Developing a cistern system

Creating a cistern system is a field day for techie types. On the other hand, it's probably not such a great experience if your idea of doing plumbing is changing the washer in a leaky faucet. But if you're ready for the challenge, creating a cistern system can be a fun project. The following sections show you the story, in a nutshell, of how to complete the project. Remember: If you lack confidence in your plumbing abilities, work with a licensed plumber who's experienced in cisterns.

Get tanked

Before you do anything else, decide where you'll place your tank and whether it'll be aboveground (less expensive, uglier, but preferable overall) or underground (more expensive and subject to collapsing and floating out of the ground). I proceed on the assumption that your tank will be aboveground.

In the ideal scenario, your house is on top of a hill, and the landscaping is downhill from the house. The tank should be located next to the house so that it can gravity-feed into the yard. If the tank is lower, count on using a small electric pump to send the water uphill.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Make sure your tank is located on undisturbed, stable soil (not fill soil). After all, 1,000 gallons of water weighs as much as two cars.
  • Leave enough room to walk around your tank for servicing.
  • Make sure the surrounding soil slopes away from the tank in all directions.

Size up your storage

After you know where you want to house your cistern, decide how much water you want to store. There's a whole science to sizing cisterns, but an easy rule of thumb is to keep it to a maximum of 5,000 gallons. How far through the dry season that amount will take you depends on the size of your garden, the water needs of your plants, the climate, the soil, and other factors. It's a safe bet that you'll still have to buy water, which is why I include information on conventional irrigation systems in this book (see Chapters 7 and 10).

Install the cistern

How you install your cistern depends on what it's made of. Count on at least getting help from some strong friends, and know that you may even need heavy equipment to move this big boy. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind for each type of cistern:

  • Plastic: Place a plastic tank on a smooth, 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of compacted fine pea gravel (the rounded kind) or sand (but make sure it won't wash away).
  • Steel: If your tank is steel, place it on a bed of compacted coarse gravel, which keeps the bottom of the tank dry and postpones the inevitable rusting.
  • Concrete: If you'll be installing a concrete or other type of tank, work with a qualified contractor.

Distribute the water

If you have enough elevation change to depend on gravity to send the water out to your plants, use a hose or possibly a drip system to distribute it (making sure to filter that drip system). If you're using a pump, you can apply the water with a hose, a drip system, or even sprinklers.

.flV ^ When setting up a cistern, some subtle but important details are involved in connecting the inlet, outlet, drain, and other pipes to the tank. For example, ■ r^l the inlet has to have an air gap between it and the high-water mark so the water can't siphon out of the tank, and the drain pipe has to be carefully located to make cleaning sludge out of the bottom relatively easy instead of having to mop it up and haul it out through the top in buckets. I don't have the space to detail the connections and the many other complexities of tank design and installation here. If you'll be doing the work yourself, I recommend that you get a copy of Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds, by Art Ludwig (Oasis Design).

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Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

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