Rain Catchers

Rainwater harvesting takes on a professional tone.


Rain Catchers

Rainwater harvesting takes on a professional tone.

By Larry Reichenberger

Collecting rain water is an ancient tactic whose time has returned. Today, conservation-conscious homeowners and water quality disciples have created a flood of interest in rainwater harvesting. With simple rain barrels or elaborate catchments, they’re learning to ‘love a rainy night.’

“Rainwater is naturally soft and largely free of the chemicals and minerals found in tap water, so landscape and garden plants thrive on it,” says Peter Daniels, whose three 55-gallon barrels store water from the roof of his Wichita, Kansas, home.

Spurred by interest from neighbors, Daniels turned his environmental statement into a side business (wichitarainbarrels.com) “We sell a barrel with the gutter attachment, overflow hose, and outlet spigot for $100,” he says.

Build Your Own Rain Barrel workshops have become a popular offering by city, county, and regional administrators intent on either conserving limited water resources or reducing storm water runoff concerns. Typically, for a fee of around $50, Extension personnel and Master Gardener volunteers in many states supply a pre-cut barrel and the training for gardeners to plumb into a home’s gutter system. Rain barrel art has also become a popular feature and fundraising portion of these efforts.

Few efforts exceed those of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu). Last year, the service’s Dallas Center regional office reached a landmark with the 10,000th rain barrel from these type of events.

“We estimate that our classes built 4,800 rain barrels in 2013 alone,” says Dotty Woodson, a member of the center’s urban water team. “These hold 7.6 million gallons of water to be used for lawns, plants, and gardens —  thereby reducing the draw on potable water from the local water utility.”

Bigger systems. Despite their popularity, rain barrels are literally a drop in the bucket when it comes to supplying per capita water use of roughly 100 gallons per day. To fill that need, Woodson and her associates ramp up their educational efforts to cover complex collection systems that utilize storage tanks and cisterns holding thousands of gallons.

“A one-inch rain on the roof of a house or building provides .623 gallons of water per square foot, so a typical home with a 2,000-square foot roof would yield 1,250 gallons of rainwater. Storage tanks come in all sizes, but one or more 1,500 to 2,500 gallon tank would be typical,” she says.

“These systems have a significant impact in reducing the peak load on the local water treatment utility by replacing potable water used on lawns and gardens. Records show water usage goes up 45% during the irrigation season,” adds Woodson.

The plumbing on rainwater harvesting systems is designed to provide clean water. Downspouts drain into a ‘first-flush’ pipe  where dust and debris initially washed off the roof is trapped. Water in this pipe overflows either directly into the storage tank (dry system) or to ground-level plumbing that then fills to overflow into the tank (wet system). “A wet system allows downspouts on several sides of the house to be tied into the storage tank while keeping most conveyance plumbing hidden underground,” says Ken Davis, a certified rainwater professional. Davis is also co-owner of Rain Ranchers in Mesquite, Texas (rainranchers.com).

Many municipalities offer rebates to encourage installation of rain barrels like this bank of three 55-gallon tanks.

Many municipalities offer rebates to encourage installation of rain barrels like this bank of three 55-gallon tanks.

Clean water. Davis adds that drains allow the flush-pipe to be cleaned and the wet transfer system to be emptied. Filters on both the inlet and outlet to the tanks provide further cleaning and a floating outlet suspended in the cleanest water just below the surface ensures that sediment stays in the bottom of the tank.

Restaurant entrepreneur and master chef Kent Rathbun recently worked with Davis to incorporate a 5,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system while building his home in Dallas, Texas. “The garden thrives on rainwater, and I like the environmental benefits that come with rainfall collection,” he says.

Most rainwater harvesting systems are used to provide outdoor irrigation or non-potable water for indoor uses like flushing toilets or washing clothes. However, interest in producing potable water for actual consumption is also high among homesteaders.

“There’s a lot of interest in using rainwater for bathing, cooking, and a morning cup of coffee because of it’s superior quality,” says Roger Smith, a master plumber and rainwater professional at Enviro-Logix Industries in Melissa, Texas. “Also, a lot of homeowners don’t want to be dependent on the local utility for their water supply.”

Smith recently installed a 30,000-gallon system whose features include a Kynar 500-coated metal roof, stainless-steel mesh gutter covers and a 540-gallon pre-collection tank and pump (to prevent standing water in the buried conveyance line).

“The metal roof sheds dust while the gutter covers filter to 400 microns and a filter on the floating outlet filters to 250 microns. To make the water potable it goes through three more filters; first is a 5 micron filter; second is a 3 micron charcoal filter that also removes odor; third is a UV filter that kills any bacteria or virus. It’s a state-of-the-art system and it cost $35,000, but features like rainwater harvesting are adding more than their cost to home values in this area,” adds Smith.

Surprisingly, collecting rainwater from the roof may not be legal in all areas. Before installing, check regulations at the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (arcsa.org).

Read more