I’m not an expert on irrigation, but the cool new rainwater collection system at our local Master Gardeners demonstration plot seems like a no-brainer to me. Worldwide consumption of water is rising fast — twice the rate of the population — but fresh water makes up less than 3 percent of all the planet’s water resources. When a scarce resource falls right out of the sky, it makes sense to harvest it. That’s exactly what the folks at the county demonstration garden are doing.
Rainwater can be collected from any relatively clean surface (rooftops and pool covers, for example) and then used for irrigation, flushing the toilet, washing the car, rinsing garden tools — just don’t drink it.
The system at the demonstration garden uses rain gutters on a small outbuilding to capture water:
The thick, vertical pipe visible at the corner of the red building is the first flush diverter. It’s a simple device that catches the first flush of water during each rain — the rain that rinses off any dirt, bird droppings, acorns or leaves that might have landed on the roof recently. Once the diverter is full, the remaining water passes over it and runs into the storage tank. See the plug at the bottom of the pipe? That’s where the first flush water can be drained, between rains.
Storage tanks can be made from all kinds of clean containers. .. however, the Cooperative Extension folks warn that you need to be very careful about what has been previously stored in them. New or never-previously-used fuel tanks, fiberglass containers or septic tanks are what they recommend for larger capacity. There are also polyethylene tanks manufactured for use in the sugar industry, which are cheap to buy and easy to rinse for repurposing as water storage.
Light colored tanks should be painted dark green or black to prevent light penetration. If you bury your storage tank, color doesn’t matter.
(We’re down here in a subtropical climate zone, so temperature extremes are never a problem. But in colder climates, exposed storage tanks would need to be durable enough to tolerate water freezing and thawing during the winter. The recommendation is high-density polyethylene, and a domed top or overflow pipe to allow expansion.)
The demonstration garden slopes gently away from the water containment tank, so gravity alone was enough to provide pressure for drip irrigation. But it’s a big garden, so last week a small electric pump was installed at the base of the storage tank. Now the Master Gardener volunteers can sprinkle, mist and hose to their hearts’ content. If you don’t have electricity in the vicinity of your water storage, a gasoline pump will work.
I’m intrigued. I think a set of rain barrels and some spiffy new catchment gutters on the art studio might be a good fall project. After patiently answering my many questions, the County Extension agent gave me some sources of additional, more detailed information. I’ve listed them below. Happy harvesting!
Virginia Rainwater Harvesting Manual
The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting
I have a shed attached to my house roughly those dimensions — that’s incredible that it can harvest that much water. Food for thought when we get Nor’easters and tropical storms through here ( no hurricanes, please!) I live in Virginia, so I will check the manual out!
Mary Johnson said:
You know, in some parts of the world, they do this routinely. The summer I worked in the Virgin Islands, for instance, I found that they use captured rainwater for everything but drinking; even showers! With no natural freshwater, every house has a cistern. And they conserve – if your cistern runs dry, you pay big bucks for a tanker full of desalinized water!
I’m going to read the TX manual. I live in Austin and have been considering this for a while. I actually heard on NPR recently (or perhaps I read an article) that in some states this is illegal. Specifically catching and saving the snow off of one’s roof. It’s supposed to melt off and back into the aquifers and streams and such for everyone to share. That really surprised me! I’m glad we have no such rules here in TX!