Water Pressure is of the Devil: A homesteader’s tale of breaking his addiction to municipal water pressure

Garden being sprayed by a hose

Oh, glorious water pressure. Showers. Spray nozzles. Sprinklers. Drip irrigation. Burblers. Emitters. The sweet, sweet pleasures of modern technology wastes 98.3% of the water we put into our gardens. In other words, only 1.7% of the water we put on our plants gets absorbed by roots.* The rest goes into the sky or into the ground, and it’s all because of scorchingly-high municipal water pressure.

Worse still, when the water pressure drizzles away, our gardens wilt, because we are addicted to the hearty blast of municipal water coming from the hose. But freedom is nye, and freedom from the addiction of water pressure is as easy as falling out of bed. Turns out, the only thing keeping us dependent on water pressure is our expensive, modern sprinkler systems.

PSI graph

Six Fatal Flaws of Municipal Water Pressure

Fatal Flaw #1: Municipal water pressure tempts us to use WAY too much water. Gardeners WASTE 98.3% of the water they put on their plants.

Only 1.7% of sprinkled water gets taken up by the roots of our plants. Drip is better, but still wastes 82% of the water. The rest goes into the air or down into the ground. Much of America is in drought. Our gardens should be part of the SOLUTION, not part of the PROBLEM. Using municipal water pressure forces us to waste the vast majority of our irrigation water through evaporation and seepage into the ground (infiltration.) If we provided our plants only what they needed to flourish, we would use a tiny fraction of the water.

Fatal Flaw #2: Municipal water pressure is completely controlled by city politicians. As many of us have learned, water can be limited, rationed and turned off by city bureaucrats (usually because of a water crisis.) The only way to take back control of your garden water is to stop relying on daily municipal water, at least not as a primary source.

Fatal Flaw #3: Municipal water pressure depends on complex, vulnerable pumping systems. Power failure almost always, eventually, causes municipal water pressure to fail. Water is pumped from underground, in most locations, to high cisterns that then gravity feed to your hose and sprinkler system. Without pumps, water pressure fails, killing your beloved plants.

Fatal Flaw #4: Municipal water pressure forces us to use difficult and finicky timers, regulators, sprinklers and emitters. Everything about a high pressure system is more difficult, such as 1/2” barbed fittings and PVC couplers, and fails much more often. High pressure systems require strong fingers, weird chemical adhesives and precise, right-sized coupler-to-hose fit.

Fatal Flaw #5: High water pressure is very prone to leaking. By putting our water systems under 30-50 psi, of course things are going to fail more often than if they were under 1 psi. By using high pressure systems, we’re forced to consume and replace with high pressure systems more often.

Fatal Flaw #6: Municipal water pressure is expensive and precious. In many areas of the U.S., cities are fighting for diminishing water resources, so the cost has gone way up.

There are extremely cheap and easy alternatives to municipal water dependence, most of which have been around for thousands of years.

Rain water catchment system

Alternatives to Municipal Water Pressure

Your Roof. All fresh water comes from the sky, and an astounding amount of water falls on your roof. Do the math. Almost every location in the U.S. gets plenty of water on even a small roof to water a garden, if done efficiently. The cheapest and easiest cisterns are 250 gallon, stackable IBC totes that are used in almost every industry and can be found surplus for $30-$100 each.

Rainwater Catchment. While rainwater catchment isn’t the only alternative to municipal water, it’s a solid primary source, so long as you have cisterns big enough to catch the water and hold it through the dry weeks.

Hybrid Rainwater/Municipal Water. Using cisterns that catch rainwater, and then top off with municipal water with simple float valves during the dry weeks, gives us the best of both worlds.

Very Low Pressure Delivery Systems (Ollas & Drip). By far, the best way to deliver ONLY THE WATER YOUR PLANTS REQUIRE, is to use the 2,000 year old technology of terra cotta water capsules called ollas. 

The key to breaking our dependency on municipal water is to garden with way less water. So long as we don’t send an olla too much water pressure, it will not waste water to evaporation (waste water going up) or infiltration (waste water going down.) 

Drip emitter systems are better than sprinklers (wasting 82% of water instead of 98.3%)*. However, most drip emitter systems are tuned to high-pressure municipal systems, so they must be tested carefully, and adjusted over time, to get them delivering properly on a gravity-fed cistern system. 

Soaker style drip systems (drip line/leaky tubing) are far less efficient than drip emitters or ollas, wasting about 95% of water to evaporation or infiltration.

Municipal water is where it all goes wrong. Our cities supply us with the right amount of water for showers and broadcast sprinklers, but that is a massively wrong amount of water for gardening. 

It all goes downhill from there, from touchy pressure regulators to high-pressure-adapted water delivery systems. If, instead, we shift to gravity-fed, low-pressure cisterns and ollas, intrepid gardeners can open up the vast array of easy, cheap, homestead-proven systems that use just enough of the water the sky graciously provides.

*Based on 2022 study by Thirsty Earth, LLC tracking infiltration loss and minimum consumption uptake through olla systems. These stats assume that the olla systems, as observed through waste monitoring, are using 100% of the water need of the plant.

How To Figure Out Your Areas Rainfall

Precipitation graph

Go to www.usclimatedata.com (if you live in the U.S.)
1. Click on “United States”

2. Click on your state.

3. Click on your city, or one close by.
4. Scroll down to the climate graph and check out the “Precipitation” bar.

The lowest one is the least amount of average rain you get in that month, usually July and August. Mouse over the lowest points and you’ll see how much rain falls in those slow months.

Take the square footage of your home, plus the garage, then figure your rainfall in the driest month.

Average Rainfall (in inches) X Square Footage of Roof X 144 (square inches) / 231 (square inches/gallon of water) = GALLONS PER MONTH of Rainfall

Subtract a few hundred gallons for flushing out your gutters and very light rain that evaporates.

Do the same thing with the second and third driest months too. You’ll begin to see HOW MUCH DARN WATER you really have.

Rain catchment system

IBC Totes

If you’ve got the space, you can go big with your water catchment with super-cheap, surplus, IBC totes.

They’re totes cool.

  • Buy from restaurants on local classifieds.
  • Between $30-$100 each
  • Holds 240 gallons
  • Stackable
  • Make sure didn’t hold chemicals. Food only.
  • They're hard to move once filled, but cheap and BIG.
  • They're 4 foot by 4 foot by 4 foot, more or less.
  • Cover from sun for longest life.

Water pressure is expensive and precious

Modern water pressure is expensive and precious. Unfortunately, in many areas of the U.S., cities are fighting for diminishing water resources, so the cost has gone way up. 

We need water pressure for showering, washing our dishes, and washing our clothes. We shouldn't use precious water pumping systems to water our gardens. It's simply a wasteful practice when other options are present. 

Our solution to the problem

Our fully autonomous olla watering system is gravity-fed and does not rely on modern water pressure. For example, the average sprinkler system uses 47,000 gallons per long season in a 600-square-foot garden, while our low-pressure gravity-fed system uses 800 gallons. If you use a rainwater catchment system, you will not need to rely on the city to water your plants.

Your plants are happier when they aren't over-watered or under-watered; our ollas slowly seep water into your roots, reducing evaporation and losses. 

Using your roof, you can get all the water you need for your garden, usually extra. You will never have to pay for water again, let alone rely on water pressure to grow your food.  

In conclusion, there are better ways to give your plants the water they need than modern water pressure. And better ways to collect and distribute precious water.

You don't have to rely on the city for your water.

You don't have to waste 98 percent of your water.

You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on your water bill.