New Water Collection Technologies for the Okanagan

As we move to reclaim natural water processes in the valley grasslands of the Okanagan, we will need new water collection technologies. The systems we have now (upland lakes turned into reservoirs, dry streams, abandoned hillsides and expensive networks of pipes and pumps) are colonial. They are not of this place. They also require a lot of this, which, although most exquisite urban sculpture is very water expensive, too:


Water-generated Electrical Power

Think of it as a controlled lightning storm in the mountains, but right here, kazot!

There is much that has never been tried. In this spirit, here are some  water collection devices that could be developed into new technologies. Some are organic. Some are not. All use gravity or heat and pressure differences (caused by or enhanced by gravity). None require large, expensive infrastructure developments that lock us into one model for half centuries at a time.

1. The Half Cone


Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root

Each leaf is a cupped shallow trough, tilted inwards, with a backsplash wall to force water inward to a channel around a central spine, down which water runs to the core of the plant at the centre. As the plant slowly goes dormant, the leaves begin to tilt outward, depositing water outside of the plant’s core to the ring where seeds are scattered by feeding birds.

Devices like this could be cheaply manufactured and used to concentrate rainwater around seedling plants, or into a central collection device. Here’s a similar principle:

2. A Cone of Sticks

p1160517Blue-Bunched Wheatgrass in Winter Plumage

This is the signature grass of the West. It’s a very fine-leafed grass that grows very woody flowering stems that last for a couple seasons after they have died back in the late summer. The typical brown August hills of the grasslands take on their colour from these stalks. It’s not that the hills are dead, however. The stalks fan out in a cone, catch rain water, or even dew, and drop by drop funnel it down to the lush green leaves at the core of the plant. 

Here it is in the early summer:


Bunchgrass in June

The weight of the seed has not yet lowered the stalks into a cone shape, where the plant will dry into the shape it will hold in the dry season. Note that the weight of the water the plant traps is equal to the weight of seed that lowers it into place. This is a plant that lives in gravity.

It would be a simple thing to manufacture single strand devices that could be arranged around plants to gather water for them. What’s more, the strands could be developed to absorb water and pipe it down an internal tube, rather than just on the surface. It might be possible to scale these devices up to considerable size. If so, the temperature difference between the inner and the outer surfaces could be enhanced through material selection, in order to condense water out of the air. Speaking of harvesting temperature differences …

3. The Drill

… here’s a plant that uses temperature differences between two different surfaces, one on each side of the long tail of its drillpoint-tipped seeds, to twist and untwist the seed tail daily.


Needle And Thread Grass

Just before drying.

When the seeds are loosened by the wind, many tangle in the stalks their weight has lowered close to the soil. The slow drilling motion of the expanding and contracting stalk drills its seed into the soil and plants it. There is no reason that tiny engines inspired by this principle could not be used to pump water. You don’t need electricity if a mechanical system does the job. However, if you need electricity, you could use it to create that. Gravity water systems, after all, don’t need large altitude changes in order to deliver gravity-fed water, as this technology from 1495 demonstrates…

4. The Bautzen Water Tower

In the eastern German city of Bautzen, the Spree River flows at the feet of the citadel and the old town. To get water away from the feet of the rock to the height of the square in front of the cathedral six stories above, only a few feet of gravity difference in a weir were required.


Die Alte Wasserkunst, Bautzen, Saxony Source

The water reservoir is one story higher than the fountain in the town square — ample for providing water throughout the old town, until the structure was turned into a museum in 1965. Originally, it was powered by a waterwheel, which powered a staged pumping system. Now the water wheel room houses a small electrical generator.

The point I’m making is not that efficient electrical systems should be replaced by high-maintenance, low-efficiency wooden systems, but that a) small amounts of gravitational energy can be effectively harvested and transferred slowly into larger, accumulated amounts, and b) small changes in gravity can be used to irrigate fields; one doesn’t need to draw water down from high country lakes, bypassing living environments along the way. That is only a choice. Here’s an example of a natural gravitational pumping system, that passes through complex living systems along the way …

5. The Trough

mockMock Orange in a Gully

Flat land does not move or concentrate water, but gullies, that harvest the heat and cooling of the sun at various times of the day, and which bring the water condensed out of low pressure air at high altitudes down through the increasingly pressurized and hence dryer zones (it’s the same water and the same air), right down into the the most pressurized zones of all, illustrate the power of farming vertical rather than horizontal space. Instead of moving water in a ditch (or a pipe), the ditch is harvested.

This principe goes further …

6. Dew Condenser

P1070852Look at All the Water!

Rain over Kalamalka Lake.

When rain falls, it’s a matter of pressure. A gully that carries water down from low to high pressure areas, harvests pressure boundaries. Pressure is, however, also influenced by temperature. There are devices that harvest water using temperature differences between earth and air, especially across the day-night boundary. Some are survivalist skills, such as stretching a sagging tarp across a hole in the night, and collecting water that drips from the underside of its lowest point. When this technology is put to use in India, it looks like this:


Dew Harveter in Satapar Source

7. The Dew Roof

Pressure differences don’t have to be large in order to be effective, because they are also temperature differences. Here’s a school roof in the driest part of India, that nonetheless produces water, daily, year in and year out …


School, Sayara, Kutch, India

This 600 square meter roof collects 9000 litres of drinkable water annually from nearly 100 dew-nights. That’s 90 litres a night, which works out to about 48 half-litre bottles of water that can be used each and every day.

Given that many drought-tolerant crops only need water for short periods, one could use such a system to turn such water into agricultural crops, in volumes far beyond the value of 9000 litres of water. It goes without saying, I hope, that the environmental and infrastructure costs of expensive water systems would be absent, increasing the profit for the farmer, and farmers certainly need more profit in these parts. This is one way in which we can turn our farms into producers of energy again, rather than net consumers of it.

8. Air Well

There is, however, also the air well proper, which allows for the intake of warm air and its cooling in inner stone chambers open to the earth …


High Mass Air Well, Trans-en-Provence Source

The design failed due to a low amount of rough stone contact space. It only collected 20 litres per night. 

It could probably be vastly improved upon. I mean, this interior has very little contact space.


Still, it might be a model for tiny water condensers. Perhaps its design only needs to be tweaked, perhaps on a smaller scale and using different materials. Here, though, is a different design that did work well, but failed due to poor construction of its base (the base developed leaks, due to cracks)…


Zibold Condenser, Turkey, 1912

The pile of stones had a large amount of rough surface area, and very little contact between stones. 

Hey, we have the rocks already…


Subdivision Leftovers

The bigger pile up the hill is actually generating a pond. Fancy that.

Such designs were abandoned, in favour of heat pumps like this:


Yeti Air-Conditioning and Water Generation Unit

Water and Coolness out of the air. Neat, huh. It requires electricity, though. Still, if you’re already cooling, hey, double the bang for your buck. I think the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is an insane building, but its airconditioning system does provide 15,000,000 gallons of water a year, which water nearby landscape plantings. Insane, yes, but I guess that there is at least as much airconditioning capacity than that in the Canadian Okanagan. 15,000,000 gallons of water a year. If you’re going to waste electricity, you might as well get the water.

Perhaps one doesn’t have to go the electrical route, though.


Heat Powered Roof Vent

Every house around these parts has one of these, using the rising heat collecting under the roof, to dissipate air, and also water, that condenses and holds the potential to rot the wooden houses used in these parts. This is half of a water collection machine: it moves damp air between hot and colder environments, it rotates, and thus can produce electricity, and everyone already has one. Some exploratory development might prove quite worthwhile.

Contemporary thinking on water wells and dew condensers is that they must be light, in order to cool quickly, in order to draw water from the air. Grass draws dew from the air in just this way. The transferal of heat energy into mechanical energy, which we saw above, in the example of needle and thread grass, might be one way to create temperature difference, that could harvest water.


It would be a fruitful avenue for research.

9. Air Conditioning, the Natural Way

Here’s a natural air conditioner. It uses the water from a house’s septic system to cool the house in the heat of summer.


Good Place for Magpies, Too

Weeping Willow, Orchard Hill

… and not just magpies!


Northern Flicker

Try that with your local sewer system! Or your airconditioner.

It’s powered by the sun. You got that? Instead of the sun heating your house, it cools it. Unfortunately, the procedure takes a little cleverness. This tree below, planted for decorative purposes about 40 years ago, and which provided cooling shade (from another septic system), has fallen victim to the desertification of the Okanagan…

p1180795Views Are Now Culturally More Important than Shade

Hence the British Columbia Government is moving forward on another dam on the Peace River in the cool British Columbia north, to supply the power needs created by the lack of creative thinking. Wealth can destroy thought. Exciting trivia for you: that’s the Okanagan Okanogan spruce tree and septic system relief valve right behind the brown roof, in line with the foreground fence post. Every bird going by uses that tree, and at least two species nest in it. Unfortunately, it’s too far from the house to provide cooling shade.

The death of such magnificent and useful trees, powered by the evaporation of water through their leaves, is one consequence of technology. In a society dominated by petroleum and electrical energy, and dominated by a model of payment for energy and the production of work out of bought energy, other sources of energy are largely invisible, or considered inefficient. How a form of energy that costs nothing and yet is still productive can be considered inefficient is curious, but such are the social tales of the tribe. Still, there’s a principle that can be derived here…


… as the leaves on these trees unfold in the spring, the evaporation of water within them draws water from the cool soil into the air. The orchard below …


… uses this principle to cool the apples. The excessive growth on the top of these spindled trees draws water up through the fruit, to cool it, and drops water vapour back down upon it to transform desiccated, valley bottom air into the low pressure air of natural apple environments. Trees could do this to your house, too. With the right kind of trees, this process wouldn’t have to dissipate 55% of the high country water into the low country air to produce apples that return only enough money to pay the capital costs of their installation. Now, that’s inefficient.

10. Dew Ponds.

On a base of clay, on a hill, you can build this …


Dew Pond, England

This is an old technology, but a beautiful one. It can double as a meditation site or an artwork!

… to get this …

Chanctonbury_Dew_Pond … and, next to it, this …


No transportation of water necessary.

What? No dew, because the air is too dry? Well, the local ranchers scoop vertical troughs out of arroyos, and dam them with their productive soil at the bottom ends, in order to trap snow melt and rain runoff in volumes sufficient for watering cows. The whole messy thing looks like this…

11. Run-off Collectors


Cow Wallow after the Fire

It’s a rudimentary technology, but it’s used in natural systems as well. In fact, it’s a tiny version of the whole system that harvests water in the alpine and delivers it to lake thousands of metres below, like this …


Human Wallow Below the Fire

Okanagan Lake

Still, small-scale run-off systems exist all over the hills, such as here …


Okanagan Falls Monolith

The bunchgrasses here don’t have enough soil to survive, but they can because the stone above them contributes the water that enhances the actual soil volume. 

Imagine, instead of farming tomatoes like this …


Tomatoes in Plastic, with Drip Irrigation and Water-supplied Petrochemical Fertilizers

Lots of plastic waste at the end of the season, and ever-declining soil environments caused by heat and non-replacement of cooked-off organic material, but, hey, business is business. The red’s an artful touch. It is laid on a slope to gather the sun, but without regard for the gravitational effects of water and nutrients in the soil atmosphere below.

… in order to harvest heat and eliminate weeding labour, one could orient the crop across the hill, fill the gaps between the rows with a reusable, waterproof membrane (even stone, if you like), and use it to harvest water, which it would then deliver downhill to the plants, or store underground, where the plant roots could access it. A permanent cover would be able to support colonies of insects. What’s more, sun-heated stone would retain heat and warm the nights — always a plus with tomatoes. Many other models exist and many, many more are possible. And consider this bonus: for much of the season, no irrigation would be required.


Look at the natural water collection taking placing in the background … and ignored. Water-price subsidy can do that to a man.

Here’s another image of a natural run-off collector…

P1080832 Okanagan Falls Monolith

Here the water is collected on shelf, flat enough and wide enough for harvest. Notice how the greatest growth occurs against the back wall of the shelf and in the depressed channel in its centre. These effects could be used to create a variety of crops in the same location.

Here’s another…


Eagle Field, Turtle Mountain

In this model, the runoff from the hill percolates through fine, aerial silts left from the draining of Glacial Lake Penticton. An even community of voles, bunchgrasses, pigweeds and flowering and tuberous plants thrives here. Just to the north of this plot, where the slope drains onto the mountain’s saddle, a rich community of berry-bearing plants has established itself. One of Vernon’s so-called homeless people has made a summer home there, on an old mattress in the shade of a saskatoon. I caught a white-tail doe relaxing on it one day. Good on you, girl!

Now, with the image above in mind, look at this one again …


Cow Wallow

… and compare it to this natural variation …


Natural Choke Cherry Orchard

Here a natural underground water barrier, likely clay or rock, has condensed water trickling like a cloud through the soil, until it rained into a small underground lake that  is feeding these trees. This a natural Okanagan geological formation resulting from unique local geological history and is present in tens of thousands of sites in the region. That all adds up to something like the same amount of land that is currently used in fruit growing (about 13,000 hectares). Imagine: doubling your land base, while using zero ml more water. In this respect, orchards on this land are adding wealth, while orchards using upland water or subsoil water are merely moving it into privileged hands. There’s a social and ethical accounting that is long overdue.

Here’s a related model:

12. Rock Islands


Clover thriving in the micro-climate created by a stone.

In a sense, water, air density, and heat are all functions of climate over time as the year progresses through its cycles of dry and wet seasons (Dry Cold, Wet Cold, Wet Warm, Dry Hot). Farming is about manipulating that environment for the benefit of certain crops. One can do that by moving wet cold season water from the high country into the dry hot season, or one can change the season entirely by adding a stone and planting against it, where water and heat can both be concentrated. One can grow crops out of season, extend seasons, and grow crops that otherwise would not survive. This is the natural way of the grasslands. Much of their life lives around rocks like this. That doesn’t interest you? Well, try this, then …

13. Heat Walls

P1080231 Escaped Lavender Making a Little Bit of Provence, Bella Vista

You don’t need flat land to farm. Here’s what I mean:


The Vineyards of Delazney, Lake Geneva, Switzerland

The famous cheese wines of Vevey are possible in this climate because of the stone walls that hold the sun through the night. Do you understand? It’s not necessary to pay high money for flat land and expensive water technology. One can make low value land, lower pressure zone land into high value land, through the addition of cleverness and labour. One can move the sun. That’s infinitely more honest, and makes farming possible for people other than Vancouver stockbrokers and Edmonton oil men looking to store their profits in a bit of colonial romance. We don’t need more colonial romancing.

Here’s another example:


Vineyards in the Mosel Valley, Germany

Vineyards like this are still farmed because they make the best riesling wine in the world, and the best rieslings in the world are in a class by themselves. Okanagan wine snobs, with their pinot noirs and their chardonays from France are missing the boat.

The real-estate promotional vineyard in the failed subdivision above my house, installed to add to property values with its hints of heat and a little Provencal je ne sais quoi, occupy what were some of the last Okanagan grasslands. They could still be grass if the miles and miles of stone-lined roads through the subdivision had been set up to be farmed like this instead. They could even have been irrigated by road-run off. The collector is already there, like this …

14. Road Collectors


Rain Running to Nowhere on the Road Margin ten metres from my house…

… despite the best efforts of purslane to turn it into life.

The water doesn’t have to be wasted. The romans knew about this …

This is a story about water. It begins a long time ago, as some stories do. Back then, the rain fell, as rain does, and the Celts were making wine out of it in their valleys north of Rome. When the Romans showed up, with their swords and their ploughshares, the Celts learned Latin and just kept right on. This is not a story about the Celts, though. It’s a story about water use in the northern reaches of the Western North American desert, but that story just doesn’t make sense in any way that makes sense unless it first trickles East and flows along paths among the vines until it arrives in deep memory. Imagine you’re walking beside that path that is a stream, and you look up, and there, right there, are are some of those old vineyards, that go back over two thousand years. Yes, you are in Rome now, and if the people don’t speak Latin, they do speak a Swiss French Patois that sounds a lot like Welsh.

The Vineyards of Sion

These are among the most dramatic vineyards in the Valais, on the slopes between the blue glacial currents of the Rhone River and the glaciers high above. Some of these planting grounds are over 2000 years old. Most of the stone walls date from the 1890s, but many of the waterworks among them are ancient.

Before this story flows with that ancient water, it might be a good idea if we, its readers, just stepped to the side for a moment, and looked at how water is put to use today, across the sea and among different mountains. Hopefully, then we can then set all that sprinkling and spraying and dribbling aside and look at water in a larger sense, and find technologies that may be useful again in these, the last days of oil. So, let’s just dive in.


Oops! No diving in here. This, of course, is a trickle irrigation system, which means that it delivers water drop by drop by drop to one spot on the soil surface. The water fans out underground to deliver water to the vine roots. It does not, however, go very deep, concentrates salts at the soil surface and leaves each grape vine to survive in one tiny hydroponic environment. It does, however, limit evaporation.

Water is moved around today at great expense. It requires electrical pumping systems, expensive petrochemical piping, high country dams, vast water mains, considerable upkeep, and high annual amortization, energy, and service costs, and there’s just not enough. Here in the Okanagan, society exceeded sustainable water use twenty years ago. We’re just living on borrowed climactic luck. Maybe we can make our own, new luck, though. Back in the Celtic Rhone, for example, there was just no way anyone could pay for the expensive infrastructure that is taken for granted today. People had to start with less, and achieve more. What they achieved is called art today. Sometimes it looks like a lot of fun. For a good example, let’s glance quickly north…

Aquatic Bicycle, Freiburg Im Breisgau

The one-time Roman, one-time Austrian and now German city of Freiburg is cooled by channels of fresh water sluicing through the streets. At one time, these channels acted as a kind of continuous fountain, bringing fresh water to everyone’s door as it flowed out of the Black Forest towards the Rhine. Now it’s there for the delight of it all, and  what better place to cool the tires on your bicycle, eh!

This idea of water being something that flows, rather than something that is blended with liquid petroleum-based fertilizers and emitted in drips is as old as the hills. It’s as old as Rome. It’s older. It’s not, however, a scientific story. This technology was developed before science, and it does not require scientific analysis in order to be grasped and understood. For instance, north and west of Freiburg, along the Rhine, halfway between Switzerland and the Netherlands, a wee bit south of the mermaids of the Lorelei cliffs and legends of dragons and golden rings, there’s a valley of old grain mills, spaced a kilometre apart (just enough to let water drag a bit of gravity along with it, which could be siphoned off before passing it on), there’s an old monastery, that’s now a major pilgrimage site, where the caretaker’s first self-appointed task in the morning is to check the garbage cans outside the entrance to the chapel, to see if any pilgrims left some returnable mineral water bottles there the evening before. It’s called the Cloister of the Valley of Mary, and it looks like this between rain storms in June…

Mariental Cloister

Don’t let appearances fool you. This was once a major industrial centre and one of the world centres of the wine industry. This and the eleven other cloisters surrounding the southern mouth of the Rhine Valley once produced 100,000 litres of wine a year, much of it to the glory of the Bishop of the old Roman regional capital, Mainz. This is the homeland of the greatest white grape of them all, the Johannisberg Riesling.

The church has lost much of its industrial and political weight here, but it’s not dead yet. It’s power is more subtle now, yet is no different from that old industrial model. Here’s one of its engines, powered by beauty and an idea older than Christianity itself.

Mary and Joseph

Look what was hiding inside a chunk of sandstone hacked out of the local cliffs. Pretty nice, indeed!

Yes, this is a story of water. Really. Here, for example, at Mary’s lovely feet, is a map of the Rhine and an idea of how you can press the old gods with the tenderest toe and bring forth, well, something that is best called God. This part of the statue is identical to the one above, just a little bit less subtle. Take a look…

Squeezing that Old Snake

And look what the snake, the Rhine, the dragon, the vine, produces… the triple God himself, in the Highest. The trick is, though, you just can’t apply too much force. The strength has to pushed out of the old God into the new one, slowly and tenderly, without killing him before it’s done. Think of the statue as a clock, moving from bottom to top. Here (at the bottom), at the beginning of Christian Time is the beginning of the end of Christian Time, Mary and her Child (at the statue’s crown). It takes time, but all good things do, just like wine. You can’t rush it.

Now, you might think (and I wouldn’t blame you), that I’m wandering off topic, but water flows, right? And that’s the point. Just a couple hundred metres away there’s this humble little fountain that gives the whole game away…

Maria’s Fountain

Many cloisters are founded around springs, but here in wine country the only still-functioning cloister is founded around a stream. The point to that is given in a poem, left as a prayer by a pilgrim and set on a nearby post. As she meditates, this water does not miraculously appear and bring inspiration from a hidden and unknowable source, but flows openly and simply passes through the fountain as a stream, with no visible source and no visible end. The pilgrim who left the poem found rest by giving herself to the flow and thereby being released from the struggles for definitive (and by my guess male) knowledge and stony rigour.

But, of course, this is not a religion based around Mary, Mother of God, but around God (or Christ) Himself, and here He is, telling the same story, under the ancient, non-Christian trees…

Open Air Altar in a Forest Clearing

With green Biergarten benches, too, which is a really lovely touch. In this pilgrimage church, pilgrims pray together among the trunks and branches of the eternal life that springs from the earth, rather than in a stone hall carved to represent those trees but really holding up a heavy stone roof. Notice the image of Christ on his cross, which is really a vineyard at harvest time. 

No heaviness here!

Christ Springing from the Soil, with Leaves.

A nice takeover of old Celtic and Greek tree technology, if I’ve ever seen one, but with no heaviness to it, just the joy of the trees.

Here is the heaviness.

The Imperial Baths, Trier

It took Christianity to turn monuments to water like this into monuments to air.

And where did the Romans get all the water? From the hills. Down the Mosel River, for instance, an urban villa was built in the little town of Pölch and drew its water from an ancient system of water management designed for arid climates and imported from Iran about a century before Christ. It was a reverse form of trickle irrigation, that relied on gravity and was built to last. It’s called the Qanat. It’s built from a series of underground tunnels accessed by vertical shafts, that slowly trickle water into a central channel, which delivers it through stone to its ultimate destination (in this case a bath of truly upper class proportions). In Pölch, the entrance to the main channel of the Qanat looks like this…

The Pölch Qanat

This ancient waterworks was rediscovered in the 1930s.

This main channel also served as an access channel, large enough for workers to enter and clean out any debris that might be blocking the water flow. Below is a look inside the channel. The light that you will see in the image comes from more recent wells sunk into the roof on the site of the villa itself, at intersection points with the side channels feeding water in from the Qanat network.

The Service Channel for the Pölch Qanat

The floor is set with a layer of slate, so that water can flow beneath it, free of any fine clay silt that might clog it up and impede its flow.

Water was not gathered quickly in a Qanat, but flow it did and, remarkably, after 1800 years (almost all of that without any maintenance at all) the water still flows and provides part of the water requirements for the 447 citizens of Pölch.

Roman Water

The town fountain of Pölch, still flowing after 1800 years.

Now, to bring a meandering, watery story back to its beginning and the irrigation of fields, the thing that ties all of these threads together (Rome, Iran, Mary, Christ, and the Bishop of Mainz) is the grape (an agricultural product), and the slopes on which it is grown. The ancient water of the earth that flows through Mary into Christ and into His pilgrims also flows through the slate that some people might call soil and into grapes, and there reveals itself as wine. Below is an image of the site of the Qanat, to give you an idea of how it all looks. This is where the grapes are keeping up the old work.

View Over Pölch

The Qanat is directly underfoot. The grapes continue its work, above ground. Like the qanat, they are rooted in neither soil nor dirt, just in slate.

Water here is a slow affair that moves through life. It trickles, and without petroleum technology, either. Down on the River Mosel, though, people have a newer idea of water, and I must admit, it’s a heck of a lot of fun…

Petroleum Based Water Technology

Joyriding on the Mosel during the Corpus Christi Festival. The festival that celebrates the body of Christ incarnated in bread and wine is a national holiday throughout much of Northern Europe. Here on the Roman wine river, the Mosel,  it takes on a rather unique form: every winery (and there are thousands) throws open its doors and people ride their bicycles and motorcycles between them. Beer glasses are just not to be seen.

These are not metaphors. In the pre-scientific world this was what technology looked like, and it’s this technology that now looks like spirituality and art that drove water technology for most of Western history, so let’s get right to it and see how all of that developed a technology that survived long after the Industrial Revolution. This story can be told quickly, through a series of images. A good place to start is back at Johannisberg, the holy grail of riesling.

Johannisberg Cloister

The vineyards of this cloister flowed into those of Mariental and Mary’s delicate foot five kilometres to the North. Note Johannisberg Palace in the background, which took over the vineyards from the monks. Note the rain. Brr.

The water that flowed down past the roots of these vines was not captured in the underground leaf-vein-like fans of qanats, but on the surface. The process, however, was very much the same. What was underground was now brought up to the light. These channels were painstakingly rebuilt with concrete after World War II, and they look like this…

Old Surface Qanat, Mariental

Water doesn’t flow here anymore. This death of a technology is what is called romantic now. The tourist industry is based on it.

The water is now captured in wells and pumped into underground piping systems, like this…

The Mariental Pumping Station

Unlike the older systems, it requires extensive capitalization and high annual fees.

It also requires security. Here is the main Rüdesheim station, below Johannisberg itself…

The New Technology with Its Barbed Wire

This is a new definition of public utility… one so expensive and fragile that the public must be excluded from it. In comparison, the old system was pretty much indestructible. (Well, except for the bad aiming of US bomber navigators while being strafed with German flak on their way to Frankfurt, twenty kilometres away.)

The new system delivers water to household taps, toilets, hotel rooms, and garden sprinklers. It is a system for gathering water, to drink (and sprinkle). The old system was a system for gathering gravity, or the power that fell from God and flowed freely over the earth before moving into God again, and delivering it where it could be used, like this…

Vineyard with Mill

Mariental Cloister is two kilometres away, behind the screen of trees in the background of this photo. The paved vineyard road in the foreground is the old surface qanat. And what did you do in the mill? Why, grind grain into bread, that was, of course, the Body of God. This world was a poem, or a prayer, and it was complete, right down to its technology. If you understood poetry, you could master its machines. A technical education, or even a degree in Creative Writing, was not needed here. You just needed heart, and you needed to look at things and see patterns. Those patterns originally gave us the Industrial Revolution, but now that that revolution is largely over, the patterns remain. They never went away. Neither did Rome. Or Mary. Or the Celts.

Here’s an image from Rüdesheim on the Rhine, that shows how the surface Qanat functioned…

Vineyard Road at Ehrenfels

The road doubled as a water collection apparatus. As a point of interest, Ehrenfels is the honorary home of that other great white wine grape, Ehrenfelser. In the old, ruined castle courtyard you can wander on a June day and pick wild strawberries from among the weed-whacked weeds.

Notice how the road above slopes inward towards the vineyard wall, instead of outwards as a modern road would to shed its water to the slope below. When this device was built, water was too precious to waste like that, and it wasn’t being gathered for the crops. Here’s a better view…

Water Channel Set into the Schlossburg Road, Ehrenfels

Here, as in Mariental, the water was collected, and delivered in controlled streams downhill…

Water Reservoir on the Way to Ehrenfels

Water collected on the vineyard roads high above was delivered here, then channeled directly down to the villages and industrial land along the Rhine below. The reservoir allowed for controlled release of water when and if it was needed, and allowed the maintenance of its stored gravity energy, without lithium ion technology.

And how can all this old technology be used again today? Well, for one, the old channels could be open again and instead of using hydroelectric power, generated in German coal and nuclear plants (really) to pump water to the houses of Rüdesheim and Lorch on the Rhine, the water could be used to generate hydroelectric power, which could then be used to deliver the water, or for other purposes, without eliminating the potential for also using the water for agricultural or any other thing you could dream of along the way. For another, the roads, in a condition of neglect today, show that there is agricultural potential for this technology as well, in an unforeseen way. Here, have a look…

An Accidental Garden

As soil has fallen slowly over the lip of the roads of this old surface qanat system, plants have taken root. The water that slowly trickles down the walls flows into plant life that has rooted there and sustains it in the old qanat channels meant originally to deliver it to the reservoirs at dips in the road.

Huge, narrow gardens could easily be planted in this space. There’d be enough food to feed thousands of people, if not tens of thousands, and all of it could be accessed by foot, bicycle, tractor, or car. The land has no problem with this idea. It’s already working at it, in fact, and not just with weeds…


volunteering for future service, and showing the way. Many other food plants have also found fertile ground and water along these old paths.

So, there you have it: old systems that came from studying plants, stone, water, and gravity have gone through technological development and abandonment and have come right back to where they began, with plants and stone and water and gravity, but this time it’s possible to see the whole story in a new way. The original story was a story of gravity. It eventually became a story of blue, surface water, a clean, pure element fitting the period of intellectual earth and the discovery of chemistry and the invention of individual human consciousness. The new story is a story of green water, how gravity and blue water flow not through stone but through life. It’s the old story, the story that was always there, but it has a new focus now — now when energy has become expensive, and technologies to move it around limit human access to the freely given energy of the sun and the earth. Just as the aristocrats of Johannisberg took power away from the church once, so is it possible now to take power away from their intellectual descendants and put it back where we need it now, into life. That is a new story, but it’s also an old one.

Joseph and Son at Mariental

Notice how the rain is slowly eating them away… but not yet.

One more note on new uses for old roman technology takes us back to Trier. Here we are, downtown. Tourists are thronging around us, on their way between Italian ice cream restaurants, the Black Roman Gate and the Imperial Baths, and when it all gets to be too much, well, you can sit down in the sweltering stone streets and be cooled, not by atomic-powered air conditioners but by something the romans would have recognized as their own…

New Tech Water, Trier

An entire square is cooled by this water that flows out of the cool of the earth and back into it again after giving off its invigorating ions and ahhhhhhhh, without the need for any atomic power plants or coal-fired carbon emissions at all. This is the reverse of geo-thermal heating. It could work in houses as well.

What other uses can roman and Catholic water technology be put to today? Many. I’ve brought many other observations home from my research trip in Europe, and no doubt people more familiar with green water systems than I can add hundreds more. We stand at a threshold. To move forward we need nothing more than our bodies and our hearts, as well as open eyes and ears. That being said, one final observation, this one from the so-called New World…

Vineyard Road, Vernon

Here in the Okanagan Okanogan, qanat technology is sorely missed. Here all that useful water is just turned to muck.

Which pretty well is a perfect image of the state of water culture today. So much opportunity stands before us. I find this all very exciting. I hope you do, too.

15. Fog Fences

This is how you comb water out of cloud and mist and drizzle (and let your cattle out of a burn zone for a night on the town at the same time).

Fence Down

More water blows through the fall and winter air in the grasslands than falls to earth. It would be great to farm that fog and those clouds. This combination barbed-wire and fine-meshed bird fence demonstrates the potential for drawing that water out of the air. Here’s what that looks like, up close:

… and closer …

When conditions are right, the wire doesn’t even need to be in a grid …

We don’t need to invent this technology. It exists. Societies have been harvesting water for thousands of years. A fascinating and richly-illustrated history of inventions, modern and ancient, can be found here. The last entry on that page presents the story of a successful cloud fence project in Chile, which collected 10,000 litres of water a day, supported a village, and established a forest, which then was able to collect its own water. Although it was abandoned, because of political reasons, it worked. It looked like this, back in 1987…

Fog Fence on El Tofo Mountain, Chungungo Chile, 1987 Source

On the grasslands, plants have known this for a long time. They have many ways of concentrating rain and dew. Here’s one …

16. Rain Concentrators

Surely, this could be used as a model for a water collection technology? 

Catch it on the ‘leaves’, tilt it to the ‘stem’, tube it to the ground? Cool, huh!

Let’s not forget the clouds. When they do rain in this depressurized and repressurized climate, the air can draw the water away in just a few minutes. In a thunderstorm this last week, a couple inches of rain fell in a few minutes, but 15 minutes later the concrete in front of my workshop door was as dry as if it hadn’t rained in two months. The water just vanished. The trick is to harvest it quickly, as in the image above. You don’t have to, however, turn it into drops to harvest it. Look at how these jerusalem artichokes managed with 12 hours of rain today (Hey, it’s the wet season.)…

17. Rain Sponges



Jerusalem Artichoke Leaves in the Rain

I’d say they absorbed it. I mean, compare to this lamb’s quarters…

lambleaf A Moisture Barrier Leaf is a Great Adaptation

But a water-absorbing leaf is a great one, too. We can use technology like that.

And what about this?

Apricots in August Keremeos

Thousands of tons of fruit, itself mostly water, are culled every year. They could be farmed for water before being discarded. Similarly, as I mentioned last January, millions of litres are simply evaporated away to create lumber. Meanwhile, through property taxes we subsidize so-called “free”  advertising “newspapers” stuffed full of advertisements for all the manufactured flotsam and jetsam of distant cities that mine the economic wealth of our communities. The purpose? To keep papers that didn’t need to exist out of the landfills. And yet we use water, which every plant, animal and human needs, once and then discard it. Why? Releasing it to the air just means it blows away to someone else in the east. Natural grassland systems, however, passed it on from plant to plant and species to species down through the hills in time and space. They kept it around for a long time before it was passed on to other valleys. We can no longer afford to rely on foreign, surface water systems imported from wetland thinking to turn water into waste. Since we’ve turned our valleys into machines…

Enloe Dam, Shanker’s Bend (Similkameen River)

Why use this water only once?

… let’s at least get some up-graded technology in keeping with current realities, rather than the 19th century technology in use today. In that spirit, here’s another rain sponge. First, the pretty form …

cactus Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom, Bella Vista

… and then the harvestable form. Remember, this is mostly water…


Got that? The most efficient way to capture water is to use native plants that are directly edible. That is entirely possible. Do we want this…

P1070677 … or this?


… the second option takes less water. Remember: food is water. Really. Literally. Life is built up on a union of water and carbon. If there is no life present, it is because someone let it flow away, killed it, or wasted it. If there is no water, or if water is socially controlled, then 1 out of 4 people will be hungry and short of food, which is the case in the Okanagan today. Water is monopolized in this society, for profit. Fortunately, there is still common land, where it can be freely harvested and used. As I said, these are ethical issues, and that’s where this conversation will be going next, before coming back to crops again. The reason for the detour from crops is that without a common language of the social dynamics of water, some specialized crops will initially appear unprofitable. They aren’t. Remember, there is water here, and it’s a beautiful thing:

P1630129Choke Cherries in the June Rains

3 replies »

  1. I am actively seeking exactly the type of net mesh to use for harvesting fog. Here on the central coast of California we get little rain and yet are surrounded by wet air a great deal of the time. It makes more sense to water the garden and the chickens with harvested water instead of from the well.


    • Very sensible. It might be a great angle to have the mesh at a slight angle, so when water formed it would run easily into a collection area. Let me know if you find something and I’ll try out a chunk, too. We can compare notes!


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