Water harvesting techniques for small communities in arid areas

Yuen, E., et al., 2001. Water Science and Technology

Original research (primary data)
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Limited water resources exist in numerous remote indigenous settlements around Australia. Indigenous people in these communities are still living in rudimentary conditions while their urban counterparts have full amenities, large scale water supplies and behavioral practices which may not be appropriate for an arid continent but are supported by extensive infrastructure in higher rainfall coastal areas. As remote indigenous communities continue to develop, their water use will increase, and in some cases, costly solutions may have to be implemented to augment supplies. Water harvesting techniques have been applied in settlements on a small scale for domestic and municipal purposes, and in the large, broadacre farm setting for productive use of the water. The techniques discussed include swales, infiltration basins, infiltration trenches and sand dam’ basins. This paper reviews the applications of water harvesting relevant to small communities for land rehabilitation, landscaping and flood control. Landscaping is important in these communities as it provides shelter from the sun and wind, reduces soil erosion and hence reduced airborne dust, and in some cases provides food and nutrition. Case studies of water harvesting systems applied in the Pilbara Region, Western Australia for landscaping around single dwellings in Jigalong and Cheeditha, in a permaculture garden in Wittenoon and at a college and carpark in Karratha are described.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-188-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    In 1997, a “Greening Cheeditha Project” developed a water harvesting plan for six residential lots. This included the construction of earth banks and swales [open, vegetated channels that reduce runoff velocity, promote infiltration, remove sediments and can be used to increase available water to plants] along natural topo- graphic lines to direct yard runoff into a number of depressions which were then planted with juvenile trees, shrubs and groundcover. Species included Carobs, Albizias, fruit trees (Mangoes, Figs, Oranges, Lemons, Grapefruits, Guavas), shrubs such as Wattles, Daturas, Cotton, Saltbushes, Basil, Gooseberry and groundcover including Herbs, Grasses, Creepers (eg Lippia/Spinifex).

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Freshwater flooding  Positive For both impacts: Qualitative/anecdotal statements that projects met the objectives of reducing the impact
    Soil erosion  Positive For both impacts: Qualitative/anecdotal statements that projects met the objectives of reducing the impact
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Cheeditha, an Aboriginal community on the out- skirts of Roeburn, 30 km from Karratha

  • Country: Australia
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created other |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness determined by anecdotal statements “The swales and basins constructed are proving successful in meeting these objectives”
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Positive
  • People measures: Anectodal statement; they are explicit in linking outcomes to benefiting specific homes, and they also state "The swales and basins constructed are proving successful in meeting these objectives as well as providing traffic control."
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Qualitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: