Dry streambed details

A dry streambed is a sunken area of the landscape designed to look like a small, seasonally dry creek or stream. Usually, they are built in a landscape to accumulate rainwater from roofs, driveways, or other surfaces and allow it to absorb into the ground, helping hydrate the garden and potentially contributing to groundwater recharge. Dry streambeds can also have benefits for local water quality by holding and cleaning water on a property through the natural processes that occur in the soil.

A dry streambed features rocks and gravel covering much of its surface and may or may not have plants in the part that accumulates water.

A similar landscape feature, often called a “swale” is a sunken area that accumulates water, but does not contain any or many rocks. The term swale, however, can sometimes be a bit confusing because the same word can be used to refer to other types structures that move water.

Finally, the term ‘infiltration basin’ is used for a landscape feature very similar to a dry streambed or a swale, but it usually refers to a feature that is shaped more like a rounded oval basin that holds and infiltrates water, while a dry streambed or swale is usually longer and narrower (like a dry stream!).

For more information about how to plan and build a dry streambed, swale, or infiltration basin for your landscape, watch our “Rainwater Harvesting for Home Landscape” online workshop recording.

The gravel, rocks, and boulders used in dry streambeds are usually purchased from landscape material yards or construction materials yards. For a list of businesses that sell this type of material in the western San Bernardino County area, see our Local Landscape Suppliers List.

Dry streambed drawings

Dry streambeds do not need to be as large as the ones featured in the illustrated drawings below, but the depicted scale in the drawings help to show the relevant information. The photos on this page provide some “real world” examples of residential-scale dry streambeds. The illustrated details below can also be applied to swales without rock and infiltration basins.