Climate Resilience at Home: A Virtual Tour of the GCA’s Program Centre

Forecast for the Salish Sea


Water is life, and water protection starts at home.  Here’s how we’re approaching water conservation at the Program Centre:

Reducing Water Needs

The most powerful way to reduce our impact on groundwater and local aquifers is to reduce our overall water use.  Bathing, flushing, washing cars, and doing laundry less and more efficiently is a great place to start.  From there, installing more efficient appliances, shower heads, and faucets is a no-brainer.  

  • The Program Centre is equipped with water-efficient appliances and fixtures.  
  • Composting toilets are being installed at the Millard Learning Centre, and can reduce up to 40% of household water use.
Harvesting Rainwater

One way to capture and store rainwater is to harvest it from rooftops for later use in the home or landscape.  Depending on the intended use of the water – potable or non-potable – careful consideration must be given to the materials of the roof; design of gutters, filters, and conveyance piping; and size, location, and type of storage container.  For pressurized potable systems, professional plumbers and permitting will be involved.  For non-potable uses, it is possible to design and install simple rainwater harvesting systems yourself, without a permit. 

  • The Program Centre features a 20,000 liter HDPE cistern which captures rainwater from the roof for later, non-potable gardening use in our Nursery Annex.   
  • The Food Forest features a 50,000 liter ferrocement cistern, constructed by volunteers and GCA staff, to store rainwater for use in the garden.  Ferrocement construction takes some skill, but has been shown to require 40% less embodied energy and carbon than similar-sized plastic tanks.   See the previous article, “Growing More Food with Less Water”, for more information on this.
Outgoing Executive Director Keith Erickson (left) poses with incoming Executive Director Chessi Miltner at the Program Centre in front of our newly installed 20,000 liter rainwater cistern, donated by Twin Maple Industrial Tanks.
Storing Water in the Landscape

Cisterns aren’t the only way to capture and store rainwater.  Wetlands, ponds, bioswales, rain gardens, and coarse woody debris can all capture rainwater, creating important habitat for aquatic and semi-aquatic species, aiding in groundwater recharge, and making more water available to plants and animals during summer drought.  In fact, your yard may already be storing water – before imagining something new, it is always best to observe what is already working, and then consider how best to aid in that process.  When designing a pond or wetland, don’t forget to let it be natural: avoid clean lines or a ‘tidy’ aesthetic.  Curves, irregularities, rocks, and woody debris provide habitats for many important species.  Sometimes, the best contractor is a beaver!

  • The Program Centre includes a “bioswale” to collect and filter excess runoff from the parking lot and rooftop.  A series of rock weirs (small, permeable dams made of rock) and the root systems of plants help to slow and filter the runoff, reducing erosion and increasing infiltration. During large storm events, the bioswale conveys water to a wet meadow, where water-loving native species make use of it before it passes through a culvert and down towards Chrystal Creek.
  • The Food Forest features hugelkultur beds, drip irrigation, ollas, and mulching to retain water and reduce water needs (see ‘Growing Food with Less Water’ later in this issue)  

The Millard Learning Centre features both constructed and natural wetlands – can you tell which is which?  

UVic students help establish native species to filter runoff in the Program Centre bioswale in February 2020.
Native Species in the Landscape

Here on Galiano Island, a large variety of beautiful, edible, medicinal, and useful native species thrive in our mild winters and dry summers.  There are native plants to suit every purpose and habitat niche; despite this, a great deal of damage has been done to native ecosystems in order to make them suitable for introduced ornamental or edible species.  By fitting the right native plant to the right niche, it is possible to reduce landscape irrigation requirements to almost zero.  

Program Centre landscaping features a wide variety of native species with different moisture requirements, from very wet to very dry.  The Nursery Annex at the Program Centre is open to the public for plant sales during business hours.


Greywater systems allow us to safely re-use lightly-soiled water from showers, baths, sinks, laundry machines, and dishwashers in the landscape or for toilet flushing.  The design of the system depends greatly on the source and end-use of the greywater.  More sophisticated systems allow for better filtration and targeted irrigation, but can be expensive and prone to failure; simpler systems are less configurable but cheaper, easier to maintain, and less resource-intensive.  The right design will incorporate your household patterns of water use, as well as your budget and maintenance abilities.  Whether you re-use greywater or not, it is important to choose biodegradable detergents, personal care products, and cleaning agents.

The Program Centre sports a simple, gravity-fed branched drain system.  Light greywater is collected from the laundry machine and shower before flowing through buried pipes to feed a series of mulch basins and fruit trees.  This system was cheap and easy to build, and should be easy to maintain over time.

The simple, gravity-fed branched drain system at the Program Centre irrigates three mulch basins that are ready to be planted with fruit trees.