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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

Rainwater Harvesting for Changing Water Realities

Rainwater harvesting is a feasible, and highly efficient solution for residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Save stress on water infrastructures and save money!

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You've probably heard that Australia has been facing a long and sever drought. You've probably not heard how they are dealing with it -- or the solutions they have innovated. Ten years ago their water providers said there was plenty of water...then the drought happened and reality struck. Sounds like California...doesn't it?

Water is still cheap and available in most parts of California, but the cracks in the supply are starting to show. Avocado farmers are putting acres of trees into long term hibernation. Agricultural irrigation supplies in the central valley is being limited. Cities are being urged to conserve. A statewide drought has been declared by the governor. Maybe it's time to consider fresh, potable water a valuable and limited resource.

Nature's Water Supply

The natural water cycle purifies salt water from the ocean by evaporating it and bringing it onland as rain, fog, snow...precipitation. Fresh, clean, potable water.

This water is stored in natural reservoirs such as aquifers (underground streams), lakes and rivers, and ground water. Ground water is almost everywhere...and that includes urban areas such as your yard. And since we've paved over much of the land, we can collect that falling precipitation from roofs, etc. and divert it from the modern infrastructure of sewers into more productive uses, such as irrigation of our natural habitat -- our lawns and gardens. One name for this collection and diversion of rain is "rainwater harvesting".

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting takes a huge load off existing water supply infrastructure. EVERY home and business can divert enough water to serve most of their irrigation needs if they use smart landscaping strategies. And since almost 50% of ALL potable water is used for outdoor and irrigation uses...that is a solution worth implementing.

Only 5% of water in a home is used for drinking and cooking, and most people in today's polluted natural world feel safer using treated water from the local water supplier for these health-related uses. If you have any concerns about drinking rainwater -- you still can use the rainwater you harvest for many other uses.

Rainwater harvesting reduces stormwater runoff (a huge problem in older cities with combined sewers). Aging infrastructures, be they sewers, water lines or even ditches and runoff structures (remember New Orleans?) are fragile and need our localized support. Taking rainwater out of those systems and holding it in your own natural groundwater locale is a big help.

Some claim that rainwater is unsuitable for urban water supply, but rainwater can sometimes be safer than city water. Well managed infrastructures are reliable, but occasionally there are outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness from sewage contamination that have sickened thousands and even cause deaths (example: Milwaukee, where a hundred died). As with public water infrastructure, localized water handling precautions are important to prevent problems.

In Treehugger, Dr. Hari J. Krishna of the Texas Water Development Board, discussed RWH in Austin, Texas. Dr. Krishna points out that if if rainwater harvesting is used for only 15% of residential landscape irrigation in the US, it would save a billion gallons of water per day.

For every inch of rain, about 600 gallons of water can be collected from 1,000 sq.ft. of roof area.

Rainwater Harvesting Systems

The cost of a Rainwater Harvesting system depends on the size of the cistern (holding tank or barrel) used for storage. A Rainwater Harvesting system for a home can cost anywhere from 5,000-$8,000, which includes guttering that collects and diverts the water to the cistern from the roof, costs for the cistern, treatment system to prevent contamination, and a pump for using the system.

Rainwater Cisterns - Basins, Barrels and Tanks can be used to collect and store rainwater. The rainwater cistern can be an underground basin of wateror an above ground barrel or tank. Much like an artificial well, cisterns are used to make sure that water is not contaminated and doesn't lose volume from evaporation.

Smaller systems can be designed for use with gravity, and with simple filtration and covered storage in a special above ground barrel that provides protection and easy access to the water for irrigation using drip irrigation hoses, etc.

Rainwater Gardens

A natural depression in a yard is a form of "Biomimicry", in which nature's designs are used to create built applications and solutions. In nature these are called vernal pools or wetlands. In your landscaping, a rain garden is a planned garden in the lowest spot in your landscaping -- such as a drainage ditch or just a deliberate low spot that allows gravity to move water away from your building's foundation to a safe distance.

Rainwater Harvesting, Texas Cooperative Extension
Rainwater Harvesting topics include Stormwater Management, Rangeland Watersheds, Collection and Storage, Filtration and Sanitation, Landscaping, etc.
Online community promoting sustainable water management practices. Includes articles, FAQ, and instructions for establishing collection systems.

NPR story about Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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