Nate Downey will present a hands-on workshop covering cistern and tank installation at Richland College this week. Above, Colorful water tanks dot the landscape. Photos courtesy of Nate Downey. 

June 24, 2014 

By Minnie Payne

The Texas drought has become the norm and water rationing a way of life in North Texas. As more lawns turn brown and plants wither, concerned residents are resorting to rainwater harvesting. 

Those looking for advice on how to get the most out of rainwater collection can learn the latest techniques when permaculture expert Nate Downey of New Mexico speaks at Richland College, June 27 and June 28.

The owner of a landscape-design firm and student of permaculture pioneer Bill Mollison, Downey has spoken, taught and written about permaculture for more than a decade. 

Downey said that enough rain falls to provide ample water for everyone. 

Right, Nate Downey.

“We simply have to collect, store, distribute and reuse a small percentage of that which falls from the sky,” he said. “Fortunately, this way of saving the world comes with perks such as increasing your property's value, lowering your utility bills or simply creating a comfortable oasis for conversation just outside the kitchen door." 

On Friday, June 27, Downey’s topic will be “Water is the New Solar” from 7-9 p.m. in Room 118 of Sabine Hall at Richland College, located at 12800 Abrams Road, Dallas. Downey will explain how the water-harvesting industry is catching up to solar energy as an economic force leading the country towards sustainability. Cost is $10 person. 

On Saturday, June 28, Downey will present a one-day workshop dubbed “The Bold New American Landscape, Part 2: Active Water Harvesting with Cisterns,” which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., also in Room 118 of Sabine Hall. During the all-day program, he will focus on harvesting rainwater in tanks or cisterns. It will feature a hands-on, live demonstration, which will help Richland College harvest rainwater. 

In essence, Downey will explain how rainwater can be collected from rooftops and filtrated into a conveyance line, which goes to a cistern.

“Often along the conveyance line there will be a filter, and there are a couple of ways you can do that,” Downey shares. “The conveyance line takes the water from the roof to the cistern, and the filter prevents debris from collecting.

Above, partially buried tanks. Below, underground cistern being installed.

“The tank or cistern can be above ground, below ground or partially buried. An advantage to having it below ground is to prevent freezing.” 

He further explains that there are two ways to pump the water out, either via a sump pump at the bottom of the tank or the pump can be placed in a separate pump house. The water is then run to the drip irrigation system to water your plants. 

“If you choose your plants wisely and do not have a large lawn, you can create a landscape that is totally distant from a well, municipal system, reservoir or surface water,” Downey advises.

The cost of the workshop is $99. Lunch is not included. Those attending the workshop will receive a free copy of Downey's book Harvest the Rain.

The two-day event will be geared toward homeowners, business owners, farmers, gardeners, landscape architects and facilities such as colleges, apartments, etc. 

“We will also go over budgeting, scheduling and designing projects,” says Downey.  “Like-minded people will have an opportunity to network. It’s an inspiring time to be interested in water harvesting, which is a good community builder.”

Tickets to both events can be purchased at the door or in advance at  

Left, two stacked 54-gallon rain barrels. 

Minnie Payne is a Carrollton-based freelance writer. She’s written for Pegasus News, Frisco Style Magazine and Seedstock. She presently freelances for Living Magazine, The Senior Voice and Your Speakeasy. She can be reached at [email protected].

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