Capturing rainwater can save you money on watering gardens. Rainwater harvesting helps the environment by conserving water and preventing runoff from picking up pollution as it flows toward rivers and lakes. Learn ways to capture and store rainwater, and you’ll be able to get your garden through a dry spell and keep your car clean without running up your water bill.
Before you begin planning a rainwater collection system, check your local laws. Collecting rainwater is illegal in some areas due to water rights.
These are the simplest and most common ways to collect rainwater. Rain barrels collect roof runoff from downspouts. Some allow downspout water to flow directly into the top of the barrel (through a screen to catch leaves or other debris). They have spigots or places to connect hoses to access and use the water that has been collected.
Rain barrels fill up fast in a cloudburst or heavy storm. You can connect two together to capture more water, but they collect only up to about 100 gallons of water. They can overflow and waste the opportunity to collect rain.
Water-loving plants can absorb a lot of runoff, preventing it from flowing toward streams or ponds, picking up contaminants along the way. A rain garden, planted strategically near a downspout or in a low spot in the yard, can filter contaminants from runoff, and slow runoff to help prevent flooding.
Cisterns have been used for thousands of years to collect and store water. They can be above, in, or underground. Pipes feed water from downspouts to fill the cistern. They can hold much more water than rain barrels.
Cisterns should be covered. To maintain the cistern itself and the cleanliness of the water within it, cisterns should have liners. Unlike septic tanks that stay full of non-potable wastewater and human waste from toilets, cisterns can be drained and refilled. While some cisterns are designed to hold potable water, they can also be used to collect non-potable rainwater. This “grey” water can’t be consumed, but can be used to water gardens or wash cars.
A large tarp combined with a natural slope can collect rainwater. Creating a flat area with mounded edges atop a higher area and covering it with a tarp held down by rocks or cement blocks will collect rainwater. The water can then flow downhill through a pipe to a collection tank.
While harvesting rain has always been necessary in drought-ridden areas, collecting and storing rainwater is becoming more common around the world for environmental and practical reasons. Some places encourage or require it, so learning about rainwater harvesting will come in handy wherever you go.