[see also “Are you prepared for el Niño?

I’ve been thinking about rain a lot lately, especially since we have 151 adobe bricks laid out right now, supposedly drying in the sun.

We’ve had to do tarp-foraging, and monitor hourly weather forecasts, and get together a Tarping Team who can respond almost instantly, to give the bricks maximum sun, and minimum rain … but all that has simply added to my Rain Awareness.

When rain is forecast, I have this routine:  put away the garden tools & things that shouldn’t get wet; close the toolsheds; put out wildflower seed and maybe scatter some veggie seed (greens, especially); fertilize the fruit trees; pull in the bird feeder; check the rain barrels …

I’ve written before about my enchantment with rain barrels and why they’re important.  But in my “rain is forecast” check, I make sure the downspouts are pointed into them to fill them, and openings aren’t clogged with leaves or debris.  If barrels are full, I will often siphon water into some of my spare, disconnected barrels, so that the ones under the downspouts harvest even more water.

Yet all this busy preparedness overlooks the most basic thing of all, the biggest way in which most L.A. houses aren’t Ready for Rain, but could be, rather easily:  Infiltration.  That means simply letting the water soak into the ground.

When water soaks into the ground, it replenishes our groundwater basins.  It feeds the deep roots of the trees of our urban forest.

For decades, architects have been trained to design everything so that water flows away from buildings as fast as possible.  Down the downspouts, away from the buildings, into the gutters & stormdrains.  Send it away to the ocean …

… where it wreaks havoc on ocean ecosystems, at the same time as we’re fretting the problem of groundwater depletion.  ( Andy Lipkis has a great 5 min video which shows the craziness of this.)

Water is precious, yet we treat rain like a waste product!

Instead — particularly with a new UCLA study which forecasts that climate change will bring double to triple the number of extreme heat days to L.A. — we need to be changing around our landscapes so that everything soaks water into the ground.  Yes, permanent changes.  Because this is the new normal.

  • Turn downspouts so that they flow into infiltration pits.
  • Change grading, re-sculpting the shape of the land, so that it directs water to infiltrate rather than flow away.
  • Remove hardscape so that the earth can breathe and soak up rain.
  • Use organic mulch (“things that used to be plants”) to feed the soil microorganisms so that they open the pores of the soil and help it soak up water.
  • Change hardscape — sidewalks, patios, asphalt — so that it directs water toward places it can soak in, rather than sending everything to storm drains.

Every bit of rainwater that can be infiltrated, helps.  It all adds up.  Rainwater infiltration is in service of the Commons (something we’ve forgotten about in this individual-oriented society), and it’s a shift we’ve got to make now.

With infrequent rain and this ongoing drought in So Calif, I often think about Frank Herbert’s Dune.  There was a line in there where the main character realized that the people on the desert planet weren’t merely concerned about water: rather, they had moisture awareness.

Around here, that’s gotta be our new theme song.

Browse other posts about water saving ideas or get my Water Wisdom booklet.