Helena Elvira Lendinez

Water harvesting with pits


Helena Elvira Lendinez

Case Study Contents

About Farm

Farm Name

Helena Elvira Lendinez

Year of foundation



Jaén, Andalucia

Farm area/size of the organisation:

8.43 ha

Number of workers:

1 permanent worker and 10 seasonal workers

Farm main activity:


Climate and soil characteristics

Saline clay soil with calcium sulphates. Continental climate with very hot summers (up to 40°C), 500 mm of rainfall which in recent years has dropped to 300-350mm. Average slope of 15%, but where it is possible to introduce machinery.

Measure Information

Description of the measure

This is a sloping piece of land where a pit is made in the upper part of each olive tree to accumulate rainwater so that the plant can use it after it infiltrates. to the pit capacity is approximately 1000-2000 litres, refillable each time it rains.

The pits are aligned on the slope to collect the runoff from the higher pits.

Objective of the measure

Considering it is a rainfed farm, the main objective was to collect rainwater, accumulating it where it could be useful for the plant.

In addition, the other aim was to reduce soil loss through erosion, which is very frequent given the stormy nature of many of the rainfall events.

Justification of the choice

This plot has an average slope of around 15%, which prevents rainwater from being retained and filtered properly.

In addition, it is a clay soil, with a lower infiltration capacity than sandy soils, which increases its limitations to optimise water use in storm events (a lot of water in a short time).

Where did You get information of the measure from?

This practice dates back to the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. However, its implementation is not common. Some farmers in the area started to implement this initiative in the last decade, and the positive impacts observed have led to more farmers copying the measure.

Description of the situation before the measure implementation

This rainfed farm is clayey, with steep slopes and no access to irrigation. Storm events were causing soil erosion and low productivity made difficult the economic sustainability of this plot.


Stakeholders involved

Service provider (Shovel loaders or excavators)

Description of stakeholders’ role

Provision of excavation services.

Implementation phase

Description of the survey done for the implementation

In recent years many farmers had developed this initiative on their farms, and the observation of the beneficial effects convinced Helena to try it.

She contacted a service provider that was carrying out the pits in the area. The low investment required in comparison to the expected benefit made her decision.

Materials used

  • Bobcat shovel
  • Pit dug excavated, raised and reinforced with the soil itself.

Costs for the implementation

The plot has 850 trees, the hourly cost of the operator was €35, resulting in a cost of €1.3 per tree, at a rate of 25 trees/hour. This measure requires biannual maintenance at a rate of €0.65 per tree. (Initial €1100 and maintenance of €550 every two years).

Implementation / building

To accumulate water where it is available to the plant, the pit needs to be excavated at the top or bottom of the slope next to the tree, in the shape of a crescent.

To reduce runoff, the pits should be aligned so that what overflows from the higher pits flows to those immediately below.

Required maintenance operations

As they are built with the soil (the material is excavated and reinforced by the shovel in a crescent-shaped), the pits can be damaged.

The action of rainwater, as well as those derived from the fieldwork and harvesting can affect the structure of the pit.

Recommended knowledge / skills / training / courses / education desired before starting the measure implementation

This measure is very simple and does not require a deep knowledge; it requires control during the process to ensure the correct structure and the necessary capacity to contain enough water.

In the same way, the pits must be aligned to collect the water that overflows from the basins located uphill.


The investment required to build the pits is more than affordable (initial €1100 + €500 maintenance every 2 years).

In fact, the benefit obtained is exponential to this investment. Following this measure, yields have stabilised and have increased by 30% compared to the previous records.

Before the construction of the pits, and due to the slope of the plot, multiple gullies emerged every year, dividing the farm into multiple sections.

This meant loss of soil, difficulties in carrying out operations and the need for maintenance to solve the resulting problems.

This measure has gone somewhat viral in the county, with transmission among farmers encouraging many to implement it.

Pits are obstacles to water, intended to slow down and accumulate water, but they are also a constraint to tillage and harvesting.

They are not recommended on all soils, on all slopes, and in all climatic conditions.


Key element for success

This is a traditional measure based on common sense. The professionalism and expertise of the shovel operator in shaping, reinforcing and aligning the pits is essential.


Physical constraints

The high slope of 15% is a constraint but also an opportunity to build a system of chained pits.

Clays make it difficult for water to infiltrate in storm events but can retain moisture for a longer period.

This texture also makes it possible to build stronger and more compact pits than with other soil types.

The formation of gullies is another problem that needs to be addressed.

Technological constraints

The construction of these basins requires an experienced operator, who is not usually available, especially when there is a backlog of maintenance work on other farms.

Acceptance constraints

It is a system that has not yet reached too many people to know its benefits.

Other farmers prefer tillage or ground covers as a way of increasing rainwater retention and infiltration capacity.

Proposed solutions to above constraints

It requires some planning.

The technique can be learned if the equipment is available on the farm.

Dissemination of the benefits may attract more farmers as a measure to be applied on their farms.

Lesson learned

Farmers’ experiences

The experience has been very positive, the low investment facilitates the implementation of the measure and the benefits described have encouraged Helena to extend the measure to more plots.

Measure sustainability

Environmental sustainability

These measures ensure water retention and reduced runoff, which facilitates soil conservation.

In addition, the use of solid mineral fertilisers has significant efficiency gains. The carry-over of these fertilisers is reduced, with greater utilisation by the crop and less contamination of aquifers.

Economical sustainability

Maintenance ensures the sustainability of the measure, which has been shown to increase yields by an average of 30%, with positive impacts on fertiliser efficiency, although it makes other farm operations more expensive.

Transfer of the measure

Replicability conditions required

  • Soil texture requirements.
  • Slope requirements.
  • Lack of rainfall.
  • Storm events.
  • Optimised design.

Additional Required Conditions for spreading the measure

  • Climatic requirements recommend its use in the Mediterranean basin.
  • It is more advisable in sloping areas.
  • Clayey soils are preferable to sandy or rocky soils.
  • Greater dissemination would be required to facilitate its implementation, and to encourage its evolution and improvement.

Conclusion remarks

It is an extremely simple measure affordable for all farmers. Its low investment and the resulting economic benefits justify its increasing diffusion.

It is important to be aware of its limitations and to be clear about the design to ensure sufficient retention capacity.

Future plans

Helena plans to develop these measures on other plots of land she owns.

Open problems

This measure is a priori not advisable if there are other options for obtaining irrigation water, and they do not seem to be suitable for sandy soils, soils with weak structures or flat farms.


“Whoever makes the pits must have the experience to structure and align them”.

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