Decommodifying our lives, a combination of essays. Part 2: Water
Water is quickly becoming the number one resource for autonomy, or the number one weapon for domination.
Water is one of the most important resources humanity depends on. Four to five days is how long the average person can live without water. We can live up to a month without food. Looking at the systems around us, and the changes in how people live over time, we have moved away from river basins into areas that are not meant for humans to live in. Factoring in climate change and a warming atmosphere and on top of that, vast populations of people are living far away from a freshwater source. Thanks to water lines, pipelines, reservoirs, and dams, billions of people are living in areas that humans would never be able to survive in without outside water being supplied.
Lake Mead in Nevada is supplied from the Colorado River. Thanks to climate change, the amount of water flowing from the river has dropped significantly. So much so there is talk about creating a “water police” unit dedicated to enforcing water conservation laws. Lake Mead provides clean water to 25 Million people. That is 25 million people in the largest superpower empire in the world. Who very soon might not have water to drink. Let alone the millions if not billions of people in the global south who will fare even worse thanks to US foreign intervention, massive amounts of poverty, and government corruption. Water isn’t just for drinking, our very existence depends on water not only to drink, but also grow crops, to have access to sanitation, to keep the world running. As climate change gets worse there will be two types of climate refugees:
Storm and wildfire disaster refugees
Water and drought refugees
With a massive migration of populations away from areas without clean water, we will see political refugees as reactionary and far-right elements that cause violence to people trying to find a better life. Looking at the future seems really bleak. We are up against a lot. But there are creative ways to build a better future. Combining high-tech communications, computation, and automation with ancient methods of storing, purifying, and recycling water. We won’t make it out of this only relying on high tech carbon capture machines, and we can’t go back to the neolithic age. So we have to adapt ancient wisdom and techniques, with modern technology and efficiency.
1. Water Harvesting and Water Capture
Don’t rely on running water to stay on. Don’t think the faucet is an infinite expanse of unlimited water. One day your tap might run dry, so make sure that never happens. So you might have running water, but is that water clean? Is it free from pollutants like lead or petrochemicals leaking into the drinking water? Look at Flint Michigan as an example of capitalism failing an entire community. Do they have running water? Sure! Can you drink the water without crazy health effects? No. Living in Texas we had to deal with a strong winter storm that cut off not only power but also water in many cases to people. Don’t assume things will continue as normal under climate change. Build autonomy and take even just a small amount of your life away from capitalism.
Collecting rainwater is not illegal in the US, despite the rumors about it. There are regulations state by state that dictate how rainwater can be used. Which might be for the best. You can’t and should not be drinking straight rainwater. No matter how clean you think it is. There are some simple steps to take from there, but first you need to capture rainwater.
This is entirely up to you and your available resources. Some people cannot afford large prebuilt rain barrels made specifically for catching rainwater. Some people might be renting or living in an apartment. These are not concrete rules to follow, so tailor all of this to your life and your circumstance. I’ll start from simple/cheap and work up to more expensive options.
Bucket and tupperware bin water collection.
You can get any clean 5 gallon bucket and collect rainwater either for more filtering or use in a garden. I place buckets in areas where a lot of water flows off my roof when it rains. Find places where you see a lot of water running off and that’s pretty much it. Let the first bit of water rush off and don’t collect it so your not getting rocks, leaves or dried bird poop in your water. That is called a “first flush” let all the gross stuff wash off roofs, gutters or structures before capturing water.
One of the better ways is to not even have to worry about gross stuff on roofs and make standalone water collection buckets. All you need is a bucket and a big or long basin to help increase the capture surface area.
This can help bypass some issues with collecting rainwater and that netting or fabric or whatever you have will help keep insects from swimming in your water. This is a cheap way to recycle some bins you might have sitting around and put them to good use.
Alternatively, you can use one of those big trashcans and do the same thing as the bucket with a tarp, stretched between trees or a house with a hole in the middle. That will be super heavy after it’s full so unless you have a forklift or something, make sure it’s in a spot you like.
This is a good video to give you an idea what I’m talking about.
Gutter / Roof water collection
The “standard” way of collecting rainwater would be collecting it from roofs of buildings. Now keep in mind this does not mean you need a house or apartment roof. You just need a structure that is wide, flat, and can direct and funnel water. You can make structures like this anywhere. You can also place gutters under solar panels since they tend to be pitched at an angle.
I won’t go into super detail about how to do all of this. There are plenty of videos and articles out there on how to get it going but I will include some simple information on how rainwater collection via gutters or roof runoff works. Also some low tech solutions or less glamorous approaches to all of this, which I would argue is way more sustainable and accessible but I digress.
Here is one of the best videos explaining how the system works.
A key component is having some method to divert potentially bad and gross water when rain first starts, then as the debris falls away, cleaner water is collected.
That is called a first flush diversion. There are a couple of ways to do it but hopefully this points you in the right direction.
Cheap and DIY gutters
You don’t need to have super expensive gutters installed if your collection area does not have one installed already. A gutter is just any non porous surface that can capture and direct water where you want and need it. This can be made with simple sheets of metal, bent into channels. You can really use anything. Pipes cut in half, terracotta scooped shingles, anything that you have access to that can be bent or assembled together.
That goes the same way for the basins you use to capture the water. You can use anything that’s clean and you don’t have to buy an expensive off-the-shelf rain barrel. It can be made of clay and bricks or corrugated metal or reused metal containers. As long as it is clean and won’t rust, it can be used to collect rain water.
These pictures come from an amazing technical paper that shows all the ways, both low tech and high tech that rainwater can be collected. Along with detailed instructions on how to setup a system like this and more info on first flush diverters.
Collecting and Harnessing Rainwater with Terraforming
Another method of collecting rainwater is to collect, store and concentrate water in specific areas. These methods can be used even in the desert where there is very little rain. The idea is to terraform the earth to create berms, swales, ponds, or terraces depending on the land conditions.
I have 2 TikToks going over some of this:
Substack doesn’t have integrations to show TikToks but I have the videos on Twitter too. Sadly the second one might be cutoff, so if you care enough just go to TikTok directly. Ugh.. technology.
The idea is to capture rainwater and stop rainwater from washing off into city sewers or into streams and rivers and instead lock water into gardens. Doing this can also help replenish the natural groundwater table and help to refill dried out wells and other regions that may have been sucked dry from water pumping.
Brad Lancaster has an entire book on creating all of these structures and how to make rain gardens.
Here are some in-depth videos on making swales and berms and when and how to use them in a system of natural rainwater harvesting:
This video is the single biggest one that lead me to natural rainwater harvesting. This is in one of the dryest states in the US.
Treating Rainwater, then using it.
I want to reiterate, freshly collected rainwater is not potable. You can use it directly on plants but I would not advise drinking straight rainwater. Getting sick is not worth it. So in order to use the rainwater safely you are going to need to treat it. Treating water just means filtering out any sediment, rocks from roofs, and bad bacteria. There are multiple methods to treating rainwater but the first thing is going to be removing sediments from the collected water.
First step would be running the water into aeration systems. There are a lot out there at various sizes. Some small scale, some on a huge scale so it really depends. But all of them are pretty simple and can be constructed with limited materials.
The system below can be made from buckets of rocks, concrete, bricks, really any container that follows this basic layout. After this the water should be pretty clean. You do have to run a substantial amount of water through a filter like this, to get any clean water out the end.
There are also “Flow settling tanks” that are larger scale and can help prefilter water if you are making a large-scale water filtration system.
These designs came from this technical paper from Practical Action.
There are also more filtration techniques like bio-sand filters but I will say from second-hand experience they are a pain in the ass to get started. They often fail when trying to produce the proper bacteria to help filter the water, but once they get established they can run for a super long time.
Here is a full technical article on making a Bio-Sand filter with more examples.
There are also filters that are very basic and use ceramics. Honestly these are pretty cool because they can serve so many uses and you can turn one of these into a space heater or even small fridges.
Clay pot Technical paper here
Post Sediment filtration:
Using the sun to purify and filter water
Another really amazing technique is to use the power of the sun, its heat, and UV light to kill bacteria in water. After you flush sediments out from water and run it through something from the above sections you can distill water just using the power of the sun.
This is amazing because you can get extremely fresh water, which you can drink by using distillation. There are other methods like boiling but using a solar still is even better because it does not require the use of outside or extractive fuel sources. Though if you need to distill filtered water when the sun isn’t out, maybe bad conditions or something, boiling also works.
You can also sterilize water under bright UV light. Leaving it out in the sun in glass bottles will help kill bacteria. I don’t trust that as well as other methods though. TO be sure you could filter and purify the water, then hit it with a UV light scavenged or scrapped from a tanning bed or one of those UVC disinfectant lights. Which might come in handy for whatever the next pandemic will be.
Low tech desalination
Another really cool thing is with a solar sill you can use salt water in the intake and extract clean water from it. Leaving behind the salts and minerals when the clean water evaporates. Keep in mind this is very energy-intensive so it may not work if the sun isn’t hot or bright enough. But it is a low-tech way to get some fresh water using just the sun.
How to make a solar distillation sill
In a survival situation, you can do the same thing with water bottles too.
You can combine all of this to make some really amazing stuff. Shout out to the king of offgrid solar experiments, Desertsun02.
Here is a water filter, distiller and combination stove.
What about wells and pumped water?
Huge populations rely on wells, which yeah they have been along for a while. There are a lot of guides on how to drill wells. A big thing is the cost of drilling and access to well water. Even right now in a lot of areas, finding liveable land that is not endangered by wildfires, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes with spots to pump clean water is getting scarce. Even now water tables are dropping because more and more of our water is being sucked out of the ground and not being replaced. Wells take an incredible amount of resources and planning to carry out and not every region is going to have access to drill into freshwater like up in the mountains or in deserts.
More than likely if you are able to find water on land, and drill a well, the water will more than likely need to be filtered for sediment or heavy metals like iron.
Nonetheless, here is a guide to drilling wells.
Experimental and more survival water techniques
So far all of this has been practical day-to-day stuff. Most of this can be scaled up for larger-scale water treatment. I will write a separate article on treating wastewater and handling black and greywater. But there are some interesting ways to harvest water even in super high desert areas. Some of these techniques would work great in humid environments. Seems almost out of science fiction but really cool stuff.
Atmospheric Water Generation
AWG’s are really cool and I have been looking into making one and tying it into a large off grid machinery system. You basically are condensing water from the humidity in the air. Which honestly seems like magic. These could be scaled up to huge systems that can generate clean water just running off low voltage solar or even hydroelectricity or tidal generators. Cool shit.
I tend to try and stay away from survivalist prepper bullshit but this is actually super important. And there have been situations in my own life where I wish I had access to clean water, or didn’t have a lifestraw or any way to boil water. Again, this stuff seems straight out of science fiction but it’s cool to see it really works and has real-world uses.
Ok, this is all weird DIY shit. Can’t I just buy filters? Or use reverse osmosis?
I have so far only done low and medium DIY tech to do all of this to show that alot of what we do is just over commodified bullshit. You could make a very polished production-ready product ready to hit the market unit with this stuff, just need an injection molder or a 3d printer. But we shouldn’t be interested in perpetuating extractive, wasteful practices. If you want to use a Brita or a Berkey filter, great. But you still need to buy the supplies; when these can be found on a walk and some extra materials in your garage or from trash. If a storm hits, or if a disaster happens you won’t be able to run to the store to buy more filters. So it is important to know how to do this, both to decouple yourself from capital and also be able to build solutions for you and your community. This is also why I left out chlorination tabs. What do you do when you run out and you don’t have access to chlorination tabs?
Let’s talk about the “Why” in all of this. Why should we care about decentralized and decommodified water?
What do all of these things have in common? Tyrants, kings, landlords, capitalists, billionaires, police, military. They all are people or groups who want to hold hierarchical power over people or use violence to coerce people. People and groups who want to rule or control other people’s lives.
How does power make sure you are forced to listen? They force you to be exploited, they extract your surplus labor and make a profit. They lock you into a system where you have to answer either to a landlord and rent, pay mortgages to a bank, and if you don’t do that, you still have property tax. They make sure every part of your life is commodified. Where you get your water, where you get your food, where you get your healthcare, where you live and your education. All of these things are leverage against you, or else you end up on the streets or are forced into legal slavery (the prison system). I would argue that water is the key to life. Because without it we can’t live, without it we cant grow food, without it we either die or become slaves to people who hoard and steal fresh water. That is the why. Doing this kind of stuff leads you to be able to live better without money, or anyone forcing you into submission. There is power in a bucket! :)
I’m going to make more articles about sewage, handling sanitation, dealing with grey water and black water along with water recycling and putting some of these systems together. This guide isn’t perfect, I know there are things I left out and I don’t want to write a book about this. Let this spark your imagination, get you excited to learn and give you some breadcrumbs to follow.
This is such an incredible resource. Thanks for your time and energy! Can’t wait to dive deeper into your writing!