Appropriate Water Technology

“A Vision

If we will have the wisdom to survive, to stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it, if we will make our seasons welcome here, asking not too much of earth or heaven, then a long time after we are dead the lives our lives prepare will live here, their houses strongly placed upon the valley sides, fields and gardens rich in the windows. The river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it, birdsong like a canopy. On the levels of the hills will be green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down the old forest, an old forest will stand, its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots. The veins of forgotten springs will have opened. Families will be singing in the fields. In their voices, they will hear a music risen out of the ground. They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, whatever the grief at parting. Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. This is no paradisical dream.

Its hardship is its possibility.

- Wendell Berry”


The link between fossil fuel reserves and war has been a clear pattern for decades, yet equally many violent conflicts and wars have already been fought over the access to water. Water is already a very scarce resource and at the same time as water is wasted and contaminated at a gigantic scale there are still a seventh of the world’s population without access to a safe water supply. There are serious issues with the world’s water and the systems we have designed to manage and care for water are deeply insufficient.

  • 25 million people die each year from contaminated water. That is equivalent to the population of Canada
  • Every 8 seconds a child dies from contaminated water.
  • 1.4 billion people have no access to safe drinking water.
  • 2.4 billion people have no access to sanitary systems -one person in three.

(From Troubled Water by Anita Roddick and Brooke Shelby Biggs, 2004)

Anita Roddick was the founder of The Body Shop, a British cosmetics company producing and retailing beauty products that shaped ethical consumerism. Roddick was also involved in activism and campaigning for environmental and social issues. — Click on image for more info

We have the technology to solve these issues. The suffering is preventable. However, it will take international resolve and investment. This section explores relatively simple technologies that are particularly applicable to sustainable communities. Here is a short video (4 min) explaining the complexity of the world water crisis.

Domestic water use accounts for 8%, industrial use for 22% and agricultural use for a staggering 70% of global freshwater use. Appropriate design can result in important improvements in all these areas. In this module, we will focus primarily on water systems that can be applied a the household, community or neighbourhood scale.

Following the whole systems design approach outlined in module one, this module on water system will first introduce you to the wider context we need to understand water systems and the design and appropriate application of water technologies. We will explore the basics of the hydrological cycle — including Viktor Schauberger’s important distinction between the full and the half hydrological cycles. We will also explore the importance of thinking about the watersheds of major rivers in your region and how water systems should be designed in ways that link-local needs to the integrated management of water at a bioregional scale of watersheds. Once we have established this context, we will take a closer look at how biological water treatment works and what systems might be appropriate at what scale and in which specific environmental context.

Whole Systems Approach to Water

AS WE REPEATEDLY observe in every crisis we turn our attention to in order to intentionally affect improvements of the situation through design, the lack of and need for a whole systems approach is also apparent in the way we currently deal with water. A whole systems approach to water involves closing the water cycle with re-use — most probably for irrigation. Potable water in ecovillages is typically obtained through rainwater harvesting or community boreholes. Often windpower or photovoltaic panels are used for the pumping energy.

After use within the community, the water is treated preferably with a natural treatment system, as described in the next section. The treated effluent is then disinfected if necessary and re-used most often in a drip irrigation system. It is safe to use recycled water for the irrigation of trees, including fruit trees. If composting toilets are used in the village, the humic material can be added to the compost and used to build up the soil in the orchard. The use of composted humanure as tree fertiliser is perfectly safe.

Whole Systems Approach to Water

Many communities have used participative art and community education creatively to educate the residents about the whole systems integration of their local water system, highlighting the need for the conscious use of water and especially of the chemicals we use that end up in our water systems. One of the community-owned windmills at Findhorn ecovillage had a mural of a watershed painted on it by local children under the guidance of a local artist. In the past, Lisa and her husband Galen Fulford have built water systems in remote villages in South-America and India (more). They found that involving the community in a mural art project to explain the system is the most creative way to raise awareness about its appropriate use and maintenance.


Many of us feel that our current consumer lifestyles are no longer sustainable nor desirable, on a personal to global level and that our ecological systems appear to edge closer and closer towards collapse, but we believe that more sustainable or regenerative ways of living our lives are possible, feasible and viable, but what are these alternative ways of living? In trying to Design for Sustainability we seek to consciously reinvent ecological living from the ground up, honing in on aspects such as sustainable production and consumption, regenerative agriculture and food production, appropriate technologies for water and energy systems, green and sustainable building and construction, and weaving all together through whole systems and regenerative design approaches and methods to achieve one planet living design and development outcomes.

NOTE: Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability offers you an opportunity to learn practical effective ways to create the change we all seek in your community.
Ecological Design dimension of the course starts on 13 January 2020 and there are a limited amount of places left for this edition, so sign up now. If you register by 13 December 2019, you can get a 20% Early Bird discount!

The material for this dimension was originally compiled by Christopher Mare, one of the founding members of the GEESE (Global Ecovillage Educators for a Sustainable Earth). The Ecological Design contents were revised by Gaia Education’s head of innovation and design Daniel Wahl. Some of the material was created with contributions from Ezio Gori, who also mentors the Ecological dimension and the Design Studio of the online course.




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Gaia Education

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Leading provider of sustainability education that promotes thriving communities within planetary boundaries.

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