|New Happnins’ Down on the Farm!|
Focusing on Harvest and Use of Rainfall
Those who pass down the country road Larry LouAllen lives on in Moulton are likely scratching their heads these days. "What is that thing?," they’re likely wondering. They may even be saying to other passengers something like, "What the heck is that thing by that barn over there?" Well, if you happen to travel down County Road 177 in Lawrence County and see a big black tank attached to the gutters on a barn, you’ll now know all about it...because I’m about to tell you!
The LouAllens are participating in a demonstration project with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). Specifically, they are working with the Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs division of ACES, which is headquartered at Alabama A&M University. The project (drum-roll, please) is...a water catchment system. That’s right, a water catchment system.
Larry and Bonita LouAllen are some hard-working folks! They produce cattle, peaches, watermelons and lots of other truck crops. Larry is the chairman of the local farmers’ market board, and he also works relentlessly with us on the "Learn & Serve" project involving the local Alternative High School. That partnership has led to the establishment of two high-tunnel greenhouses (hoop-houses) and the willingness to try more cutting-edge, research-based projects. The water catchment system certainly fits that bill.
Basically, the 3,000 gallon tank, attached to the side of Larry LouAllen’s barn and gutter system, is a water storage cistern which will be hooked into drip irrigation systems to water his vegetable crops. It has its own electric pump and can be filled to capacity by a one-inch rainfall event. It’s an emergency water system to help his crops survive when others may be perishing in a drought season.
The two high-tunnel greenhouses are also being equipped with gutters to capture rainwater into a 1,000 gallon tank for irrigating crops in the hoop-houses.
If you are currently imagining a huge network of gutters and pipes flowing around Larry’s barns and hoop-houses, just stop! It doesn’t work like that. A big barn can catch a LOT of water just from part of the roof area. Larry’s barn is currently utilizing only one gutter downspout off part of one side (of one of his barns)!
So, why would someone go to the trouble of installing a "cistern" like this? For one reason, it can save a high value crop! For another, it can save big bucks when compared to the price of using municipal water to irrigate (especially in areas where a sewage charge is added to water usage). Larry even plans to incorporate the system into an overhead irrigation system for emergency frost protection for his peach orchard.
We are looking at other avenues in the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for harvesting and using rainfall. These methods, even for homeowners, promise stream-erosion and pollution-preventing benefits galore, besides less use of municipally-treated water. Watch for many more educational projects like this in the days ahead. It’s a good thing.
Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s New & Nontraditional Programs Division.