A Way To Harvest Rainwater

Rain may irritate you by altering your plans, making it tough to drive and murdering your iPhone, but you can also twist nature’s sprinkler system to your advantage. Harvesting rainwater allows you to save on utility bills and lessen your environmental footprint.

Sunset offers a primer on a way to funnel rainwater into a garden.

To make a “rain garden,” you’ll need a basin and a system to carry rainwater from the roof through a buried pipe to a basin 10 feet or more away from your home. You can plant water-tolerant plants in the basin that you won’t have to worry about watering.

For more tips on how to harvest rain, visit harvesth2o.

How to catch, store, and use rainwater [Sunset]


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  1. alpha says:

    Check your state/city/county laws as some have restrictions on allowing you to collect rainwater. Colorado comes to mind.
    Until 2009 in Colorado, water rights laws almost completely restricted rainwater harvesting; a property owner who captured rainwater was deemed to be stealing it from those who have rights to take water from the watershed. Now, residential well owners that meet certain criteria may obtain a permit to install a rooftop precipitation collection system (SB 09-080).[8] Up to 10 large scale pilot studies may also be permitted (HB 09-1129).[9] The main factor in persuading the Colorado Legislature to change the law was a 2007 study that found that in an average year, 97% of the precipitation that fell in Douglas County, in the southern suburbs of Denver, never reached a stream—it was used by plants or evaporated on the ground. In colorado you cannot even drill a water well unless you have at least 35 acres. In New Mexico, rainwater catchment is mandatory for new dwellings in Santa Fe.[10]

    • alpha says:

      sorry forgot to acknowledge the citation. its from wiki. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainwater_harvesting.

    • Cat says:

      When the government tells you that you don’t own the rain falling on your own property, your government is out of control.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Yeah, that was my first thought as well.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Not necessarily advocating for these laws, and definitely certain areas should be exempt from them. But, if everyone was allowed to collect their own rainwater, two things would happen. First, the state water companies would not be able to harvest water to give to all the citizens that need it. Second, price for water would skyrocket to point of forcing all citizens to collect their own rai water.

        The utility company, evil as you may perceive it, serves a function, and disrupting that function could cause more harm than good.

        • kujospam says:

          Not saying I agree with it or not. But to think, the old answer would be to MOVE. After all if your area didn’t provide enough food would then argue this land doesn’t belong to you because we need it for farm land? No, you would move to where the food is, or ship the food in. It is interesting how water differs so much from food. Like I said, I don’t agree or disagree, just interesting to think about. I live near the great lakes, so I’m fine with water :0)

      • MrEvil says:

        I agree, that is a bit far-reaching. Texas doesn’t place any restriction on capturing rainwater even in groundwater recharge zones. Every gallon of rainwater captured for irrigation is a gallon of water that doesn’t need to be pumped out of the aquifer.

      • borgia says:

        It really comes down to the way the old laws and treaties were written. Water has to be allowed to drain to the river and the total share each person is allowed is determined from there. So this far predates big government.

      • kobresia says:

        I think it’s a sign that some people tried to game the system and ruined it for everyone. Water rights are a very tricky thing, and it’s not even necessarily “all about government”. Water law is big in these parts (Denver has a higher per-capita of water lawyers than anywhere else), and it’s all about who purchased rights to the water in the rivers. If there was enough water for everyone, it wouldn’t be a problem, but the governments downstream from Colorado have been suing everyone upstream when they don’t get all the water they think they’re entitled to.

        Seniority of water rights is usually what determines what they receive for their farm irrigation or municipal water supplies, not necessarily need. Interception of water when you don’t have a right to it is understandably a problem, and it applies to the people who toss a pump out in the creek (or in a pit right next to the creek) as well as people who prevent water from reaching the creek. It wouldn’t be an issue if everyone who holds a title to water rights had enough water, but most of the major watersheds leaving Colorado run dry long before everyone in other states get the water they’re entitled to. Maybe water rights were oversold, but the system is there to make sure everyone has a crack at the water, rather than having a “closest to the source, first served” system.

        So where would you draw the line? If capturing water off your roof and channeling it into a cistern is morally permissible, what if you find that your roof isn’t capturing enough to keep it full, so you build a rain-capturing device (think old satellite dish or something) to capture precipitation to divert it into a cistern? And if you can do that, why not set-up a larger capture system that provides water for your entire community so not everyone has to deal with the hassles of setting-up individual systems?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Our government is the exact opposite.

      They’re starting to fine residents who don’t disconnect their downspouts from the sewer system. They’re going around smoke bombing the sewers to see who is still connected.

      Our houses are so close together, that anyone who cares is trying to do whatever possible to collect rain water and keep it from flooding basements and destabilizing foundations.

      • kobresia says:

        That’s slightly different– rainwater should only be going into storm sewers or otherwise allowed to drain normally through the watershed. Putting it into the municipal sewer means it immediately gets polluted and needs to be treated along with all the other blackwater, which puts unnecessary load on the wastewater treatment plants. It may even make it more difficult to treat the wastewater, since sometimes the chemicals they use to precipitate out the sludge rely on high concentrations of particulates, as well as higher concentrations of biologically-active waste that works to digest itself.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          I don’t think anyone argues that it’s a good idea. Combined sewer systems are the norm for older cities and there simply isn’t enough money to separate it. Disconnecting downspouts just removes a small percentage of the amount of water in the overall system. Oddly enough, it’s still legal to reroute the downspouts so they drain into the street and into a storm drain. It’s just direct connects that are banned.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Further, it’s almost utilaterally illegal to reuse your own water. For example. you can’t reclaim bath/shower water, toilet water, etc. By paying your utility company for water, you are agreeing to a one-time-use system for your water.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        There are many districts that encourage greywater recycling.

        Our district has a combined sewer system, poorly drained soils, and dense development. The primary goal is to minimize the amount of runoff that hits the sewer system and causes raw sewage to backup into houses and untreated sewage from being dumped into the Ohio River. Our city is fined by the EPA for every “overflow event”.

        Too much water can be just as big as a problem as not enough.

  2. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    My parents set up a rainbarrel system at their house. I’m pretty sure that they purchased some of their barrels online. It’s only been a year or so but two of their barrels have split open – so I guess I’d suggest reading reviews of the products you purchase to make sure they aren’t going to give out prematurely – especially if you live in a state like Florida where UV rays can damage the plastic over time.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

      It’s actually just normal photodegradation. That’s why even with the presence of no atmosphere, the original US flags are no longer on the moon. They were normal store-bought nylon flags, but the intense unfiltered sunlight has since caused them to break down to microscopic bits. If it is UV stabilized, then it shouldn’t be a problem for awhile.

    • kobresia says:

      Old school wooden barrels are even more awesome in light of issues like that…more decorative AND more likely to withstand the tests of time and UV.

      Livestock watering tanks would also be a good choice. The Rubbermaid tanks aren’t that expensive, hold a lot of water, and are pretty indestructible. Even horses don’t damage them much, I’ve had one tank in use for the past 15 years, and it’s still doing well. I use it to capture some of my roof water to keep the ground from being too saturated in the wet years, and avoid pulling too much from the well in the dry times.

  3. pop top says:

    Rain gardens are a great way to hide spots in your lawn that get drowned when it rains. Just get some nice-looking native plants and have fun. Grass is terrible for absorbing water into the ground as their root systems usually only penetrate an inch or two into the soil, and they can only absorb one inch of water per hour on average. Native flowers and grasses, on the other hand, can have root systems up to two-feet deep and will absorb up to seven inches of water an hour on average.

    /plant nerd

    • BrightShopperGettingBrighter says:

      Nice use of plant nerdiness… I live in Colorado and I find grass for residential lawns as logical as planting palm trees in Maine.

  4. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Does anyone know if there are any good rules of thumb about how high rain barrels should be elevated in order to get a decent amount of water pressure?

    Over the break, my goal is to get all of our downspouts disconnect from the sewer and rerouted. I’d really like to get some rain barrels setup for our gardens in the process.

  5. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    I’m loving these “Water Conversation” articles. Talking with water, and getting into a successful dialog, has been a stumbling block in my dealings with the Dihydrogen Monoxide molecule.

  6. Rachacha says:

    I just built a new home, and the county required that I construct a water garden of sorts. The intent was to catch rainwater coming from my roof, and run it into a large depression in the land that is filled with a specially blended mixture of dirt with water tolerant plantings. About 12′ below ground is a drain network that caries the “filtered” water away from my house and caries it out to the county rain water sewers where it ultimately ends up in the Chesapeake Bay

  7. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I wish the rain would stop for a while here in PA. We’ve gotten more than double the normal amount of rain for the year already, and my yard is a quagmire. Water just lays in little puddles for days at a time after it rains. It never did this before. I try not to walk anywhere in the yard unless I absolutely have to. The poor dog hates to slog around in the mud to go potty, but I’m not sure what I can do.

    Of course next year will probably be the exact opposite, and I’ll wish for rain barrels.

  8. Remarkable Melba Kramer says:

    My son won a rain barrel through a drawing at Whole Foods last spring. It has been great for watering the vegetables in our garden boxes.

  9. Kuri says:

    For some reason part of me thinks that a ton of Home owner’s associations are adding new restrictions to their rules.

  10. Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

    This sounds a lot like hippie talk. I don’t like no hippie talk.

    If it ain’t wrecking the environment, I ain’t interested.

  11. FLConsumer says:

    Another source of “free” water is your home’s central AC. I didn’t bother to do the barrel thing. Instead, I ran a 20 foot section of French drain along the back of my house. The AC condensate drips into one end and water slowly finds its way out. Even in drought conditions, my back yard stays nice and green. Last time I checked, the AC was putting out about 20 gallons a day.

  12. Not Given says:

    Have a cellar that leaks and pump the water into your vegetable garden during city water restrictions

  13. Wachusett says:

    Last summer I plotted out a few projects: I found that while none would be very expensive, they definitely wouldn’t save me much money. Here in Massachusetts, tap water is costs about $0.002/gallon. Our entire water budget for the year is no more than $300, and most of that is used inside the house.

    I worked out that if I were able to capture all the water that falls on my roof when we get an inch of rain, it would be worth 15 cents. We get about 40 inches of rain each year here, and capturing all of that could save me $6 of tap water. (To top it off, some of that rainfall comes as snow.)

    (I’m not arguing that they’re not useful projects — just pointing out what I learned about how much money there is to be saved.)

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Does that include your sewer bill too? $300/year sounds like a bargain.

  14. Wachusett says:

    That’s just for water…we don’t have public sewers in this town. I think from year to year our annual total is really closer to $250. (Part of that is a base fee, and the rest is usage at around .002/gallon)

  15. BradenR says:

    The info won’t help if you live in the West Bank/Palestine. With US help, it is illegal for any Palestinian to have a well or catch rain water! Yet the water under those aquifers is readily available to Israelis with their lush lawns and the building of an ice rink.