The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America. One of the challenges of living off the grid in a desert region is water. Drilling wells is expensive, and in this part of the desert there is no guarantee that if you find water it will be entirely potable. Because of its geological past, there is the presence of brackish water throughout the Big Bend of Texas.
There are several sources of water in the Chihuahuan Desert, especially in Big Bend. The Rio Grande River, even in dry times, is an ever-reliable source of water. Terlingua Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande, as well as desert streams and arroyos also do their part to help hydrate the flora and fauna of this arid region.
The annual rainfall in Big Bend is somewhere around 12-inches per year. For off-gridders in the area, this rainfall (even if intermittent) presents the opportunity to resupply their water catchment tanks. I know that 12-inches does not sound like a lot of rain, but 12-inches of rain captured on just 500 square feet of roofing can yield as many as 3,700 gallons of water.
One of the considerations when ordering our cabin was the roof. Like so many roofs in the Big Bend area, we have a standing seam metal roof on our cabin especially for the purpose of rain catchment. We also purchased a 1,125 gallon water catchment tank fed by seamless gutters. We calculate that 1-inch of rain on our 420 square foot roof will capture as many as 260 gallons of water.
In preparation for the placement of our water catchment tank, Cheryl and I built a raised pad of tamped earth and pea gravel held in place by treated lumber. I will later add railroad ties to countersunk trenches around the pad to further strengthen it.
The good folks at Green Desert Living did a great job of installing our seamless gutters and feeding them into our tank with 2-inch PVC pipe. And now, we wait for rain, any rain, to start the process of filling our tank.
Advice on water catchment that I have received from several neighbors is to capture more than we will need. Good advice. We have the option of adding additional water storage in the future and likely will do so.
One of the things we did during our first week in our cabin was to recycle and reuse every precious drop of water. We captured the water from our foot-pump sink and used it to fill the tank on our camp toilet. We used the water we emptied from our ice chest to refill the tank on our foot-pump sink and to refill the two-gallon container on our off-grid shower. We used safe gray water to water the small trees around our cabin.
It really is amazing how much you can get done if you ration and use water wisely. For example, we showered all week with about 5-gallons of water. My camp shower is efficient, got us clean, and helped us to do so with little water wasted. The same with our efficiently designed flushing camp toilet — 5-gallons took care of our needs all week.
Learning to live off the grid is about the wise use of all resources, especially water. We know we have a lot more to learn and are excited about this new adventure. We are having the time of our lives learning to do new, and hard things, in our sixties.
Never stop learning and doing hard things. This is the best way to stay young! And, in the words of Toby Keith’s song, “Don’t Let the Old Man In.” Thanks for following our adventure.