In the desert, you need a dependable water supply,
period. I suggest securing a water supply before doing anything else, almost. Mark your boundaries first,
so you don't accidentally build something for a neighbor.
I mixed some yellow exterior latex paint with water, put it in a small pump-up sprayer and walked around my
property, spraying boulders which were visible from far away, first the corners, then the boundaries in smaller
rocks. That gave me a rough outline of my property.
Now that you have your property lines marked, walk around and find several possible locations for a house,
remembering that a gravity-supplied water tank must be above it, and rainwater catchment above that. For more
details on site eveluation, go here.
You want the catchment to be sloping but not steep, closer to flat as possible. Rocky ground
will be hard to seal, so choose smooth if possible. Visualize the entire catchment area, where the water will
collect (a drain) and below that, where a storage tank will sit. You want the top of your tank to be below your
drain, obviously. Mark these with something bright, like colored cloth or paper. Now stand where you want your
house. Sight at 4 or 5 feet off the ground along a level (that's level) in the direction of your tank spot, then
walk over and mark the spot you sighted. If it's at least 10 feet below your tank spot, you will have decent water
pressure in the house, and five feet will work. The higher your tank above your house, the greater your water
pressure. If your storage tank will be used for emergency fire control, 15 feet will be a minimum, and use a 2"
pipe from tank to house (or to hydrant).
Start simple, if your resources are small. I first put up a temporary rain catchment and
storage system, so I could get enough water to do a permanent one in concrete, which of course requires water to
mix. I carried out some 10 x 20' plastic tarps, some 1" PVC pipes, four 60-gallon plastic barrels, fittings and a
I cleared enough weeds and rocks to lay the tarps on the ground, weighed the edges well with
rocks and made a hole in the lowest corner of a tarp for a drain. Some PVC fittings made into a drain went in the
hole, and then pipe sections burried with the trowel led to the barrels, which I piped together sdo they would fill
I returned after a big rain and found all barrels full! With that water I was able to make my
first permanent catchment in another place with thin concrete over chicken wire. That catchment has been a total
I experimented with other technologies for making catchments that produce good quality water,
clean enough to drink. I wanted to find an easy way to make large catchments without spending lots of tyime and
money on them. The result is worth all the experimentation. I now have three catchments - 500, 525 and 1200 sq ft -
producing more water than I can store at present (4000 gallons), so plan to add a third storage tank soon.
My DVD covers the creation and plumbing of several rain catchment and storage systems.
My entire water system requires no power at all. Rain falls on the catchment, goes down a
screened drain, through a 2 inch pipe to a settling tank and then out to a storage tank. From the outlet at the
bottom of the tank, which is 15 feet above my house, another 2 inch pipe goes underground to a spot near my house
where I have a standpipe for connecting a hose and filling buckets, and a second line goes to my house. There it
splits, one pipe goes to the solar hot water heater, the other to the kitchen sink. The pipe from the top of the
hot water tank goes to the sink and another branch to the outdoor shower.
When I open the faucet in the kitchen, gravity from the storage tank water pushes water to the
house, through the hot water tank and I have hot and cold water under pressure available without using any power to
pump the water nor to heat it.