Conserving water in our habitat garden

toads mating ©Janet Allen
Toads mating in our pond

Even though we're fortunate to live in a water-rich part of the world, we still try to conserve water and keep it clean.

Perhaps one of the most important things we do is to use native plants adapted to our local conditions. Except for new plantings, we never water our plants. We don't water our miniscule lawn either.

We sometimes add water to our ornamental pond and to our wildlife pond when it hasn't rained for a while, but the amount is much less than people use washing their cars, for example, and these habitats are valuable for birds, dragonflies, toads, and other little creatures.

Rain barrels

Our rain barrels ©Janet AllenTwo of our rain barrels

John created rain barrels from $15 barrels that had contained apple juice concentrate. He cut out most of the top, put in a spigot at the bottom, and to protect against mosquitoes, he covered the top with window screen held on by bungee cords.

One of our four roof gutters directs rain into the barrels, and a separate piece of gutter at right angles directs the water into both barrels.

We found that so much rain falls even in a short shower that we added more rain barrels at the other down spouts.

Barrels in winter ©Janet Allen
Getting the rain barrels ready for winter

We disconnect our rain barrels during the winter; otherwise, ice would form inside and crack the plastic. We turn it upside down and store it in place, although ideally, it would be great to be able to store them inside. Since we have five rain barrels, that would be difficult!

Cleaning the rain barrel ©Janet Allen
Cleaning our rain barrel

We clean out our barrels in spring.

Rain in our yard affects our whole county

Onondaga Creek overflow(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
Onondaga Creek

The huge amount of rain water caught by our rain barrels would otherwise go into our sewer system. This helps more than just our own yard.

Since our county has combined sewer overflow (sewage and excessive rainwater go into the same pipes), storms often result in sewage treatment plant's capacity being exceeded. If all citizens arrange things so the water that falls on their property stays on their property, this wouldn't be a problem.

Our own goal is to prevent any storm water runoff from leaving our property. Otherwise, such runoff flows into Onondaga Creek, and the combined sewer overflow results in mixing sewage and stormwater. Yuck!

Cleanup ©Janet AllenJohn (in white hat) working with ESF students to clean up Onondaga Creek, when at its usual depth

Fortunately, our new county executive scrapped plans to build massive sewage treatment plants to deal with Onondaga County's sewage and is working on green infrastructure instead. An important part of this plan is for homeowners to install rain barrels.

Trash pulled from creek ©Janet Allen
A small portion of the trash pulled from the creek

Another aspect of water conservation in our county is the enormous amount of energy used to clean water. When we toured the sewage treatment plant, we were astonished at the amount of water being moved around—moved around, of course, by using energy. It's an insane use of energy to move around and treat so much clean rain water.

Of course, treating sewage could be considered an additional waste of an enormous amount of energy when composting toilets could do the job on-site. And why are we using this treated, potable water in our toilets anyway?

Rain gardens

Blue flag iris ©Janet AllenBlue flag iris, a good rain garden plant, is growing in our pond

Rain gardens are another important way to prevent such runoff. Unfortunately, we don't have a good spot for one, and we really don't need one since we're already keeping almost all rainwater on our property. They're a beautiful way to conserve water, though, and we'd create one if we could or should.

Rain gardens are especially nice because thet provide an opportunity to grow some plants that appreciate some extra water (though a proper rain garden doesn't retain water permanently, just long enough for it to be absorbed).

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor), for example, is one of many beautiful native plants that thrive in a rain garden. The one shown here is growing in our pond.