killer whales some of the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet. It’s driving two species of salmon extinct, and kills a high percentage of healthy coho within hours of swimming into Seattle’s creeks, before they’ve had a chance to spawn.

Returning some of nature’s hydrology to the cityscape can make an enormous difference—or could—as more individuals, businesses, and neighborhoods remake their bit of the terra firma. Washington State University scientists have found that streets with rain gardens clean up 90 percent or more of the pollutants flowing through on their way to the sound. Green roofs reduce runoff between 50 and 85 percent and can drop a building’s energy costs by nearly a third. Cisterns like the one on Vine Street solve two problems, reducing runoff and capturing water for outdoor irrigation—which in summer can account for half a city’s freshwater demand.

Beautiful, hard-working Rain Gardens

Rain GardenThe following is a blog post from The Holistic Garden blog by Barb Allen:

Last fall we built a rain garden that collects rainwater that runs from the roof and driveway. Normally this water would have run down the slope behind the house into a creek and off the property. Now it fills up the rain garden and soaks into the ground in a few hours, replenishing the groundwater that feeds our well. In the midst of a serious drought that’s pretty comforting.  It worked so well, we’re creating mini-rain gardens and swales all over the property now to slow down the flow and allow it to soak into the soil.

I have a half acre of garden that I water through the dry summer months, so it would be hard to store enough water in a cistern or in plastic tanks to take care of 4 – 5 months of watering. And the house is down slope from the garden so I couldn’t figure out a way to collect it in tanks and get it uphill to the garden. I chewed on that problem for a couple years. Then, in the process of looking for answers online, I ran across the concept of “rain gardens”, and the fact that they hold water, allowing it to soak into the soil and replenish the groundwater.  Around the same time I came across a story by Geoffrey Lawton of Permaculture fame, about a property where they put in a series of swales running down a slope. After a couple years of collecting rainwater in the swales, a spring popped out on the hillside!  Suddenly the idea of saving rain water in the GROUND seemed like the simplest and most natural solution!

Rain Garden project - digging started.
Rain Garden project – digging started.

Rain gardens were created originally for a more urban/suburban setting, as one solution to the problem of the massive amounts of rainwater that flow from roofs and driveways, patios and streets into storm drains and from there into local streams and rivers, carrying all sorts of nasty pollutants picked up along the way.  Before humans created so much impervious surface – rain used to soak into the ground in forests, meadows and prairies – continually recharging the aquifers and groundwater which in turn fed streams and rivers. Now we are using up the water in the these aquifers faster than it is being replaced. Much faster.  The pollution-filled water that runs off the hard surfaces and into streams and rivers is causing un-natural flooding and all sorts of serious problems for fish and wildlife.

Starting to add log edges to rain garden
Starting to add log edges. Next we added logs to the center of the berms, creating “hugelkulturs” on either side.

There are campaigns all across America, Australia and the UK, working to encourage homeowners and businesses to build rain gardens to deal with this runoff from impermeable surfaces. I read of at least one area that is now requiring any new home or business being built, to include a rain garden big enough to handle all the rain water from the roof, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots.

The idea is really fairly simple. A depression is dug at the lower end of a property – or somewhere at least 10 feet from the house or building, 25 feet from a septic tank and away from underground utility lines.  It is then partially re-filled with light compost, sandy loamy soil and gravel, and planted with mostly native perennial and annual plants that can take being very wet occasionally. The water from the roof is directed to the depression. Beyond that there are a number of ways that you can design one.

Rain garden one year later!
Finished Rain Garden one year later. You can see the same black-eyed susans blooming in the background on the right!

If you do an “Image” Search for “rain garden” online, you will see many interesting examples.  Ours was created to be a decorative part of the landscape and Bryon did some artistic things with rock. Many rain gardens you will see images of, are large beds that are hard to distinguish from a normal flower bed.

The University of Wisconsin has a free manual that’s an excellent introduction to the basics of building one.  You will find many resources online, including videos. Some may overwhelm and confuse you. But Wisconsin’s gives you the basics. From there you can get as creative as you want.  You don’t need to bring in heavy equipment to do this, although some are built this way. Granted, moving a lot of dirt is not light, easy work. But it can be done without tractors and backhoes. If you can’t do one big enough to capture all the rainwater from your roof and driveway you can create one large enough to at least capture SOME of it. Or create a couple small ones in different parts of your property.

Rain Garden - madrone retaining wall
Rain Garden – madrone poles and rock formation

Two things it might help to know:  These are NOT ponds. The water is meant to drain into the soil within 24 hours or less, so they are not breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Inflow into the Rain Garden
Inflow into the Rain Garden from the gutter and driveway

If you live in town and are not on a well, building a rain garden is simply a responsible thing to do. You will be benefiting everyone, by dealing with the results of rain falling on your impermeable surfaces and in the process helping to recharge the groundwater we all use. It’s a bit like recycling. One rain garden won’t make a big difference, but if lots of people build them, the effects can be profound. I read a story of a neighborhood that was beginning to suffer from regular flooding of the roadways. The neighbors got together and all built rain gardens on their properties and solved the problem!

We all use the groundwater.  It supplies the water used to grow the food we eat, and for every aspect of our lives. Everything you eat, everything you wear, every product you use, every living plant or animal you see anywhere around you is dependent on water for its creation… fresh unpolluted water. And then there is washing, cooking, and toilets! It’s rain water that sustains much of that supply of water that is then stored in the ground ready for our use.

Rain Garden Over-flow
Rain Garden overflow to the west.

Rain gardens are a small sustainable way we can actually DO something to balance out the water we use.

Rain garden viewed from the west side
Rain garden viewed from the west side

If you have a well, rain gardens and swales are a directly important tool for making sure the groundwater that feeds your well is regularly recharged with the rain that falls on your land. It’s simple, natural and sustainable.

Building a rain garden is a way to help insure that we all have an ongoing supply of clean fresh water for all the ways we use it on into the future. You can feel good that you are doing something to mitigate the problem – not add to it! Yea…

Rain garden, Zen garden and bench
Rain Garden and new “zen garden” in the background – with a bench!

Another great guide to building a Rain Garden