Monday, July 28, 2008

Water Recycling System Captures Crucial Rainfall in Elsah, IL

Three Rivers Community Farms’ shaded wash station in June 2007, where they trap the wash water and reuse it for irrigation. - Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Community Farm.

In Elsah, IL, Amy Cloud and Segue Lara are working on a project to recycle water at their Three Rivers Community Farm. Their goal was to design and install a wash station that sends produce wash water to a custom built-grey water recycling system as well as capture rain water from the roof of the barn.

Three Rivers Community Farm was established in December 2006, with Cloud and Lara’s lease of 12 acres located just beyond Elsah. Three Rivers is a small, chemical-free vegetable farm, where Cloud and Lara have battled drought conditions throughout the past 5 years, despite a rainier season this year.

My husband and I have been farming in the St. Louis area since 2003 and witnessed three consecutive years of drought in 2004, 2005, and 2006,” said Cloud. “This and the uncertain impacts of climate change have encouraged our interest in water conservation. If this area continues to warm and is prone to periods of drought, we want to make sure we have mechanisms in place to farm as best as possible.”

In 2006, Cloud submitted a proposal for her water recycling project to the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant program, and was selected for funding.

For Cloud's project, water recycled from Three Rivers' wash station and rain water collected from the roof will be used to water the farm's animals, irrigate the “pick-your-own” crops, and long-term, will be used to water Three Rivers’ mid-to-late season greenhouse production.

This grant has given us the opportunity to become better educated about the innovations out there concerning water conservation and waste water recycling,” said Cloud. “We've found that water conservation can be as complicated and high-tech as you would like, or it can be just as effective relying on simple, gravity-fed systems.”

Cloud is attempting to find that middle ground between high tech and low tech.

“We are trying to look far enough in the future and base our cistern purchases on possible growth: as our farm grows, as we grow more produce, then our water needs will increase as well. At the same time we don’t want the cost to get out of hand.”

Cloud experienced a setback in 2007 with her project. The consultant she hired in 2007 to help with the project went out of business. Several months after the fact, she received a basic design from the consultant, but felt it was not worth the money she paid.

But Cloud is not one to throw in the towel.

“Since then, I have been using my own resources and partnering with one faculty member from Principia College to augment and expand the consultant’s design,” said Cloud. “We’ve decided on a plan that will work for our farm.”

Cloud is confident that their project results will benefit other producers who may not have access to streams, ponds, or wells for irrigation and therefore, rely on city water for washing and irrigating.

As water rates increase, it is important to get as many uses from city water as possible. Hence, collecting the hundreds of gallons of water remaining from washing produce and being able to use it again to irrigate or water animals saves money and a very precious resource,” said Cloud. “In addition, to lessen our dependence on city water, being able to capture rainwater is crucial. Our system will be one example of how to do both.”

Read more about Cloud’s project online, or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information.

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