Sweetwater Organic Community Farm won a mini-grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program for 2024 to pay for materials to install a rain catchment system for the Sweetwater Café. This demonstration project will help Tampa Bay by preventing polluted stormwater from draining into Sweetwater Creek, only a couple of miles upstream from the bay. It will also serve as an educational display for the public, to teach others about the importance of harvesting rainwater. A variety of rain harvesting features will be installed, including: five rain barrels, two totes and two rain gardens. Each feature will be installed by volunteers from Sweetwater Farm under the supervision of a certified rainwater harvesting practitioner. Each workday will be open to the public to watch and ask questions.
On January 28th from 9 to 12 am, volunteers from Sweetwater Farm installed the first phase of the project, a rain garden to water a privacy hedge along on the fence on the east side of the café. A total 9 volunteers helped with the installation of a shallow swale to capture and infiltrate rainwater flowing out of a downspout. We tested it with a hose and it worked great!
The second phase of the project is going to occur on March 3rd and will involve the installation of five rain barrels on the two downspouts by the front entrance to the cafe. For beginners, an example of a simple installation of a single rain barrel will be installed on the west side by the patio. A more complex design with 4 connected rain barrels will be installed on the east side of the front entrance. Most designs with connected rain barrels have them arranged in a line, but to avoid blocking access to the front patio, the rain barrels will be arranged in a square. The overflow from the 4 rain barrels will be directed to a nearby shade tree and from there to a planned vegetable garden along the eastern border of the property.
The third phase, which will occur in April, will involve the installation of two large totes at the back of the property, with the overflow directed to a raised vegetable and herb garden by the patio. The remaining overflow will be directed to the community garden adjacent to the property. The fourth phase, harvesting condensate from the air conditioner to water a banana tree, will be installed in May.
Diane Willis is a professional botanist and environmental scientist with over 30 years of experience in Florida, and is also a permaculture designer. In 2017, she attended a training course in Arizona and became a certified rainwater harvesting practitioner. She is focused on applying the principles she learned in Arizona to the wet and humid conditions here in Florida. Her goal is to help as many people as possible learn how to manage rainwater to prevent damage to structures and to treat it as the precious resource it is. Most rainwater is currently flushed away as stormwater that picks up pollutants before washing into our waterways.