Article was originally published on ConnectForWater.
At one time, no one could have imagined arguments over who owns the rains that soak the earth. But that’s part of what’s been happening with the universal, natural resource of rainwater.
Rainwater is free and eco-friendly. Utilizing it helps owners cut the cost of utility bills. It’s hard to imagine anything worth arguing about.
What is rainwater “harvesting”?
Harvesting is simply another name for capturing and collecting rainwater so the water ends up in some type of storage container, either large or small. Most commonly, rain is collected from the rooftop of a building or other surface runoff. The area from which water is collected is called the “catchment.”
Rain then moves downward through gutters or pipes to a holding area. The water is used for specific objectives, rather than allowing rain to just slip away, evaporate, or seep into the ground.
What are the advantages of rainwater harvesting?
There are many advantages to harvesting rainwater! Since it’s eco-friendly, environmentalists advocate for responsible methods in collecting rainwater to lessen the impact humans take on the natural world. Water conservation efficiencies such as recently improved low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads have helped, but have probably reached their limits.
The practice of rainwater harvesting conserves groundwater, cuts down on the amount of stormwater runoff which contributes to water pollution, reduces soil erosion, and can help decrease flooding in low-lying areas. Better control gained over the natural water supply can be especially helpful where water is restricted.
Finding ways to use rainwater in California, for example, would greatly help the predicaments of that drought-prone area. One climatologist estimates that more than 80% of the region’s rainfall ends up literally going down the drain from urban areas in Southern California into the Pacific. Trillions of gallons of fresh rainwater end up in the ocean.
Unfortunately, a great deal of time and a lot of money are needed to save significant amounts of rainwater on that scale. But, for average homeowners and homesteaders, rainwater collection is generally economical. Just one inch of rainfall on a 2,000 square foot area yields about 1200 gallons of water.
Most home rainwater collection systems are simple, easy to maintain, and the upfront expense involved pays for itself over time. Because using rainwater cuts down on utility bills, homeowners find rainwater to be of particular benefit.
The uses of rainwater vary, but it’s especially well-suited to applications other than drinking. For example, water used to wash clothes and vehicles, operate toilets, or water gardens needs no filtering or disinfecting. Harnessing rainwater is a perfect solution!
Water collected from rain is actually healthier for landscape plant life than water you get from a faucet because there’s no chlorine in it. Rainwater is often less “hard” than publicly treated water, so less soap or detergent is needed, and there’s no need for a water softener.
Some people do opt to use rainwater for human or animal consumption. When that’s the case, the safety of rainwater for drinking requires more careful preparation and monitoring. Extra filtering and regular testing are necessary to ensure there’s nothing harmful in the water.
Are there disadvantages to harvesting rainwater?
It requires some effort and routine maintenance. There are initial costs involved to set up a system that’s effective. Costs will be significantly higher if the water is going to be used for drinking since filtering and disinfecting after collection is crucial. Anyone with immune issues should be especially careful.
Contamination and pathogens can be ongoing concerns. The water needs to be stored in appropriate opaque containers using methods that prevent algae. Rodents could find their way into storage areas. Insects, particularly mosquitoes, could potentially use the stored water as a breeding ground.
There are possible issues with using a roof to collect rainwater. Asbestos roofs and lead flashing shouldn’t be used for harvesting water. Some roofing materials seep chemicals, or may have had chemical treatments to prevent moss from growing. Bird droppings, insects, and leaves can also potentially wash along with the rain into the containment system.
There are ways to minimize these problems with careful research done ahead of time. It’s not quite as important if the water is never going to be consumed by humans or animals, but all aspects should be considered ahead of time in case stored water might ever be needed as a backup for drinking. Having a low-cost home filtration system like this one that quickly connects to a tap and removes all bacteria from water is an easy way to have peace of mind when you plan on drinking harvested rainwater.
Unpredictable rainfall can be a disadvantage, too. Some areas simply don’t get enough rain to make installing a system practical. Areas that experience sudden high amounts of rainfall will only benefit if adequate storage space is provided. If containment is small and lots of rain appears all at once, storage runs out quickly and the opportunity is missed.
What are the methods of collecting rain?
Harvesting systems for rainwater are plentiful. It can be as simple as installing a rain barrel at the bottom of a downspout or as complicated as installation of underground tanks with high-efficiency filters and pumps.
All types of rainwater harvesting system design have certain components in common. One group of engineers (Enduraplas.com) lists the 5 “must have” components this way:
- Collection Area – Your roof is an obvious component as you can’t harvest rainwater without a roof. This is the first point of contact for rainfall. The volume of water you harvest will depend on the surface area of your roof.
- Conveyance System – A Conveyance system is a fancy word for downspouts and gutters. The right piping and gutters means the water will run off the roof and into your tank without collecting unneeded debris. Other necessary components include mount hardware, brackets, and straps to fasten the gutters and downspout to the fascia and the wall.
- First Flush Diverter – When the first lot of rain hits your roof and runs into your gutters, the water often contains a lot of pollutants from the air and debris on the roof. The first flush diverter is a popular system that includes a valve that ensures the runoff from the first spell of rain is flushed out and doesn’t enter the system.
- Leaf Screens – Having the right filtration system in place is critical, especially if you are harvesting potable water that you’ll be drinking or using for your laundry. A sophisticated filtering system ensures harmful contaminants are removed. Leaf screens are installed along the gutter, in the downspouts and at the entrance of the water storage tank.
- Water Storage Tank – This is a key component. Your storage system may be above ground or below ground and include more than one tank. Some of the common materials used for rain harvesting tanks are poly, galvanized steel, and concrete.
Can I build a home rainwater harvesting system for myself?
Yes! Loads of ideas are available online. You can choose whatever method suits your budget and your needs.
Take a look at 23 awesome ideas one self-sufficiency group has put together. They share all kinds of details about harvesting rain, including the types and composition of barrels for rainwater collection – ranging from very basic (and cheap) to very sophisticated, larger systems.
Does legislation make it illegal to collect rainwater in some places?
In a few locations, the government has begun to question ownership rights over rainwater. Although individual states can impose regulations, the Federal government doesn’t restrict rainwater harvesting. Most US citizens are able to collect rainwater without problems. Some states even offer incentives for doing it!
Rainwater harvesting restrictions have been implemented in places like Colorado. Citizens there who harvest rain must use it on the property where it is collected, and then only for outdoor purposes such as lawn irrigation and gardening. State by state regulations are essential to research prior to implementing a system, so make sure to read up beforehand.
For one Oregon man, rainwater became a legal issue in 2012. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined, due to three reservoirs on his property where he collected and used rainwater.
State water managers referred to “three illegal reservoirs” on his property that he would fill with rainwater and snow runoff. Oregon water laws state that all water is publicly owned. If someone wants to store any type of water on their property, they have to first get a permit from state water managers.
In this man’s case, he claims he had the appropriate rainwater collection permit, but an Oregon administrative official maintains this landowner was actually diverting water (that should have ended up in streams) by building dams to make the ponds.
What’s the future of rain harvesting?
Populations continue to grow, and incidents of drought and low water levels are on the increase. It’s natural to contemplate offsetting those dilemmas by utilizing our resource from the sky. As more people recognize how much water can be easily captured and consider the savings involved, we’re likely to see the practice increase.
Demands for clean water will keep increasing. Aquifers and groundwater are precious and need to be preserved whenever possible. Hopefully, state officials and individuals can come to an agreement on the highest priorities, and work together toward partnerships that benefit everyone.