Rain Barrels: Living with Drought, Rain or Shine

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This simpliest and smallest rain catchment system - the rain barrel. Photo by Mikie Baker.

This simpliest and smallest rain catchment system - the rain barrel. Photo by Mikie Baker.

Mikie GreenJPGDid you spend the summer anguishing over watering restrictions? Maybe you couldn’t sleep for wondering when San Antonio would reach Stage Four. Perhaps you nearly had a nervous breakdown as you watched your grass turn a shade of crispy brown. Well, friend, let me give you a Rainwater Revival intervention.

Saturday might have been a clear, crisp fall day in Boerne, but inside the Boerne Civic Center it was raining a solid schedule of rainwater harvesting information at the 4th annual Rainwater Revival. This Hill Country Alliance (HCA) event brought together a full day’s schedule of rainwater experts and professionals to teach and demonstrate a sure way to end all your water woes.

When it comes to education on Rainwater Harvesting, it's standing room only at the Hill Country Alliance's Rainwater Revival. Photo by Milan Machalec.

When it comes to education on Rainwater Harvesting, it’s standing room only at the Hill Country Alliance’s Rainwater Revival. Photo by Milan Machalec.

Who is this great group of people whose goal is to teach you how to gather all the free water you can handle? HCA brings together groups of like-minded citizens with the shared objective of preserving the many precious and natural resources of the Texas Hill Country.

HCA raises awareness about the importance and benefits of open spaces, well-stewarded landscapes, clear night skies and starscapes, groundwater resources, spring flow, and of course the revival of the practice of rainwater catchment. HCA enlists the help of scientists, hydrologists and other experts to regularly offer education seminars, public events and lively forums to raise the level of discussion about precious Hill Country resources and how to save them.

So, slap on your rain gear and grab your goloshes, and be ready to harvest your own water when it rains.  The delightful part is that water is free. There are no current State of Texas restrictions on gathering all the water your buckets, barrels and tanks can hold. Before you dash down to the local big box store and buy a rain barrel, here are a few things you might want to know:

Be armed with knowledge.

The beginnings of a larger rainwater catchment system. Photo by Mikie Baker.

The beginnings of a larger rainwater catchment system. Photo by Mikie Baker.

“If you’re considering anything from a simple rain barrel to an all-inclusive system for your home, make sure you’ve done your research,” explains former Travis County Commissioner and HCA board member Karen Huber. “Our home is run completely on rainwater and has been for 13 years. We learned how to accomplish this by simply asking a neighbor who already had a system for his house.”

Probably, the advice a rainwater user will give you is twofold: unless you’re mechanically inclined, bring in an expert to help with a full-fledged rainwater harvesting system, and, if you get started with a 55-gallon rain barrel, available at most hardware stores, you’ve just found the next gateway drug. You’ll be hooked before you know it.

Great benefits to collecting your own water.

It’s much purer than municipal water (no chlorine additives), it tastes great, and it keeps your plants growing better than any box of chemical-laden fertilizer ever could. Maintaining a rain harvesting system is easier than most people think— certainly easier than taking care of a swimming pool.

As this practice continues to grow, so do the creative ideas that come along with rainwater collection. Not only can you provide water to your plants, you can supply all your home’s water needs. Plus you can create your own rain garden, an easy way to hold water on your land in a beneficial way.

How much water can you collect off your roof?

The simple formula is 1-inch of rainfall on a 1,000 square foot roof equals about 600 gallons of water. Measure your roofprint and you’ll know how much you can collect. If you have a 500 gallon tank and 1000 square feet of roof, a one-inch rain will overflow your tank – but it’s a start! The object is to store as much water as you can during the rainy season, so you’ll have enough water to use during our hot, dry summers. For an easy to understand formula, check out Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Consecration district’s website.

What are your water needs?

The number varies greatly in the state. We know the average usage water per person per day (gpd) in San Antonio (115 gpd) is much less than in Dallas. But the average person, living quite well on 100 percent rainwater capture, uses an average of 35 gpd. For a family of four, you would need 140 gpd or 4,200 gallons a month.

This simpliest and smallest rain catchment system - the rain barrel. Photo by Mikie Baker.

This simplest and smallest rain catchment system – the rain barrel. Photo by Mikie Baker.

Once you’ve estimated the demand for your family, look up the historical rainfall patterns for your area in Texas as well as the dry days per year that you average. When you realize that we average many more dry days than wet ones, you’ll be able to figure out your water needs. In fact, looking at your water bill can show you how many gallons of water your family is consuming in a year. If you have a 1,500 square foot, one-story house, you can harvest 28,000 gallons of rainwater during a normal year.

Once you’re armed with your water usage, it will be easy to decide how big a system you need. “No matter what the size, rainwater catchment systems all have the same things in common,” says John C. Kight, Director and Vice President of Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District.

John explains, “There are five components to a rainwater harvest system: Catchment Area, Conveyance, Storage, Treatment and Distribution.” Here’s a breakdown on each.

Catchment Area is your roof surface. It doesn’t matter if your roof is metal or composite. Any surface will work. You must have a slope in your roof and the measurements are based on the square footage of the roof print, not the pitch of your roof.

Conveyance includes your gutters and downspouts that form a network of pipes that move the water from the roof to the storage device.

Storage is where you hold your captured rainwater for later use. It can also be called the cistern tank or can be a linked, system of tanks or barrels.

Treatment is recommended for potable (drinkable) uses and ensures you have safe, drinkable water to use through the use of filters and UV lighting. (Note: treatment is not necessary if it’s only for outdoor use.)

Distribution includes all other pipes, pumps and devices that move water to the point of use. For more detailed information see www.rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu/rainwater-basics.

Rainwater catchment in action in the Texas Hill Country. Photo by Milan Michalec.

Rainwater catchment in action in the Texas Hill Country. Photo by Milan J. Michalec.

Once you have all these components in place, you are ready to have a lifetime of free water at your disposal. Note that Homeowner’s Associations are not allowed to restrict you from harvesting water. They can, however, issues guidelines on placement of the tanks.

So, think you’re game to have a rainwater catchment system? You should be. It’s so simple even all federal building and military installations use rainwater catchment systems today. And if the government can do it . . . well, then, so can you. Soon, the rhythm of the rain will be music to your ears.

For more on HCA’s many initiatives go to www.hillcountryalliance.org  Also make a note of next year’s Rainwater Revival on Oct. 18 at Dripping Springs Ranch Park.

 

Mikie Baker is an award-winning humor columnist and ghostwriter for the upcoming business book, “Be the Best, Have Fun and Make Money.” She is the Community Liaison for Texas Public Radio representing KTXI in the Hill Country, KVHL in the Highland Lakes and KTPR in the Big Country. Mikie was commissioned by the Hill Country Alliance to cover the 4th annual Rainwater Revival. For more information, see www.mikiebaker.com or Mikie Baker’s Gone Country on Facebook.

 

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5 thoughts on “Rain Barrels: Living with Drought, Rain or Shine

  1. Thanks to Mikie and the Rivard Report for bringing this event to the digital audience. When we begin to think of rain in terms of catchment rather than losing it to a watershed, drop by drop, gallon by gallon, it all adds up. Cumulatively, this really does provide another source of drinking water. Want water independence? Look to the sky for your supply. The Hill Country Alliance looks forward to making this event even better next year in Dripping Springs.

  2. Outstanding article. Thank you for providing links to more information.
    We have a serious problem here, affecting all of us. There are answers….
    hopefully people will use them.

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