Rainwater Catchment & Water Recycling

Rainwater catchment is the act of collecting water before it reaches an aquifer. Rainwater can be collected off of a rooftop or in a natural drainage area. The water can be held in a tank or cistern to be used for any number of uses the farmer may require. Water recycling can be implemented in different ways: you can recycle municipal water, agricultural wastewater, or gray water. The California Water Recycling Criteria allow the use of recycled wastewater for irrigation of all types of food crops. The greatest hurdle to the use of recycled water is distance from the water source, so having on-site agricultural wastewater recycling may be very preferable. 

Owner Dee Harley captures and recycles rainwater as well as water from the dairy and creamery. These efforts save Harley Farms Goat Dairy 40,000 gallons of water per year and allow for the development of specialty crop production for their on-farm dinners and other events.

Harley Farms Goat Dairy serves as a great model for on-farm rainwater catchment and water recycling practices for a variety of agricultural operations. Owner Dee Harley calls water “liquid gold” and has a deep commitment to the sustainability of the farm. This is clear through her careful attention to water use and reuse. The dairy, creamery, and gardens are on site, and so are the two hundred alpine goats from whom the cheese is made.

“To run a dairy operation, it takes quite a lot of water,” says Dee. They’ve installed large water storage tanks to capture rainwater coming off of the metal roof of the milking barn. That captured rainwater travels directly to two 5,000-gallon storage tanks through a PVC gutter system. From there, the water is piped to thirteen different troughs for the goats to drink. The addition of the rainwater catchment system has enabled Dee to add a garden. That garden has become a place to grow specialty crops, including edible flowers, herbs, and vegetables for the farm dinners, which increases the ecological sustainability and profitability of the farm.

Harley Farms recycles its water by capturing all of the water that has already been used to clean the milking parlor, pasteurizer, and creamery and then spreading it out over the pastures as a form of irrigation. Besides an annual cleaning of the roof and drainpipes for the rainwater barrels—and some maintenance of the filtration system—the whole rainwater catchment and water recycling system takes “very little maintenance, really,” according to Dee.

Dee was able to fund these complimentary water stewardship projects through the EQIP cost-share program in partnership with the NRCS, and also through her own financing. She sees that it has been “an important partnership” because “there are always new and interesting grants and available funding for people.” Her goal was to avoid drawing any water from the creek for her farm operations. These types of systems are helping farmers innovate and more intentionally use our precious water resources. Dee sees this as evidence of “thinking to the future.”

Recommended Materials

CAWSI’s Agricultural Water Stewardship Center: http://agwaterstewards.org/index.php/practices/reuse_of_agricultural_wastewater/
American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association: http://www.arcsa.org/index.asp
Harley Farms Goat Dairy: http://www.harleyfarms.com/index.php


This project is funded in part by a water stewardship grant from the California Department of Food & Agriculture.

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