83-year-old Encinitas Woman Harvests the Rain

March 10, 2013 by Frontline Copy

by Faith Attaguile

a green business installs rainwater tanks


Miriam Clark moved to Encinitas, Calif. from Los Angeles in 1954 with her husband Bill and three young children. She was 24 years old.

About four years later, while the young family was driving to the beach along Bracero Rd., Miriam and Bill saw a sign: “Land for Sale.” At her husband’s urging, Miriam got out of the car (in her bathing suit) to talk to the owner of the land, Mr. Palmer.

He told her he’d sell the ¾-acre lot at 745 Bracero Rd. for $4,500 (worth over $1 million today).

“We both had teaching contracts then,” Miriam told me, “and it felt like they were burning holes in our pockets. Money to spend. So we signed a contract. Five-and-a-half years later we paid it off.”

Right around the time they paid off their contract, a little girl was born into the family, making them six. So they built a three-bedroom, one-bath house on their newly-acquired land. And in 1964, they moved in.

I asked Miriam what it was like on Bracero Rd. at the time.

“Well, pretty bare. You wouldn’t know it now, would you? But there was just Mr. Palmer’s house, a really nice one, over at the corner of Requeza and Bonita. A small, two-bedroom house next door to us, and Eric’s house just across the road on Bracero Rd. The rest was just bare land – and I mean, bare. No trees … nothing!”

That was then, this is now

Miriam’s land isn’t bare anymore. Her children are grown and all but her son David have moved away. David has his own studio on the property, and helps her care for about eight raised vegetable beds in the back yard. Something is always growing, giving them great fresh, organic vegetables for most of the year.

“The rhubarb, I love,” says Miriam. “It’s a beautiful plant! I just made rhubarb crunch -- would you like some? It’s still warm….”

She grinned. Pulling a carton of Trader Joe’s vanilla ice cream out of the freezer, she scooped some on top of the aromatic delight she had just portioned out for me.

Watching in anticipation, I asked her why she decided to install a rainwater harvesting system.

“It was my stepdaughter who put me on to it,” she said as she placed my dessert in front of me. “She and a friend went to a workshop on rainwater harvesting over at Grangetto’s here in Encinitas. They came back really excited about the idea.”

I asked her to explain.

“Well,” she said, “think about it. Water is a disappearing resource. Everyone knows that. And we live in a semi-arid desert here in Southern California, where our water footprint counts. So it’s a shame that we don’t capture and reuse the little rain that we do get.”

Eventually, Miriam got in touch with Albert Barlow, owner of Rain Water Systems in Santee. After talking with him, she decided it really was a “no-brainer.”

After all, Southern California weather allows winter and summer gardens needing water throughout the year. Although the average yearly San Diego rainfall is only about 10 inches, that can add up to a lot of water.

She told me how Albert explained that with this area’s average rainfall, 1,000 square foot on a roof yields 623 gallons of water/inch of rain. "That’s over 6,000 gallons of water per year. My area is larger than that. That's a lot of municipal water I don't have to pay for!”

I talked with Barlow later. He gave me this equation:

Roof area (square feet) x rainfall (feet) x 7.48 gallons/foot
= total rainwater (gallons)

Barlow has been in the rainwater catchment business for many years and installed Miriam’s system without a hitch. So when the December storms hit the area, Miriam's tanks were ready to bring in the rain-gold.

And they did. By the end of the month, rainwater from about 1,400 square feet of rooftop had almost filled her two, 825-gallon Bushman tanks. She thinks that's about a three-month supply of water for her gardens. Miriam said, “I thought Albert was crazy when he told me I would be able to use a third tank, so I didn’t go that route. But now I’m thinking …"

Miriam said, “I thought Albert was crazy when he told me I would be able to use a third tank, so I didn’t go that route. But now I’m thinking …"

Another rain tank for a backyard orchard?

a sustainable business supplies fruit treesMiriam has never shied away from trying new things. Her enthusiasm has recently extended into another concept she discovered … at yet another workshop. This one was given by Weidners Gardens in Encinitas. It was about high-density planting called “backyard orchards.”

So she’s built two, 9-ft. sq. raised beds. In each one, she planted four new bare root fruit trees from Dave Wilson’s Nursery, just east of Modesto, Calif.

“I like their philosophy,” she muses. “You plant the trees close together, varieties that fruit at different times, and prune to your height – no taller! Then, during the fruiting season, all you have to do is graze. No ladders necessary here!”

She’s thinking she’ll ask Barlow to return and extend her rainwater harvesting system with another tank so her new fruit trees can also benefit from chlorine-free rainwater.

“Albert taught me a lot. Truly, water is a very precious resource. We all need to start capturing and reusing rainwater. Our own rooftops can be a resource for most of our outside water needs.”

Miriam definitely walks her talk. And you can see examples of it right in her own back yard.

As I finished the last of my rhubarb crunch, I couldn’t help but wonder: What will Miriam’s next off-the-grid project look like?

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Coast News. If you’re interested in a free consultation about a rainwater system in your own back yard, you can talk with Albert Barlow, Rain Water Systems, at 619-798-7312.


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