Homepage 2019 » Forums » Water Sustainability » Does harvesting rainwater keep water away from rivers?

This topic contains 7 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  pigeon92 4 years, 3 months ago.

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    I’ve been trying to find scientific evidence to support the idea of keeping resources on your property. What about the guy downstream? What if he wants to build a food forest but you are keeping the water from running on to his property?

    This is an important question for me as a Kansan, we haven’t had water in the Arkansas River for a few years, and that water helps recharge the aquifer which is being depleted rapidly, even more rapidly without the river recharging it. Right now it is illegal for Colorado to harvest rainwater because they have a legal responsibility to allow runoff to reach the river so it can flow into Kansas. Is this bad legislation? Here is some info regarding the issue that I found online…


    I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s an important question.



    I have no scientific data to back this up but based on my observations the exact opposite is true. In fact I don’t think a river recharges the aquifer at all. Instead it is the result of a healthy aquifer that is so full that water has reached the surface and become runoff. Well in a perfect world. In your example Colorado is forced to immediately turn the water into runoff. Instead of allowing it to soak into you soil and recharge your aquifer it is dumped into the river where is does not soak into the ground but moves quickly out to the ocean. When that water reaches Kansas it is basically at the lowest point around so anyone uphill is gonna stay dry. And the water isn’t taking it’s time. Before it has time to soak into the already saturated river bottom it is washed down to the Mississippi and out to the Gulf. Now imagine if everyone stopped all the rain on their land. Catch every drop and provide areas to hold it and allow it to sink into the earth. For starters we have just put an end to flash flooding. When it rains the only immediate increase in water in the river will be what falls directly onto it. After some time the water soaks into the ground and the river rises. But much slower and it stays fuller longer. Also the water ins’t brown and dirty with eroded material. Making it soak into the ground filters it. Having swales and other water retention is basically forcing that water to stop and sink into the aquifer. And if the guy up stream from me is filling the land with water eventually it will work its way down to me. Sure it’s a lot slower but it’s a lot more stable and better for the aquifer and the environment.

    My house is on a hill. There is a stream on the east and a stream on the west. By retaining water I have caused a permanent rise in the eastern stream which is causing a large stretch along both sides to turn to marsh. On the western stream I have had a permanent spring appear from the hillside on my property which there has never been a spring there in the 60+ years of the property being in my family. This is in the mid Atlantic with average rainfall around 45 inches a year and I started about 5 years ago.

    Here is a discussion on why water in lakes and rivers doesn’t soak into the ground and is actually an expression of the aquifer level :

    Lastly some questions. If Colorado has to take the water that falls on their land and give it to Kansas, isn’t it only fair that Kansas take the their rains and give it to Oklahoma? And does Kansas use the runoff from Colorado but give their runoff away or do they have to give away all of the water as it all would have gone to Oklahoma anyway? And same question from Oklahoma to Arkansas, Arkansas to Mississippi, Mississippi to Louisiana, and Louisiana to … well I guess they win.



    The aim of permaculture is to retain the rain as long as possible on the land. This is done by a series of swales that distribute the water widely and allow it to soak into the ground. The effect of this is to prevent run-off and erosion, build up the soil moisture and provide clean, filtered water in springs and streams downhill.

    In a similar way, the Holistic Management of livestock aims to restore grasslands with the same effects.
    title=”River Restoration in Zimbabwe – Countering the Savory Deniers “

    Where these principles have been applied the observed effects on adjoining properties have been entirely beneficial, as would be expected.



    Sorry, I got the HTML tags wrong in my post and can no longer edit it. The two videos I wanted to reference are : —

    Permaculture Water Harvesting Through Swales, http://youtu.be/v3vcf1F10oQ

    River Restoration in Zimbabwe – Countering the Savory Deniers , http://youtu.be/LOXwotfoj30



    Thank you both for your comments! I am a believer, but it can be hard to convince others based on unproven theories. I live in a conventional farming community and am working to build a ranch based in permaculture. My husband and I are building the fencing now for our paddock system to use Allan Savory’s holisitic principles. I certainly hope we can see the kind of improvements that the youtube videos show, but even I have my doubts. We are learning all that we can and hope to employ the principles appropriately.

    I wonder if Kansas should advocate for Colorado to dismiss their policy on harvesting rainwater. If I am understanding what you both are saying, the water flows slowly underground towards the same rivers and streams, but now is cleaner and has nourished the other correlating parts of the ecosystem, like the aquifer.

    I do wish there was more data, experiments, etc… to reference! The chemical companies and extension offices have a lot of data that they show to farmers yearly, convincing them to use their “best practices”. It is hard to compete with that.



    The Savory Institute have addressed that very need of scientific validation.

    http://www.savoryinstitute.com/current-news/current-news/evidence-supporting-holistic-management/ title=”Evidence Supporting Holistic Management”>

    “We have compiled a portfolio that includes peer-reviewed journal articles, theses and dissertations, and reports on Holistic Management.”



    If anyone is in doubt as to the need for better management of our pasture lands then this short video will allay those doubts. See the difference in the absorbability of grassland managed with time-based feeding with long, full recovery of the grasses before being grazed again.

    1 inch of water takes 10 seconds to infiltrate the soil.

    Compare this with the soil of the grassland, just over the fence, managed with season-long grazing.

    1 inch of water takes 7 minutes and 3 seconds to infiltrate the soil.

    After nine months of cropping, just next to this, even though the soil was not worked, it has further compacted and lost its ability to infiltrate the rain falling on it remarkably.

    1 inch of water takes 31 minutes and 13 seconds.

    Each inch of water shed as run-off loses 150 to 200 Lbs of grass production along with loss of nutrients from the soil and loss of soil though erosion.

    They say “Seeing is believing”: watch this short video and believe!

    Grassland Soil Health: Infiltration http://youtu.be/i_JOTeMg7Cw

    “Published on Apr 3, 2013

    When the rain comes, will your soil be ready? Management of grasslands is paramount to the health of our soil and water resources. Recently, conservationists with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Dakota have been studying the effects that management has on soil properties, such as infiltration, and the results are dramatic. Studies like these show that infiltration is significantly impacted by the management practices being implemented on the land.

    Increased infiltration resulting from better management means that the water that falls on an operation will benefit that operation. Changes in management don’t have to be drastic to have a positive influence on infiltration and ultimately the health of your natural resources and your bottom line.

    Learn more about soil and how to keep it healthy and productive.
    Visit the Soil Health Information Center: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health/

    For more information on this infiltration project, contact NRCS South Dakota at (605) 352-1200 or visit http://www.sd.nrcs.usda.gov. NRCS field offices are located across South Dakota and can help you learn more about soil and management practices for better soil health.

    For information about range and pastureland management in South Dakota, visit: http://www.sd.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/Range_Pasture.html



    My name is Michael, I have some training in environmental sciences and would like to add what I know to this discussion.

    Whether keeping water resources on your property is beneficial or harmful to your neighbor (near or far) depends on a great deal of factors. These include soil permeability, aquifer size, aquifer depth, local river source and end, average annual rain fall, average temperature, collection means, and local ecosystems. A lot of this data can be found online through the U.S.G.S. website and can help determine what should be safe.

    If you live over a large aquifer that is fairly close to the surface, collecting rain water for personal use should be fine. Unless you have nearly impermeable soil, then that water needs to flow somewhere with more permeable soil to recharge the aquifer. If your river comes from surface water runoff, and you have limited rain fall, you should allow the water to runoff into the river instead of collecting it. This is particularly true if the river terminates in a lake, pond, or other form of standing fresh water, less so if it terminates in a saline body. If much of your local wildlife still utilizes the water resources on or near your property, collecting that water can mean that those animals will start to suffer, or they may spend more time interfering with what you’re trying to do. If you collect most of your water in soil basins, low areas you create for this purpose, you create unexpected standing water. This can help recharge the local aquifer directly under your basins, but takes water from other aquifers that the water may have flowed towards. That’s really only a problem if the local area is dotted with many small aquifers instead of a single larger one, or even a few larger ones. If you live in an area that is particularly dry, collecting rain water can be beneficial to you, but be careful and not collect too much, as that will harm others. Also, if you are in an area prone to flash floods, collect the water in man made containers or very carefully designed basins. If you collect the water in simple basins, you can suffer from more localized flash flood damage, or potentially soil liquefaction.

    These are just some basic ideas, and your specific situation needs to be studied pretty thoroughly before you design much with this. In most cases a single rain barrel to water some plants is safe, but much more will change your local water system. Also, in some areas collecting rain water is illegal, so make sure you won’t get into trouble collecting your rain water runoff.

    As for whether or not Colorado’s runoff will affect Kansas, it would take a detailed survey of the water system in the area to determine that. I do not know if one was done before enacting the law you are referencing.

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