Planting the Rain to Grow Abundance | Brad Lancaster | TEDxTucson

Translator: Elena Symeonidou
Reviewer: Denise RQ So, growing up here in Tucson Arizona, my favourite game was flood. So I would go out in the sand box, and I would spend hours and hours building these elaborate cities of sand and then, I’d turn on the hose, and I would wipe it all out
with a catastrophic flood. I can still remember the screams
of all the imaginary people, “Please help me!” and then– but don’t worry, no one was hurt because at just the last moment, before their part of the crumbling city
fell into the churning waters, I imagined lifting them all up to safety. And then, when all was destroyed,
I would, of course, rebuild and I’d do it again and again
because I loved this game. But I think it might have
affected the water bill (Laughter) because it wasn’t too long
before I was banned from using hose water in the sand box. I was devastated at first, but then determined to find
a different way. And I did. Because I realized there was
another water source, an ignored one, a free one: the rain! Because, you see, we had this dry
creek bed or ‘arroyo’ in our front yard. That thing was dry most of the year,
but when there was a big rain, that thing would flow like a torrent. So, I was like, “Alright! I’ll build my sand cities anew
in these dry creek beds.” Then all I had to do is wait for rain. And I waited and waited. But eventually, the storm clouds built and then, when the rains came,
the floods were epic. I mean, there was a volume of water that far exceeded anything
you could get from a hose. So like, “Oh yeah!
I don’t need no stinking hose! I’ve the rain! The flood is on again!” (Laughter) I got pretty passionate about that. (Laughter) While I no longer play the game of flood, that lesson of how much potential we have
in the rain, that has never left me. it continues to spark
my work and play to this day. So, here in the desert community
of Tucson, Arizona, we only get 11 inches of rain a year. Yet, more rain falls on the surface area
of Tucson any year than all of Tucson and all its inhabitants
consume of municipal water in a year. Do you get that? More rain falls on Tucson in a year
that Tucson consumes of water a year. We already have all that we need, and it’s delivered to us
free of charge from the sky. But you wouldn’t know it because we drain the vast majority of that
right out of the system. So, let’s look at that. In 1904, the Santa Cruz River
still flowed year round through Tucson, Arizona. Not just after a big rain
but all year round. We still had these sponge like forests
along the river that would absorb that rain and plant in the living soils. Compare that to today and due to
over-pumping our ground water, we have killed the river
and the sponge-like forests that used to line it and help recharge it
and the ground water. And then, we replaced
those sponges of vegetation with pavement of streets,
buildings, and compacted bare earth, which leads to much more flooding, because now the water
runs off those hard surfaces much more quickly than it did before. To replace all that rain that we drain, we then pump water 300 miles
and 3,000 feet height and elevation from the Colorado River
to Tucson and Phoenix at a cost of over
80 million dollars a year, and the death of the Colorado River’s
downstream stretch. I hate this story because it’s not unique to Tucson,
I see it almost everywhere. We squander the natural abundance
that we already have, and we spend vast amounts of resources
trying to replace that which we squandered by taking it from
other people and other places, worsening scarcity for everyone. So, what do we do? It turns out that everywhere
in the world that has a dry climate or even a wet climate
with just a dry season has a rich history and traditions
of investing, of harvesting the rain as opposed to draining it. This was largely forgotten when we got mechanical pumps
that could move water uphill, so I was pretty much unaware
of the potential of harvesting rainwater until I had the opportunity
to travel to Africa and visit family
and then explore on my own. It was in the driest region of Zimbabwe that I got to meet the water farmer,
Mr Zephanaiah Phiri Maseko, who taught himself, then his family,
and countless others including myself on how to harvest the rain, or as he says, plant the rain. He went down this path,
when many years ago, he found himself struggling to support his family of eight
with no job and no income. How was he to feed them? So he turned to the only two things he felt he had
to get out of the situation: an eroding seven-acre parcel of land and the bible, which he used
as a gardening manual of sorts. Because you see, he was so inspired by the story of Genesis
and the garden of Eden, that he got to thinking, “Well, I should grow such a garden. And the water resources
that will sustain it.” How do you go about doing that? The same way we all can: with long and thoughtful observation. So. every time it rained,
he’d be out there running, watching,
seeing what was going on. And, as he said, getting very wet
but being very happy. (Laughter) Because he was learning. He saw the areas
where things were not working, such as where the rain
did not infiltrate the soil, but instead flowed off too quickly causing
erosion and downstream flooding. He learned how to fix that
by observing what was working, such as where there were
rocks or vegetation perpendicular to the slope and the flow, slowing down, spreading out that flow,
allowing sediment to drop out, moisture to linger, seeds to germinate,
and vegetation to grow. So a living sponge started to form
on where was previously a barren drain. So the creation of such living sponges,
that’s what it means to plant the rain. So Mr Phiri, did this from the very top
of his watershed and the beginning of the water flow
all the way to the bottom of his land. Everywhere slowing, spreading,
and infiltrating the water. And by doing this though,
it was much more manageable, and he could move all the water
with the free power of gravity; no pumps needed. Here he would direct the runoff
from this road to the adjoining basin, lined with multi-use vegetation, turning this into this. And so, once the water infiltrated
into the soil, the soil was the tank, and water would be lost in much
lower degree to evaporation. Then he could access the water
from the tank of the soil through living pumps of vegetation, and their fruit, their shelter,
their livestock fodder, and more. And by doing this,
even in a drought year, the Phiris were able to get
two to three harvests from their crops, when others not planting the rain
were lucky to get just one. And they could also access
the rain they planted in the form of their rising ground water, which created seasonal springs
and filled their hand-dug wells. And the rain the Phiris planted,
it also filled the wells of their adjoining
and downstream neighbors. And so, the planting of rain
started to catch on because people saw
that there were others in the community whose wells went dry
when they weren’t planting the rain. Why the difference? The difference is
those whose wells were drying, just kept taking water
but never gave back, whereas the Phiris made sure they kept putting more back into
the system than they took out. So, it caught on, and I got to visit
dozens of other farmers inspired or taught by the Phiris who had likewise converted
dying drains to vital sponges. I was inspired by this that I told
Mr. Phiri about how freaked out I was about the water situation in my community and how I no longer wanted to contribute to the depleting waters
by consuming those depleting waters, and I wanted to leave and asked him for his advice. To which point, he slapped me
on the shoulder, and he said, “Well, you cannot leave, because if you run from your problems, you’re just going to plant and grow
problems everywhere you go. So, you have to try and figure out
how to turn those problems into solutions. And if you succeed at that, well, you’ll have the ability to do that
wherever you find yourself.” That challenge, that resonated to my core. I knew that this was a challenge
that could be met because I’d seen it in the example the Phiris lived
and those that they had inspired. I just had to figure out
how to tweak things to fit the unique conditions
and context of my home. So, I returned home to this: a dry, degraded eighth-of-an-acre property that my brother and I had just purchased
north of downtown Tucson. And how did we begin? Well, the same as the Phiris. With observation. So in the first big rain,
we are out there running, and watching,
seeing what was going on. And we were losing
so much water to the street, But worse, plenty more water
was flowing into the house. (Laughter) I mean, I was the victim
of my childhood game of flood. (Laughter) So, my brother and I are like, “Man, we’ve got to turn
the game around, man! Turn flood into harvest!” So, we did that, and we diverted
the water away from the house into these sponge-like basins
with mulch and vegetation, which would rapidly absorb it. And then, in times of no rain,
we redirected our household Grey water, that once used wash water
from the showers, laundry, or sinks to the landscape turning that waste water
into another free resource water. In this way, we found that all we needed
to grow the vegetation that would shade, shelter, and beautify the house
was the water draining from the house. This enabled us to break
a needless addiction ubiquitous across the US. So it turns out the average single
family household in the US consumes 30 to 50% of its drinking water
to irrigate their landscape. This is what happens when we use
hose water or drip-irrigation water to replace the rainwater
we wastefully drain away. So, we don’t do that. Instead, we plant food-bearing,
native and climate-appropriate plants, than can thrive just on our harvested
rainwater and Grey water. We don’t throw away or vacuum our leaves. Leaves are called leaves
because we are supposed to leave them! (Laughter) So, we harvest them,
along with cut up prunings, in our water harvesting basins
creating these fertile sponges of mulch which rapidly absorb the water, so we don’t lose it to evaporation
and nor do we have puddles or mosquitoes. We don’t have flooding either,
because we make sure we always have an overflow route,
should there be a massive storm that exceeds what we can
hold and infiltrate. And even that overflow water
is used as a resource, because we direct that
to multiple downstream strategies. So, in eight years, we were able
to turn this into this, and no drinking water is used, no city water, no imported water,
no well water. Only rainwater and the runoff
from the pathways and the street. And because we planted
so many native plants, many or dozens of native bird species
have returned, and pollinators, and the shade from the trees
drops summer temperatures by ten degrees, dropping the cooling cost
of adjoining homes as well. And it’s caught on at such a degree
with many more neighbors doing this that we now have many people
walking and bicycling through, which has dropped crime. Because now there’s
more friendly eyes on the street. And within the street, we noticed that the street gutter
would flow like a creek in a big rain, so we cut the street gutter to direct the street runoff
to street-side basins. Now, this was illegal at the time, OK? (Laughter) So, we cut the curb on a Sunday
when no one from the city was watching. (Laughter) But the results were amazing
because we found that every street everywhere
can be a shaded corridor of native food trees and other life, irrigated with nothing more
than the rain falling on the street, controlling flooding at the same time. So, we went to the city to legalize
and enhance the practice. And then we got it incentivized,
and now it’s even mandated in new city road construction
and renovation. (Applause) This, this advocacy work is key. This advocacy work
to change practice, policy, and law Because without a will, there is no way. So, to further spark that will,
I wrote and published how-to books, did countless talks,
and with others did workshops, and we organized annual rain
and tree-planting projects in our neighborhood and others. And in our neighborhood alone, since 1996, we have planted
over 1,400 food bearing trees. (Applause) We harvest over
a million gallons of rain each year that previously run out
of the neighborhood. But this is just the start! I mean, we can and need to harvest
tens of millions of gallons more just in that neighborhood, and billions of gallons more
throughout the community. So, you don’t have to be a home owner
to do this, or even have a yard. Because most of the planting
we do is in the public arena, along the street or in the street,
the commons, such as here with the water harvesting
traffic calming roundabout, or here, a water harvesting
traffic calming chicane. You can do it on school grounds,
church grounds, you can even do it
in parking lots and parks. And you can do in all climates,
wet and dry, as it mitigates extremes. It reduces flooding in wet times,
it reduces drought in dry times. The only thing that changes
as you shift work from one climate to the other
is the plants that you use. And you can do it on all scales. When you start to harvest rainwater
and experience that in your landscape that leads to harvesting rainwater
for washing, for cooking, for drinking. Sponge neighborhoods
lead to sponge cities. Revived creeks lead to revived rivers. So, what drains do you have in your life
that you could turn into sponges? The work is easy. What’s difficult is the shift in thinking. Because planting the rain
is a 180-degree shift from how we typically do things today. It’s about shifting
from a scarcity mindset to abundance. It’s about using what you already have
not what you buy or import. It’s about partnering
with natural systems not fighting them. It’s about growing more life
and potential not paving over it. And as soon as you do this,
as soon as you experience it in the rain, you immediately see how it all works, it all makes sense. You see how you are a key part
of a solution and not a problem. But this comes with a serious risk because, even if it’s three a.m.,
and it starts to rain, you are likely to run outside
in your underwear just to see your basins and tanks
fill up with water, and when you see
all that accumulating abundance, you’re going to take these here buns and do a little bun dance
on the path to a-bun-dance! When you see it all happen
you’re going to shout, “I don’t need no stinking hose. I’ve got the rain! The harvest is on!” (Applause) Thank you. In memory of and gratitude for Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko
1927 – Sept 1, 2015 (Cheers) (Applause)


  1. Brad Lancaster has been one of my biggest inspirations to harvest the rain! His TEDx talk is so important. Better stewardship of the rain falling on our neighborhoods will transform our communities in countless ways.

  2. Thanks Brad. I have built many rain barrels for myself and friends, and at my children's school, using the design in your book since reading it in Oracle, AZ about a decade ago.

  3. It is good to see the great rainwater harvester and evangelist, Brad Lancaster on a TEDx stage. More than ever his message needs to be heard, heeded and acted upon.

  4. Merci Brad Lancaster, merci pour ton enthousiasme et ton histoire inspirante. Je souhaite que tes livres soient traduits en Franรงais.
    Thanks a lot Brad Lancaster, thanks again for joy and inspiring story. I hope to translate yours books in french.

  5. YOU, Sir, are SO SOOOOOOOOO INSPIRING!!! What no one has ever accomplished before-in my 35 years here inTucson….YOU did in less than 15 minutes!!!!! I want to do what YOU have done!!! I want to live like YOU are living!!! I want to be part of this community's solutions rather than its problems!!!! You are so full of spark and shine. Your personality is bigger than LIFE!!! Thank you for this amazing lesson that has already begun shifting my thinking and I have already begun sharing it with my grown children and family members so we each, in our own homes and lives-can all add to our community's water reserve and conservation rather than being a consumER and takers that never give back!!! Well DONE!!! Of COURSE this idea was born out of inspiration from the Bible!!! ๐Ÿ˜ I should have known!!! Beautiful and powerful! Again, thank you!

  6. I wonder how it can be applied to tropical areas that have a really wet rainy season and a rainless dry season. Our dams overflow during typhoon and then dry up during summer.

  7. Incredible!!!! This is the way to solve a number of problems when we learn from the ways of our Creator. The earth will be a Paradise and the deserts will blossom.

  8. 17K views only??? This should be the most viewed video EVER. I watched this guy on another channel as well. His passion and "mission" are both pretty important for the survival of humankind, especially in dry lands. We need people like Brad and people like YOU, commenters and viewers, to come together and FIX this world once and for all!!!

  9. I want to punch him 4 times. Chill on the Adderall and stop making rain about you. You also donโ€™t need to scream into a microphone.

  10. Thanks for this great video, but my message to the video mixer/editor… PLEASE give us longer views of the powerpoint slides as presented. You keep giving us only a micro-second to see a highly detailed photo, then go straight back to show us what Brad looks like standing up. We already KNOW what Brad looks like standing up, after the first minute of the talk, so you do NOT need to prioritise showing us Brad, to the deficit of seeing the details in the photos he is presenting as part of his talk. cheers

  11. Absolutely loved this. Great to see him making a difference in the community and the world! Would love to see him talk if this idea could be used on a grander scale to include the city park system and possibly the creation of lakes, ponds, and wet riparian areas for community enjoyment.

  12. OMFG!! I'm out here on 40 acres by myself cheering and awing over this!! Getting ready for 14" of rain and it's time to see where the water is flowing ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. bueno es primeramente necesario tener una muy buena comunicacion con vecinos y que deseen trabajar sin mas que por el bien comun .

  14. The government is too lazy and corrupt to build cheap passive earthworks that can recharge the aquifers.

  15. Love this guys enthusiasm. BONKERS less than 50,000 views in two years and we have water and land crisis everywhere. Please comment, like and share to get You Tube's algorithm picking this up and recomending it …….. Our lives literally depend on us sorting these issues out over the next ten years or the planet has passed the point of no return.
    Maybe watch WWF Internationals film Our Planet Our Business for more background? Enjoy

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