You are on page 1of 15


John Walton University of Texas at El Paso


Challenge: How to maintain a lush green environment in the Chihuahuan Desert? Solution: Passive Rainwater harvesting Why use passive rainwater harvesting rather than active like most everyone else? How does it work in theory? Will it work in El Paso? How can I implement it in my yard, subdivision, and city?

Basic Concept

Development adds impermeable surfaces: roads, roofs, sidewalks, driveways Harvesting water from these areas multiplies the available moisture above the climatic norm If only 20% of the lot has plants, El Paso is as wet as Atlanta If desert species are used, 80% or more of typical El Paso lawns can be tree and brush covered with no watering

Capture Zone
Impermeable areas concentrate water in vegetated areas Consider that if rainfall is increased by 5X, El Paso has a lot of water for watering trees.

capture area
native plants

capture area/plant area

Stormwater periodically diverted to shallow depressions with native vegetation

swale swale


But it doesnt rain very often, where do we store the moisture?

Natures place to store water is in the soil A year ago we had a wet winter followed by a dry spring Everything in the desert bloomed because the winter precipitation was stored in the soil This natural process can be enhanced to store the moisture in the soil beneath the yard Native species are very drought resistant

Soil Moisture Storage

Why Passive?

Active rainwater harvesting stores water in a tank; passive rainwater harvesting stores water in the soil natures way of storing water during dry periods Most hydrological methods are designed for non-desert locations & dont work well here, the time period between precipitation events in El Paso and the hot climate mean very large tanks are required for active systems The cost of active rainwater systems is dominated by the cost of the storage tank Passive systems always payback financially, active systems generally do not in this climate Passive systems simply enhance natural processes design with nature

Soil stores more water than tanks at lower cost (free)

The soil can store the equivalent of 1-2 feet deep of water over the entire yard Tanks store much less water and are expensive In desert climate tanks are only useful for watering small flower or herb gardens

Mesquite Root System

Mesquite Roots

How is it done?

Divide your yard into watersheds Think of where every portion of the roof/sidewalk/driveway drains Make shallow rock filled depressions to receive the runoff and allow it to infiltrate into the soil Use landscape cloth to prevent weed growth, water cannot be stored if it is robbed Plant native vegetation with density related to capture area/ growth area (roof area per unit yard) Plants will need watering for about a year, until roots are established

Accidental Example Near UTEP


Passive rainwater harvesting works in El Paso Saves money Saves water Provides a green, shaded lot, not a bunch of hot rocks Active systems generally not appropriate for El Paso except for watering flower or herb gardens with non-chlorinated water