Practically everything around your house that requires water loves the natural goodness that comes from soft rainwater. For those of us living in dry, arid areas, every rain shower is a blessing from the skies. Our gardens get watered, leaves and rocks are washed clean, and everything is fresh and renewed. But so much of that rainwater runs into gutters and out to sea, wasted. There are ways, however, to capture rain water for future use.
There are rainwater capture systems sized for any homeowner, from a small garden to a full-sized greenhouse. Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, by Brad Lancaster, is an excellent resource. So is DIY Projects for the Self-Sufficient Homeowner, by Betsy Matheson. For small planters, replace your gutter’s downspout with a rain chain. The end of the chain attaches to a large bowl, which is placed over a rock-covered catch basin. Grow water-tolerant plants in the catch basin.
When you know how to make a rain barrel, you can begin harvesting rainwater to irrigate your garden or lawn, water your houseplants, or top off a natural swimming pond. A ready supply of rainwater is also a reliable stand-by for emergency use if your primary water supply is interrupted.
My grandparents in Alberta used to have 50-gallon barrels under their downspouts, which they used to help water their large vegetable garden. A recycled wooden wine barrel makes a rustic and charming statement. If you can’t find that, use recycled food-grade plastic. Your barrel will need an intake line, a spigot, an overflow attachment, a screen cover to keep out leaves, and a removable solid cover. Set the barrel under a downspout. To keep the rainwater pure, remove the solid cover a few minutes after rainfall has started and had a chance to wash dirt, pollen, and other pollutants off the roof.
Collecting rainwater runoff in rain barrels can save thousands of gallons of tap water each year. A typical 40 x 40-foot roof is
capable of collecting 1,000 gallons of water from only one inch of rain. Have a large garden or orchard? Consider a rainwater cistern. Rain gutters direct water into a cistern to help water your garden. By the time you start growing plants in spring, the tanks will be full. The water can irrigate crops through a gravity-fed drip system.
Watering your lawn and garden can consume as much as 40 percent of your total household water use during the growing season. A simple rain barrel system that limits collected water to outdoor (nonpotable) use only can have a big impact on the self-sufficiency of your home, helping you save on utility expenses and reducing the energy used to process and purify water for your lawn and garden.
Some states like Arizona and New Mexico now offer subsidies for rain barrel use, offering free or reduced-price barrels and downspout connection kits. Check with your local water authority for more information. Get smart with your water usage, and take advantage of the abundant supply from above.