Water Harvesting

By Sharon Naylor

March 25, 2011 5 min read

Conserving water is a must for green living. You know not to let the faucet run while brushing your teeth, and you know not to water your lawn during your town's water restriction days. But did you know that you can collect and save rainwater for uses such as landscaping and washing your car? This green practice helps the environment and saves on your water bill.

Rainwater harvesting has long been a practice in developing areas that are not equipped with sophisticated water supplies, and it's now a smart trend across the country, in urban and suburban areas, to install and use rainfall collection systems.

Rainwater harvesting channels rainfall from the roof of a building into a storage container via a system of gutters and pipes, collecting it for use rather than letting it run off and cause erosion or leak into the basement. Eco-friendly companies have developed several kinds of rainwater harvesting systems, from a simple barrel with a spigot to a more complicated system that requires the installation of rooftop collection cisterns and underground tanks.

When you position a 40- to 60-gallon rainwater barrel underneath your gutter's downspout, you can collect runoff rainwater to use in watering your garden and trees and for other outdoor uses. "It's simplest to place a rain barrel or two beneath downspouts," says David Brill, owner of The Farm at Green Village. "A simple 40-, 55-, 60- or 100-gallon rain barrel is going to fill up quickly, giving you lots of water to use."

These barrels usually are made from a fabricated plastic resin and are available in many different colors. They can take their place in your garden's layout, or you might choose to obscure them from view by placing them behind a shrub or tree.

"It's best to install your rain barrel in an elevated position," Brill says. "Some companies provide a base that raises the rain barrel so that you can more easily access the brass hose fitting on the bottom of the barrel, attaching your hose to the container for use in watering your plantings."

Brill warns against overflow, because a 40-gallon barrel can fill up quickly. "You don't want overflow to collect on the ground around the barrel, causing leakage and flooding in your home and basement," Brill says. "So be sure to choose a rain barrel design that has a spout at the top that can be fitted with a drainage hose that diverts any extra water away from your barrel, even across your lawn or planting areas."

Be sure to keep rainwater harvesting barrels covered to prevent animal access, leaves and other brush, and mosquito breeding. And always let the first rainfall of the season run away completely, because it will wash bird droppings, algae and other undesirable elements from your roof and gutters safely away and out of your rainwater collection. Even after the first rainfall, this water is not for drinking or for washing pets outdoors, because collected rainwater has been found to have moss, lichen, dust, animal droppings, organic and inorganic sea matter, and dissolved gases within it.

More complex rainwater collection systems involve the construction of containment units on your roof, a system of pipes and collection tanks both above and below the ground. Some towns require permits for the installation of water harvesting systems, including portable barrels. Check with your municipality to find out whether you need to get a permit before you embark on either plan. Though it might seem logical that rainwater collection removes strain from the area's water supply, some towns claim water rights.

In more extreme plans of green living, rainwater harvesting acts as a replacement of potable water entirely. But you will need to apply for a permit and allow your municipality to inspect your residence and counsel you about this very permanent solution. Once water pipes have been altered or used for rainwater, they cannot be converted back to their original form.

Visit your local garden center to look at collections of rainwater barrels and harvesting systems. You may like what you see. And you will really like what you see on your next water bill.

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