Sustainable Irrigation: Permaculture Water Systems

Sustainable irrigation and water cycles are the lifeblood of your home, garden, and extended impact.
Global Water System illustration
 Big water, little water.  Artwork by KT Shepherd.

Water in a Permaculture System: Everything you need to know, in twenty words or less.

Ha! As if. This is one of those topics that we cannot learn everything about in a single class, a single day, or even an entire course. But we can begin to understand why water is such an important layer of our designs, and explore some of the fundamental strategies permaculture designers use to harness and connect with the power of water in a permaculture system.

Here’s a quick intro video with Heather Jo Flores, and a tiny-tour of her home water system.

permaculture water welcome and tiny garden tour

What do you do about water in a permaculture system?

As mentioned in the video, this week’s class is less about reinventing the wheel and more about making sure you know about available resources to help you design your permaculture water system.

You can read the entire text of Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community at, but for today, start with the chapter on water, which will give you exactly what you need to jump into the hands-on section. 

I hadn’t been taught the “big water, little water” approach yet when I wrote this, but I accidentally organized the chapter exactly like that anyway! It starts with an overview of “big water” and why we need to pay attention to what’s going on (plus keep in mind my admonitions in this chapter are already more than a decade old)…and then goes into “little water,” with lots of ideas about how to tap the flow in your own permaculture design.

​Go and read it, then come back:

world water pie chart


  • Create a copy of your base map and draw the existing water systems on it. How does your existing system connect to the global water cycle? How might you be able to tap the flow of cyclic opportunity to both increase yield and decrease waste in your design? How will you design your site (and life) so that you clean and conserve more water than you pollute?
  • When you’ve thoroughly considered these questions, add a layer to your design with your new water systems. Use as many strategies as you can to take control of how water moves through your site, and innovate ways to use the water to create or change your microclimates.
  • Continue to play with these ideas….forever! And explore the resources below to go deeper into technical skills. 
  • Next, come and share what you’ve learned and discovered in our new, official forum.

Relevant Links and Resources​

Here’s the ever-amazing Morag Gamble offering a free masterclass on water in a permaculture system.

Morag Gamble Masterclass #12: Design for water resilience in your garden

The World Permaculture Association has an excellent blog. Check out this article.

rainwater harvesting methods

Very clever! Here’s a tiny-house graywater system.

Simple Permaculture-Based Grey-Water Treatment System

Pin It on Pinterest