You probably think I mean oil barrel. It’s okay—that’s what most people would think when they read a headline like that one. What I’m talking about, though, is the rain barrel. In the last couple of years rain collection barrels have become more and more widespread. They aren’t quite as ubiquitous as composting—yet, but they’ll probably get there within the next three years—if the water industry doesn’t’ get in the way.
In 2009, collecting rainwater was actually illegal in many states, thanks to older turn of the last century laws that declared that a state owned all of the water above and below the ground (Washington state’s law actually spelled it out pretty much that way). Since then, however, more and more states have not just overturned those laws; they have started state-wide rain collection programs. One of the biggest? Surprisingly? Texas.
Texas allows financial institutions to give loans to people and businesses that want to build rainwater collection systems, provided that the water collected is the only source of water the person/business uses. It requires all new state buildings built to incorporate some form of water collection/sustainability practice to be built into the building. The state encourages the promotion of rainwater collection at the local level in individual cities and even neighborhoods.
If Texas can get in on the action, surely you can too. A rainwater collection system need not be complicated. You can get all of the supplies you need at ordinary and local retail providers.
If you want to go the simplest route, simply stick a clean tub out in your yard and wait for rain to fall into it. You probably won’t get a whole lot of usable water that way, though. If you want to really be able to harvest rainwater in large quantities (even if you live in an arid area like Utah, most of Arizona, Colorado, etc), you need to “hook up” your rain barrel to your gutter system.
If your house does not have gutters, yet, get them installed. Trust me, it’s worth the expense. Make sure that there are screens over them to keep leaves and other debris from falling into your barrel. Put your collection apparatus below your downspout (you can buy barrels that have downspout collectors if you don’t want to make your own). Make sure the barrel is level. Keep the inside of the barrel as clean as possible.
Wait for it to rain. Pump out the collected water as you need it.
That’s it. Well, that and monitoring your barrel so that it doesn’t overflow.
So now that you’ve got all of that great water collected, what can you do with it?
While you probably don’t want to drink the water you collect (unless you’ve built a filtering system for it, which is a different and more complicated article for another time), you can use it for other things. Most people use this water for watering the yard, washing cars, hosing down driveways, that sort of thing. Some people even use it for bathing, though that is going to depend upon how sanitary your collection system and pumping system are.
If you want to take this a step further, you can also collect gray water—the water that is left after you bathe, wash dishes, etc. There are ways to filter out the gross and use it for good.
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