Sustaining the Okanagan 11: Weaving Water to Combat Desertification

I know, I know, Chinese elms are a weed.P1180479

They grow well here, though.

Their flowers feed spring birds.

In turn, those flowers have a zillion seeds …

… and pop up everywhere.




Thing is, though, they do a couple interesting things. For one, in environmentally simplified landscapes capable of only producing social stratification symbols for humans, who like that kind of thing, a lot …

Golf Course at the Rise

From 200 species to 1. It gives aficionados a shiver of power right down the back of the neck. Much desired in elite social classes.

… in a kind of stratification that is often quite remarkable for its naked power …


The simplification here is from earth-as-living-and-working-space to earth-as-recreational space (the recreational activity is “looking” or “aesthetic enjoyment.”) It watches life flow away, as if human intelligence were not part of it.

Well, human intelligence is what you make of it, and what I’ve shown you so far today are social representations of human power. The elm, however, for all of its problems, offers a different one. It offers habitat, where habitat has been destroyed, while offering as well human social good, such as beauty …

… and the transformation of water into storable energy.


Check out what the lightning did a month ago.


That is transformed water there, bound with the sun and storing carbon for a human generation. No hydroelectric dam necessary. No one wants it, for some bizarre reason. It is quite portable…

…and can be used in measured amounts, according to need… the rest can be stored for many years.

When its elements are returned to the earth as water, energy and carbon, new elms will take them up again.

(Note: One doesn’t have to “remove” carbon from the atmosphere to remove problem carbon. One has to replace elemental understandings with process.)

The thing about elms is they grow everywhere in this climate, can be harvested quickly or after a generation, can be stored for a short period or for a generation, and can be used in measured amounts, in balance with new plantings.

What’s more, they take up water that otherwise flows as an element through a species-poor earth (made of lone elements), and in the process provide habitat for species that are otherwise homeless. They are arks. Yes, they are weeds, but they are healing the kind of error below, which wastes potential.


That’s a green of the Golf course at the Rise behind the young Douglas fir at the crest of the slope. The patch of green in the middle of the image is yellow clover that is mining water that has bled out from the single-species (well, two, a fir) zone of the golf green. Excess water and waste fertilizer is collected in the road cut you can see just below the fir, which spills down the infill from the road. It wells up as a wave over the bedrock under the post-glacial gravel. This is a way in which the earth heals herself, by giving forth life from gravity. From gravity! Here’s a paper wasp, finding forage in the yellow clover that would otherwise be lost — weightless, shall we say, only a place for elements to pass through, like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber. Weeds, however, turn deserts into life.

A reasonable goal would, I think, be to create the greatest amount of life, to use the greatest amount of water within the systems of life, and to harvest the excess as human social energy. This must be the definition of sustainability. Mustn’t it? Because this isn’t:

Death Maker: B Reactor, Hanford

This machine makes nuclear bombs: the most horrific human social arbiter of them all.

So, here are the elms (below), in a hillside reduced to knapweed, an abandoned landscape nursery, rock, yellow clover, mustard, gold finches and wasps. The gold finches feed in the elms in the early spring. They feed in the clover in July.

After a generation of drawing off carbon from the very technological excess which has allowed for the bulldozing of this living landscape and its reduction to a single-species vineyard and a single-species golf course up above, both human social displays, it can keep us warm in the winter dark, cycling water through human social space not as liquid but as life, and giving to us life, and roots, rather than liquidity, that either evaporates (witness the promise that the bulldozing attempted to fulfill) or flows away, leaving a desert, or, in human social terms, poverty. Choose life. Oh, and plant sunflowers, so the gold finches have something in August …

… because whatever they ate naturally is gone, and looks like human social strategies to turn the simplification of the earth into human class power (in this case, the irrigation of a vineyard to increase the social display value of houses, through the removal of that water from the earth):

… and without gold finches, and the memory of them across a span of fifty years or more, as is mine, from the elms that sifted them out of the air in migration in the Similkameen fifty years ago, for a few hours every spring, to the present …

… without that, we live in a desert, a desert which includes the barrenness of human individual life, crying out for connection but ultimately leading to isolation. In the image below, a lot of water was removed from life to create this coloured plastic, as a place for a human child to play in nature — a nature known as “outside”, and one otherwise unwanted, except for the social distance it provides between the next human “inside”. It is space — almost empty space.


Water is life. That is not a metaphor. If we take it away from life, it is just technology creating the illusions that are human social display …

Winemaking in Okanagan Falls

…and human class power.

This isn’t a war. We’re in this together.

We don’t have to remain alone.


Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.


Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.


Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.





Gravity Pools



Not soil.


9 years, nothing growing yet.



Not soil.

Nothing even germinates here.



You find soil where water pools. (Rocks, too.)


It is life — a gravitational effect that manifests itself at boundaries.


Mineral earth is just mineral earth. A good place for bees to burrow.


Very small bees.

Plants prefer even rocks over that stuff.


The life that grows in mineral earth is growing in the soil within the earth, not the earth.


Plants, after all, came from the sea. They know about stuff like this. Gravity pools, a form of dry land tidal pool, help. Below is a pool of green water in a deer’s footprint (centre left).


Here’s a gravity pool collecting rain within a stone.


Here’s one flowing, as water will.


Plants root in life like this. Dirt is just an environment of ground up mountains that allows soil, a kind of living weather, to form, if the conditions are right.


How to Find a Story on the Columbia Plateau

Note the grove of firs in the background here, between the Sinlahekin and Okanogan valleys (well, stories) of Washington. If you walk one way, they are the bristly children a toad is carrying on her back. To find out why, you’ll have to walk up into the trees and see what they’re up to. If you walk another way, this is a story of water — of how it does not flow here and shows itself on the surface of the soil mostly through life: ponderosa pine, douglas fir, big sagebrush, serviceberry, and blue-bunched wheatgrass, for example. To find out why, you’re going to have to pay attention to earth and sky. A third way to walk this story is to walk both of the above stories at once. P1730837


If you walk it right, you’ll be able to read it like this:


I say “like”, because you’ll be in there, pushing the twigs aside, feeling the cold of the bark on your hands, breathing. These red dogwoods will be village plants, where water reveals itself and you, too, have come.



Climbing The Waterfall

On Friday, I talked about The Moods of Colour. In short, I argued that the different plants, lichens and rock in the image below were all different moods of light, different levels of energy excitement, for instance, which humans like you and I can read very precisely. Notice how the red oregon grapes, the yellow lichens, and the green mosses are all tracking water across the face of the rock and in its crevasses. cliffred


The water, in other words, has taken on moods as well. We can talk about the diversity of plant life here, or the diversity of water, its moods, or that the oregon grape is climbing the water, rather than being washed down with it, as are the mosses. The latter sounds good to me.

Next: more on the tricks of water.



Defying Gravity and Collecting Water for Free Through Time Travel

As long as not too great a mass of water is involved, surface tension is stronger than gravity (and stronger than adhesion). Take a look:

dropThis water ran down the twig (it did not adhere strongly) under the force of gravity, but instead of leaving the end of the twig, it formed an obloid (a drop), which will drop at the point at which gravity overcomes surface tension, but not before. If you gave it a shake, you would change the energy balance in favour of gravity. Now look again:



The same process is at work in this riparian zone in the grassland, and in the grass around it, although at differing stages in the cycle. The questions that intrigue me today are, can this process be used in reverse? (Yes, of course. Plants do it all the time, by moving water upwards through their stems.) What energy can be added to this grassland to increase flow? What energy can be added to decrease it? Where? Here?


If we could do that, we would not need reservoirs in the mountains or $70,000,000  price tags for improvements to water infrastructure.


We can do this. Note how time is a factor here: the bulrush that drew water up into the sun in the spring, summer and autumn …


Is now catching it. The fine ribbing on the cat tail leaves (the convex outward edges of the channels that drew water up all summer) provides a surface stronger than gravity, and stronger than the low pressure winter air or the weak, winter sun. The process has been reversed and gravity has been defied… not all at once, but in increments, built upon the foundation of the season before.

P1580475The water we’re observing here did not fall as rain or snow. It is frost, that condensed out of the air due to the texture of the plant surface and its different temperature gradient from the air. These are all factors that can be used to defy gravity…clear, if we look at it over time and from outside of human models. What are we waiting for? Sci-fi? Magic? Mumbo jumbo? Heck, even if we didn’t want to mess with gravity, we could harvest water. Look at how this squiggly willow does it.



Inspiring stuff!


10 More New Water Collection Technologies for the Okanagan (And an Extra One for Fun)

Currently water is collected in the Okanagan by three methods. The first is to turn high country lakes and streams into reservoirs, which are then piped down into the valleys, to provide water pressurized by gravity. There aren’t any untapped lakes left. The second is to pump water out of the lake. There isn’t any capacity left. The third is to pump water out of underground reserves. Water tables are falling. It’s time to think how else we can catch water and store it. Our teacher is the land itself. A few weeks ago, I talked about new ways to collect water in the Okanagan. You can read that post here: click. Below are more observations about some ways in which we can keep the plentiful water that falls on this land from evaporating away before it can be used to sustain life. These are our new water sources. You might notice a little bit of repetition from the previous post. I’ve tried to add new information and a new perspective whenever that happens. After all, I’ve worked for nearly two years getting to this point. It’s hard not to be excited! This is material for the final chapter of my book.

1. The Road Surface.


Good Old Gravel Road!

Sure, mud puddles like the one don’t make for safe driving and lead to washouts, but the dips they fill are efficient at collecting water, and the fine glacial silt and clay of the valley’s upper soils are very effective at keeping it from draining away. Bumpy roads are a bad idea, and waterproof roads prevent frost heaves, but why are we rushing through our residential areas anyway? We can build landscaping cloth that lets water through but prevents weeds from growing upwards, and we can manufacture diapers that wick up a colossal amount of baby-processed milk and water in one go, without dribbling a drip, and we can’t build a road surface that traps and channels water, like that mud-puddle? Ah, but as I mentioned in my previous post on this subject (here) we do…

P1080225Alluvial Channels of a Roadside River

That’s the curb on the left.

The only problem is we drain that water into waste water systems and then deliver it to the sewage treatment plant. It costs a humungous amount of money. In fact, the 40,000 people of the city of Vernon are currently facing a $100,000,000 dollar upgrade cost, to bring this system up to speed. That’s $2500 a person. Surely, since most houses in Vernon are on a hill of one kind or another, we could work out a system in which block by block, kilometre by kilometre, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, the water is stored in cisterns, or is diverted into a series of greenhouses, growing first watercress and then tomatoes, before it is delivered into vertical gardens planted in holes drilled in standing water pipes, before, well, you get the idea. The upgrade could pay for itself and when the water finally got to the lake, it would have produced a huge volume of food along the way.

2. Underground Waterway Construction.

P1080468Choke Cherry Grove and Its Water Collector

I spoke about this concept at some length yesterday, and talked about this natural system in my previous post on new water technologies. What I want to add today is the concept that the earth has underground channels of rubble, solid rock, silt, clay, and soil, working together with gravity, that concentrate, move and deliver water — usually right where the best soil is, with different plants thriving in different regions of the system. Such underground damming and delivery systems, built out of rock, concrete, sand and clay, could be easily inserted into the hills to deliver the invisible dryland water into productive areas, within a few metres, or at most a hundred metres, from the point of collection. In a drying (but not a dry) climate, look underground for the water. Collect it there. You don’t need enough to pump. Let gravity do the work. Now, let me clarify my perspective: at the tiny wages society pays its young people today to look after an economy for the aged, they will not be able to afford $100,000,000 upgrade bills. Let’s give them the gift of ingenuity and creativity instead. Let’s proudly work with what we have. This system could be combined with the road system above.

3. The Plastic Bag (And its Friends)

P1090127Weed-whacked Weeds, Bagged for a Community Compost Program…

…where it will be tossed and turned and heated and will steam all this water away. Hunh?

Currently, the water is right where we want it, in a portable form, the collection apparatus is present, and … we’re not collecting the water that evaporates from the weeds? Not only that, why don’t we just build a device that will dry the weeds on the spot, for the cost of a lawnmower, let’s say, and collect the water. The bag above, left for a few hours in the June sun, shows how readily the water from the weeds collects on the plastic. This should be an easy one. How much water would we get? Huge amounts. Plants are well over 50% water.

4. The Pile of Rocks

P1090417Leave a Pile of Rocks Lying Around on a Clay Base

It will collect water. Don’t forget to capture and store that water. Letting it muck up your road is just disrespectful. I covered this concept in my previous post. Today I’d like to add that in this climate wells don’t have to be underground. In an atmosphere stripped of water by depressurizing and re-pressurizing effects on a roller-coaster ride over the mountains, everything is in reverse. Once you learn to think like that, you will find your missing water, like here:

5. The Parking Lot

P1100280 This Soil is destined for the Patchwork Community Garden, on the Okanagan College Site.

It did an effective job of stopping the water drainage from this student parking lot and turning it into …P1100277


Notice how the parking lot construction method separated this water from the ornamental growing space beside it, which then gets reconstructed into an artful water channel, using landscape cloth, to prevent plant growth and piped-in water from high in the mountains.

P1100245 Notice the Automatic Irrigation Hose on the Left, Behind the Tree

Might this not be the community garden? 

No, of course not. The real one is behind a fence, with the food growing in artificial soil from the composting facility, and irrigated by …


…water piped in from high up in the hills. The food is then given away. It might be time to connect the dots. The water source and the sun are right here. Still, it’s a beautiful garden with an exciting mandate. I just think an opportunity was missed.

6. Wild Harvest

P1100519Don’t capture the water. Eat it.

Or plant grapes …


Seedless Grapes Gone Wild, Bella Vista

These grapes have survived for many years without irrigation. They’ve found their water where it concentrates along an underground cut (an old water canal that’s now a walking trail). They draw it up, and concentrate it in their berries, where it can easily be harvested. Miles of grapes could be planted like this. Huge amounts of water can be captured like this.

7. The Loader Bucket

P1090115That’s Enough Iron-Rich Water for a Row of Carrots for One Week

The next time it rains (and enough rain comes in June to last the summer, if it were all carefully used and conserved), put all your pots and pans and wine glasses out. Either that, or collect it from your roof…

8. The Roof

P1080822Downtown Kelowna

And grow a tree.

P1080803If You Plant the Right Kind of Tree, You Can Harvest it Later

Downtown Kelowna

Either that or let the homeless people who live in this alley do so. After all, they live here.

9. Invent Water-Absorbing Artificial Grass. 

P1080584Plant it by the Roadside.

Harvest it once a year, instead of mowing the real thing.

Oh wait, why not just plant real grass on the roadside, harvest that while mowing, and process it in the sun-powered evaporator the plastic bags are suggesting above? Yeah, why not.


10. Suck the Water Out of a Wasp

P1100394Crab Spider, Unlucky Wasp, and Canada Thistle

Oh, wait, leave that for the spiders.

10.5.  Plant a tree

P1100480Northern Flicker in a Chinese Elm, Grey Canal Trail

Every tree is an amazing water pump, powered by the sun. Tomorrow I’d like to talk about the technological implications of that. I think it’s pretty exciting. I’m sure the flicker agrees.

Remember: choose life!

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

Harvesting Water, Recycling Water, Respecting Water

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 …

Surely, this could be used as a model for a dew collector? 

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

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.


That Old Watery Moon: A Year of Walking and Learning

Moon’s hanging around all day now. Frost in the tomatoes by the lower fence. Potatoes in the cellar. Light everywhere.

Earth and Moon with Human Signature

Humans are life. They love views over dry country, down to water far below (a trick they picked up in East Africa, millions of years ago) so much so that they like to get above it sometimes and look down on themselves looking down. Such are the delightful problems of visual critters.

Aircraft Part Way to the Moon (Or Beyond It)

The moon was once believed to have seas, on which the wild geese of Northern Europe overwintered. Now it’s dry as dust. To heck with Global Warming. Global Drying is maybe more to the point.

Humans live on a tiny planet in the midst of vast space. As far as the Solar System goes, much of the water is here, on Earth, homeland of humans, bone of their bones, heart of their hearts. Humans, however, despite their elaborate valve and pump technologies and cunning desalinization plants do not use it alone …


Knapweed Root Weevil Negotiating a Sidewalk

Winter is coming and all the knapweed is dry as dust. What is a poor bug to do? Go to the moon? Such are the tribulations of a parasite introduced into a foreign climate, to control a noxious, invasive weed. For such a creature, every moment is a moment of vital decision, that means the difference between life and death.

Water is the signature of this planet. Humans are water, but only when it is embedded in the context of life. Otherwise we’d be puddles. This, for example, is a human self portrait:


Human in the Afternoon

No, it’s not the puddle that’s the human, or the bullsnake cooling itself off, or the photograph. It’s the moment of attention, at which a biological human makes no distinction between his self and the earth. That is not meant as a metaphor. When the Syilx ran this place, this was a commonplace thought. I hope that some day it will be commonplace again.

All the conceptual purification that turns living water into elemental water that you can run out of a tap or play upon in your summer toys, does not erase the fact that every use of water embodies an ethical choice.


A bit of Canada floats through the water of an ancient lake, containing the molten remains of the great ice sheets that once covered this land. In terms of White Canadian Culture, this is a time to have a party, hopefully in the thanks that our water stewards have so far managed to convince people that human desire for water does not mean that we can pump the lake out to water lawns and golf courses and designer apples and stuff, but more likely just because the sun is shining, the water is cool, the world is beautiful, and one is among friends, with a cool drink in hand to lubricate things.

I’ve said it before that there is no “place” here. What I mean is that place is not land. It is a social, ethical story, through which humans (myself included) walk (and which is called “land”). It’s more like an entire library of stories, actually. It’s like a vast, open air art gallery. It’s such a great journey to make together that it can be easy to forget that everything, all human technology, all human social structures, languages, traditions of ideas, water planning processes, roads and houses, hair styles, and family and tribal configurations are art works, designed to represent images of humans, for human viewing pleasure, and why not. Humans can be beautiful creatures.

Human Self Portrait…

…breaking the natural flow of water down the slope. That is an ethical choice. Does the human need to look out over East African (or Okanagan) water trump that of the chain of organic life that passes water down the hill? These are the discussions we need to have. By discussing them, we create better lives for ourselves.

Currently, water plans for the Okanagan Valley rely on huge volumes of water that flows through the soil, down off the hills, without ever reaching the surface. If that water did not flow in such large volumes into local lakes, human appropriation of entire lake, stream, and wetland ecosystems to provide agricultural, industrial and domestic water would have to be reduced dramatically. As it is, there is already no place for salmon to spawn, should they be allowed to return to this ecosystem, should that even be a human right to deny. One ethical question that haunts me after a year tromping through these hills is this:


Does human interruption of green water as it flows through chains of life in order to create self portraits trump the rights of those chains of life as part of the earth?

I’m not advocating introducing such ethical dilemmas into water policy. I’m saying that they’re already there.

Next: The Role of Land Claims in This Discussion. One Valley for Everyone.