Blog: Water at Humanist Hall – Fellowship of Humanity    

Blog: Water at Humanist Hall

Posted by Humanist Hall on January 9, 2010
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Water at Humanist Hall

We at the Fellowship of Humanity believe that it is not gods or money that are sacred but such things as food, water, and community.  There cannot be life without liquid water, which is one of the many unique things about the Earth.  The Earth lives in that planetary “Goldielocks” zone between searing Venus and frigid Mars.  Venus and the other inner planets are too hot for liquid water – Mars and the other outer planets are too cold.  In the search for life on the moon, or Mars, or far out in the universe, the main indicator is the presence of water.  Deprived of water, people die in a week or so, one can go much longer without food.

So why do Americans disrespect water?  Why do they use it to carry away excrement or wash their cars?  This madness that disregards the essentials for life and overvalues the products of the consumer culture, has led us to the brink of oblivion.  The evidence is everywhere, a billion people go hungry, the biosphere is experiencing a mass extinction, the oceans are tanking, economies are tanking – the list is endless.

So what can we do here at Humanist Hall to express our reverence for life, for nature, for the whole planet?  One answer is to respect water.  That is why we focus our humble resources on three fronts: rainwater catchment, greywater, and drought-tolerant plants.

Rainwater Catchment

We are slowly developing a rainwater catchment system.  Our friends at DIG Co-op, Ingrid and Tondre, are helping us put the pieces in place.  They have been very patient with our trickle of resources used to support their work.  This fall they delivered a 3000 gallon tank to store the water.  This happened before the Grassroots Economic Festival, so that we could promote rainwater catchment at that event.  Recently, they prepared our gutters to deliver to one downspout, most of the rainwater hitting the North-facing part of the roof.  When we have more money, they will set the tank in a bed of pea gravel and install the plumbing to deliver the water from the roof to the tank.

Initially, we planned to use the water on the landscaping during the dry months, but it became clear that we could get much better utilization if we used the water all year long to flush the toilets.  Otherwise, our tank would quickly fill up at the start of the rainy season and most of the water hitting the roof would flow towards the storm drains.  Our water utilization is about 10,000 gallons/month, so our 3,000 gallon tank, would only supply the Hall for about 10 days! Of course, here we are using our sacred water to handle excrement, but we still have to live in the world, and dry toilet systems would be very challenging given the large crowds that come to the Hall, some 10,000 people/year.  Hopefully, future caretakers of the Hall will be in a position to create dry waste systems, with the full support of City officials and new kinds of infrastructure, and water could be used exclusively for drinking or left in the source habitat, where it belongs.

According to Tondre, one problem that he has run into is that asphalt shingling does not produce potable water.  So Matthew Richardson, our new handyperson, is investigating steel or tin alternatives.  If the economy is going through a Soviet-style collapse, then we think it will be very important to be able to produce potable water ourselves and not have to rely on a lot of complex and shaky infrastructure.  There is also the moral issue of robbing distant watersheds to meet our needs here in Oakland.  We don’t want to prosper at the expense of life elsewhere.

After the basic pieces of the rainwater catchment are in place, we plan to create an overflow pond to support the local wildlife.  This will have to be away from the Oak trees which don’t like too much water near their surface roots.  Fish will be used to control mosquito larvae.  It would be preferable to have potable water for the sake of any wildlife that rely on this pond.


Our friends at Greywater Action, Laura and Andrea, are constructing greywater systems here at the Hall.  This past summer, they gave a five-day course to licensed contractors wanting to expand their skills in a green direction.  The hands-on part of that course involved creating a greywater system using the faucets in the two bathrooms.  This system carefully waters the plants in the yard nearest the Hall.  They plan to conduct a second similar course in March which will deliver water to the front of the property on 27th Street.

Drought Tolerant Plants

This is the third part of our water plan.  We have been evolving our gardens toward native and draught-tolerant plants.  We were turned onto native plants by Louise Lacey, native plant author and expert, who continues to advise us on our native plant affairs.  The East garden on 27th Street now contains succulents, poppies, and other wildflowers needing little water.  What water that they do need will come from the kitchen at some point in the Hall via another part of the greywater system.

The West garden, which is currently a lawn, should also be replaced by greywater and drought tolerant landscaping during the Greywater Action course in March.

Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this.


David Oertel

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