Harvesting and Using Rainwater; Saving It for a Sunny Day

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Harvesting and Using Rainwater

On rainy days, it’s hard to imagine that we’re in the midst of a global water crisis.

Yet consider this; between 1950 and 1980, the world’s population doubled, but the demand on its water tripled. And there’s no letup in sight.

A couple of years ago, I remember residents in and around Atlanta were told that their sole source of water was going to dry up in less than five months. Can you imagine? Over five million people being told in the height of a drought, that all the water they depended on for washing, bathing, drinking and irrigating their lawns and gardens was going to be gone? Those were scary times.

In order to conserve what little water was available, total watering bans were put in effect. Not just restrictions but all-out bans. Plants died, lawns burned up and countless landscaping companies went out of business. Even the nations largest chain of garden centers filed for bankruptcy.

Yet, even in the midst of the devastating impact this lack of water had, one silver lining stands out. I had one Atlanta Master Gardener friend who managed to keep all of her most precious plants (and she had many) alive through all those months of heat and full-blown watering bans. And she credits one primary source for the bulk of keeping her plants alive; her rain barrels! She had several.

Although the rain came all too infrequently, the water collected in her Fiskars rain barrels proved to be ample for periodic irrigation. It doesn’t take a lot of rain to fill a barrel. Here’s why; just one-tenth of an inch of rain over a thousand square feet of roof surface can fill a 65 gallon rain barrel. Attach several barrels to your multiple downspouts and anyone can save significant amounts of that precious water for a sunny day.

Although there’s nothing overly sophisticated about rain barrels, their ease of use has improved greatly over the last few years, as has their accessibility through retail and online sources. Today, contemporary barrels are attractive and more user friendly than ever. Take for example Fiskars’ designs that come with a convenient and unique rainwater diverter. Once the barrel fills, there’s no worry of it constantly overflowing. Once full, water is redirected back to the downspout and continues on its normal path.

Installing rain-barrels are easier than ever too. If you’re just placing one, it’s a good idea to locate it closest to where you’ll use it the most. But the most important consideration is to make sure you provide a stable and sturdy base. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon. A tight-fitting lid for safety is also a must.

Harvesting the water is as simple as placing a watering can under the built in spigot. Or, you can attach a hose and let gravity carry the water to destinations further away. With enough gravity, you can even use your harvested water with a soaker hose.

Other advantages of using harvested rainwater
Collecting and storing rainwater can help avoid erosion, reduce chemical runoff and contamination from fertilizers and pesticides as water moves across the property. Rainwater is also free of salts and minerals, chlorine and fluoride. And the more water used from harvested sources means less money and energy used to obtain the same water from municipal sources.

The Caveats
Not all parts of the country allow the unencumbered collection of rainwater. Laws are easing greatly but still worth looking into before you take the final plunge. The states in the news most often regarding restrictions are Utah, Colorado and Washington.
That first flush of rain can include bird droppings, debris and other pollutants. You may want to consider a device that diverts this first flush before it enters your rain barrel.

Algae growth within a rain barrel is possible but its growth can be greatly inhibited by using opaque designs like the Fiskars’ models. Placing them out of direct sunlight also greatly reduces the possibility of buildup.

With so many attractive designs to choose from, combined with their relative low-cost, rain barrels are like having money in the bank, especially if they can help save some of those favorite, and likely expensive plants.