I want to set up some rain barrels and am unsure a) how to locate a source of some free barrels and b) what would be a good location for barrels. Folks set them up for roof runoff, yes? Any danger of contamination that way? Runoff from human-made surfaces always makes me nervous.
I think you can get barrels for free. It seems like there is some outfit through the city of Seattle that encourages this sort of thing. I once scored some free barrels through craigslist.
In Bill Mollison's big black permaculture book, he talks about how to not let the first couple of gallons come into your barrel. The idea is that the first couple of gallons are damn nasty, but after that, the water is pretty clean.
I seem to recall that he had a contraption where it would capture the first two gallons (or so) and then the weight of the full container would cause it to tip over, thus diverting the rest of the runoff to the barrel. I suppose that once the water in the little container would leak out (or dry out) it would pop back up to do the job again for the next rain.
You can use plastic feed barrels from a feed store (livestock or pet). Set up gutters for rain collection from roof, sieve the gutters in several places with thin wire mesh (smallest weave you can find or a series from large to medium to small to fine. Be prepared to clean your gutters frequently but this reduces runoff contamination.)
Also, If allowed to sit rain barrel collection allows sediment to fall to the bottom of the barrel and the top 3/4 or more of the barrel is clean potable water.
Water from a rain barrel can be used for non-consumption water use, clothes and dish washing, showering, plant watering, etc. which makes any contamination of low importance. You can use a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to clean water (per gallon as withdrawn) with little taste effect.
You can use a metal feed trough and drain the bottom water out daily (spigot or plug), allowing a pretty clean supply to build up. Problem with water troughs is that they are too open to use by wildlife and infestation by mosquitoes and other larvae but wire mesh can be placed over the top to prevent encroachment. Most wildlife will figure a way to get in; since many regional areas resorting to the use of water barrels are water-challenged (arid or in drought) and have capped local water holes once open to wildlife to achieve fullest possible conservation of local water resources so local wildlife is left without any water in their territories and they are extremely motivated to figure out a way around your fencing. Watching animals go miles and miles outside their territories and out of their way in the arid southwest to find a water source that is not tapped and capped by humans is troublesome to the conscience so you might consider leaving an open water source on your property for local wildlife if necessary. Nevertheless, in the northwest, it should not be a problem depending on what you need the water for.
Rinse sediment out of the barrel bottom when you have approached empty, use hydrogen peroxide to clean and reuse barrel. In Alaska, even the grubby bottom water tastes great, a little earthy but sweet nonetheless.
What do you intend to do with the rainwater you collect? If you're just going to use it to water plants, flush the toilet, or run the washing machine you probably don't need to worry much about filtration (and maybe you could even pass on shunting the first couple of gallons).
If you have a metal/tile roof, you could consider drinking it (I wouldn't consume it if it was from asphalt/composite shingles, though). In this case you would want to incorporate a first flush system. An elegant one I've heard about uses an old style metal milk container (like farmers used to use...the kind that holds about 5 gallons and has a narrow neck) and a volleyball. You drill a very small hole in the bottom of the milk jug so water can drain very slowly (drop at a time). Then you put the volleyball inside and inflate it. Put this contraption under a gutter (or better yet under a downspout from all your gutters tied together) and the first five gallons of water will run into the jug. As the jug fills up the volleyball will float up toward the top and soon plug up the jug. Then the water will overflow to whatever storage device you choose. Since the hole in the bottom is really tiny the jug will drain much more slowly than it fills and you will be harvesting the bulk of most rain events. Don't forget you can always still make use of the first flush water for irrigation, pond refill, or swale filler.
For your storage food-grade, plastic, 55 gallon drums should be available for free (make sure you find out what was in them!) or for purchase (about $35/each). I'd suggest a black one if you can get it so light penetration won't be a problem. Make sure you set up your system so that the storage drum is covered so your water doesn't get contaminated or propagate mosquitoes. With acid rain being a problem in the PNW, you might also consider putting a chunk of limestone in the bottom of your storage tank (or if you want some good woo woo magic you could throw in a chunk of amethyst or quartz). Whatever you use to cover the container you should put in some screened holes so the water doesn't become stagnant. Also keep it out of the sun so that it doesn't heat up or form algae.
For filtration you could use a slow sand filter for the water coming out of the barrel. I've attached a PDF about how to make one.
Don't forget to think in terms of gravity feed. Put the first-flush system as high as possible. Then put your storage just slightly lower than the top of the first flush system. Then put the slow sand filter in a position that allows you to turn on the tap and make the water run. The higher you can make your storage tank, the better pressure you'll have and the more options you'll have for how to use the water.
Catching rainwater is a great idea (even if you save it and only use it in case of fire). I've heard that recently there have been large regions in Australia where rainwater catchment on all buildings has become mandatory.
Kelda: Whoa, awesome! I'll check that out Will there be a carpool or anything to the site?
Dave: we'll probably be using it to water plants, wash dishes, and the like. If we could drink it as well that would be amazing. As we don't own our property we're not really in a position to do any plumbing (in terms of setting it up with the washer, etc although that would be awesome). I'm not sure (I'll go check in the morning) but I think we probably have composite shingles. Any way to filter the nastiness out or should I abandon that route for now?
If you have asphalt shingles I would go ahead and use it for irrigation. The water running off the roof is going to hit the yard anyway, right? So you might as well. I don't know of anything that would filter out the nastys you might find on an asphalt roof. Perhaps reverse osmosis? But setting that up will probably be way expense than I'd be looking for as a renter.
Principal - Terra Phoenix Design
"Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2: Water-Harvesting Earthworks" is NOW AVAILABLE! You can order it from my website or any bookstore. (Though it works best for me to order it through my website, since less money is funneled off, and I can direct more funds to research, education, and getting the next volume done). You can place order by check via the mail or with credit card or pay pal - see the book order page on the website for details.
I've also updated the website with more great resources! In particular, I recommend you check out the • "Water Harvesting Demonstration Sites" • "Water Harvesting Financial Incentives" • and all the rest found under the "Rainwater Harvesting Info/Resources" menu button
In addition, check out the "Images, Video, and Audio" menu button for more interactive stuff and sensory stimuli.
I will continually update and revise the website - so keep checking back, especially for all the events, workshops, and presentations I keep adding.
Let me know what you think with both the book and the website I appreciate all constructive feedback.
Now get out there and harvest and plant the rain to grow abundance!
- Brad Lancaster www.HarvestingRainwater.com
Earthworks are one of the easiest, least expensive, and most effective ways of passively harvesting and conserving multiple sources of water in the soil. Associated vegetation then pumps the harvested water back out in the form of beauty, food, shelter, wildlife habitat, and passive heating and cooling strategies, while controlling erosion, increasing soil fertility, reducing downstream flooding, and improving water and air quality.
Building on the information presented in Volume 1, this book shows you how to select, place, size, construct, and plant your chosen water-harvesting earthworks. It presents detailed how-to information and variations of a diverse array of earthworks, including chapters on mulch, vegetation, and greywater recycling so you can customize the techniques to the unique requirements of your site.
Real life stories and examples permeate the book, including: * How curb cuts redirect street runoff to passively irrigate flourishing shade trees planted along the street. * How check dams have helped create springs and perennial flows in once-dry creeks * How infiltration basins are creating thriving rain-fed gardens * How backyard greywater laundromats are turning “wastewater” into a resource growing food, beauty, and shade that builds community, and more * How to create simple tools to read slope and water flow * More than 450 illustrations and photographs
Praise for Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2
“Brad Lancaster has written the definitive how-to guide for harvesting rainwater. Much of this information has been near impossible to find, and we owe Brad a huge debt for assembling it so lucidly. These universal principles work not just in drylands, but in wetter climates too. This is by far the best resource for designing and building Earth-friendly, low-cost solutions to help us save our most precious resource, water.” –Toby Hemenway, author of “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture”
“Everyone wants to ‘go green’ lately and, usually, the expression is followed by a plug for a new product. Brad offers a shovel instead, and directs you, literally, not figuratively, to your own back yard. We’ve tried some of the methods explained in this book, and they work. Even if you’re a lazy, mediocre, vagabond gardener, like we are, they still work. And if you don’t take the time to understand every technical detail so thoroughly outlined in this bible of rainwater– these methods still will work.” –Shay Salomon and Nigel Valdez, author and photographer, “Little House on a Small Planet”
“Get out your shovels and dance in the rain! That is what Brad Lancaster’s second volume in his trilogy on rainwater harvesting, will make you want to do. This outstanding book provides an abundance of well-documented ideas and tools for sustainable living in your watershed. You don’t have to let wasteful, polluting large-scale water systems get you downget out, get wet, and become a positive part of the hydrological cycle!” –David A. Cleveland, U of California, Santa Barbara (http://www.es.ucsb.edu/faculty/cleveland/) and Center for People, Food and Environment; co-author of “Food from Dryland Gardens”
Twenty-one years ago while traveling up the east coast of Australia with my wife and infant daughter, I noticed that nearly every conversation between rural Australians began with this question.
Instead of the automatic, “How are you?” or “Nice weather,” it was a specific question thatonce I figured out what it meantspoke volumes about these people’s connections: to the land, to each other, and to the environment.
Tanks, also known as cisterns, are the very large containers that store captured rainwater and provide rural Australians with their life support: vital water for drinking, bathing, and gardening. Many rely exclusively on captured rainwater for all their needs.
This one question bundled and abbreviated a collection of concerns: How is your water supply holding out? How has the rain treated you? How are you doing in managing your land and water? How is your family holding up? At what state of readiness do we need to be for our community today?
Having spent much of my life working to awaken people’s awareness and inspire them to take personal responsibility for the environment, I was flabbergasted at the advanced state of consciousness being expressed by these Aussies, and I saw in that awareness an answer to the water crisis facing cities both in my native Los Angeles as well as in arid and non-arid lands around the world.
And for that same reason, I congratulate and thank you for picking up this book. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have an awareness of the need to take responsibility and action either to secure your own water supply or help solve the larger looming problems. Whether you are in it for selfish or selfless reasons, you are a pioneer and taking on the role of environmental healer. You are an early adapterbecause of climate change and other issuesto a world that is already experiencing ever-increasing water and energy issues.
Your experience, persistence, and success in this new wave of rainwater harvesting may lead the way to wide-scale systemic adoption and implementation in cities around the world.
Rainwater capture is transitioning from an individual act of personal survival and self-reliance, to one that is replanting seeds of community, interdependence, resilience, and sustainability.
The local and global world water situation is becoming urgent. As humans in first world nations, our consumption and waste of natural resources is generating sufficient pollution and depletion to damage and impair the healthy functioning of nearly every natural system on earth. These ecosystems are our life-support infrastructure for clean, abundant, and safe water, as well as food, oxygen, and a stable climate. Reversing the degradation requires a profound transformation of individual and communal perspective and behavior.
Instead of believing that government and centralized systems are in charge of the environment, we must shift to the other end of the spectrum where individuals, families, households, neighborhoods, villages, and towns take personal and collective responsibility and see that they are the managers of the ecosystem and their natural life support systems. In this emerging paradigm, government can and must provide information, guidance, feedback, resources, incentives, and systems that enable people to utilize their passion, compassion, creativity, and other energies to help out on an ongoing basis.
If the issues above aren’t reason enough, it is important to realize that harvesting rainwater is a crucial means of fighting global warming and preparing our homes, families, neighborhoods, and communities for the coming consequences.
As you read this book, you’ll find that rainwater harvesting practiced as prescribed herein is really watershed and ecosystem stewardship. In sculpting your landscape and creating water capture systems, you will be restoring, revitalizing, or mimicking natural systems such as forest watersheds; as such, you’ll be repairing the ecosystem and laying the foundations of your community’s sustainability. And you will be a leader. Any change you make on your home can become a demonstration and model that othersyour neighbors, elected officials, or government agency staffwill be able to study and copy.
As president of TreePeople, a nonprofit organization I founded 37 years ago, I like to say that we are helping nature heal our cities. Our work is to inspire people to take personal responsibility and participate in making their cities sustainable urban environments. Our prime focus is to support people in designing, planting, and caring for functioning community forests in every neighborhood in Los Angeles (at the time of this writing, one of the world’s least sustainable megacities).
Forests are natural sustainability infrastructure. Trees are THE basic earthwork. Amongst other things, trees and forests, and the highly porous and mulched soil beneath them, capture, slow, filter, store, and recycle rainwater, and thereby recharge streams, groundwater aquifers, and springs. They provide protection from droughts, floods, and pollutioncleaning the water so it’s drinkable and usable. Trees and forests sustain life. Unfortunately, when most cities were created, the land’s original watershed functionality was unwittingly destroyed. The idea behind functioning community forests is to plant trees and manage the land in cities in a way that mimics natural forests, bringing water, protection, and resources back to urban residents. However, since urbanization has sealed so much of the land with buildings, roads, and parking lots, simply planting trees and creating green spaces often isn’t enough to make up for the lost watershed. By adding additional rainwater harvesting technologies that are designed to mimic nature, such as earthworksinfiltration pits, swales, and cisternsit is possible to replace the watershed and ecosystem functions that were lost.
The magnitude of the water crisisand the opportunitybecame clear to me in 1992, when the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed to spend half a billion dollars to increase the capacity of the Los Angeles River by raising the height of its concrete walls. The Corps determined that the Los Angeles area had been so overpaved that, instead of soaking into the ground, rainwater from a 100-year storm event would rush off all the paved and sealed surfaces so quickly that it would overwhelm the river and flood the nearby cities of southern L.A. County.
It was at that moment that the “How Yur Tanks?” lessons clicked for me. I wondered how much of our 14.7 inches (373 mm) of average annual rainfall we were throwing away each year, and whether we could use that half billion dollars for cisterns to capture and use that precious rainwater, just like the Australians. I asked the county’s flood control engineers and they dismissed the idea, stating that replacing the river walls would require installing a 20,000-gallon (75,800-liter) tank at each of one million homesan expensive and impossible task. The local water supply and stormwater quality agencies had similar responses to my questions. The idea was too expensive for their individual missions and budgets and would require what they all considered to be completely unacceptable lifestyle changes on the part of the public. In the process of these discussions, however, I learned that our average rainfall, if harvested and used appropriately, could replace the portion of our imported water that we use for landscape irrigationroughly half of the one billion dollars worth of water the city of Los Angeles IMPORTED every year.
What seemed impossible to the agencies was perfectly logical to me. Having participated in design and deployment of LA City’s extraordinarily successful curbside recycling program that now serves 750,000 households, the magnitude of the task didn’t worry me. I researched and found out that the separate water-related agencies had separate, unconnected plans to spend a combined $20 billion in the next decade or so to upgrade or repair their respective systems, yielding only “band-aids” with no overall improvement in sustainability of the region.
So, I began designing a 20,000-gallon (75,800-liter) cistern that could safely fit in a small urban yard without compromising anyone’s lifestyle or posing any threat during our occasional earthquakes. It turned out to be a modular 2-foot-wide, linear, recycled food-grade plastic tank that could replace the fence or wall that separates most urban and suburban residential properties. Further, I proposed to outfit all the tanks with wireless remote-controlled valves and pumps that would enable flood control, water supply, and stormwater quality officials to centrally manage the multitude of independent tanks as one highly adaptable storage network.
The networked mini-reservoirs could thereby perform at least triple service for potentially less money than all the agencies’ separate projects. By adapting all the areas’ landscapes to become functioning community forest watersheds, my system was intended to produce multiple additional benefits such as creating tens of thousands of new green-collar jobs, saving copious amounts of electricity (by reducing air conditioning needs with well-placed shade trees AND reducing the pumping required to import water over the mountains into Los Angeles), reusing all garden and landscape biomass and prunings on site as mulch, creating a new local plastic recycling industry product and market, and creating a disaster-resilient backup local water supply. This was a lovely and compelling vision, but no one in an official capacity took it seriously. I realized I’d need to do something to prove that the idea was feasible, both technically and economically. That notion turned into a six-year program of design, feasibility, and cost-benefit analysis that became known as the T.R.E.E.S. Project (Transagency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability). It involved hundreds of engineers, landscape and building architects, foresters, scientists, and economists who collaborated to create a book full of designs and specifications (Second Nature, TreePeople, 2000) to retrofit or adapt every major land use in Los Angeles to function as urban forest watersheds. Other team members spent two years conducting a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. And finally, we built a demonstration project, adapting a single-family home in South Los Angeles. The story of the T.R.E.E.S. Project, including all of its major partners and participants, is told at <http://www.treepeople.org/trees>www.treepeople.org/trees.
The demonstration site, known as the Hall House (named for its owner, Rozella Hall), had a relatively simple set of interconnected earthworks designed to capture, clean, store, and use rainwater from a massive storm event, and prevent any of the rainwater or biomass from leaving the property and thus being wasted. We built berms around the lawns, installed a mulched swale, put in a diversion drain to pick up driveway runoff and carry it to a sand filter under the lawn, fabricated and installed two modular 1,800-gallon (6,822-liter) fence-cisterns which were fed by rooftop rain gutters through a filter, then connected to the irrigation system, and finally, planted a trellis “green wall” of climbing roses to shade and cool the house’s sun-heated south-facing wall. We also removed 30% of the lawn and replaced the remaining turf area with drought-tolerant grass.
Then, on a hot August day in 1998, we invited our agency partners, numerous public works officials, and the news media to see the demonstration house. We handed them umbrellas and unleashed a 1,500-year flood event, pumping and spraying on that one house 4,000 gallons (15,160 liters) of water in ten minutes. Officials huddled in stunned silence as they watched the water fall and flow, pooling in the bermed lawns and cistern. They saw that none of the water flowed to the street and stormdrain system. They saw how, in that one instant, their annual billion-dollar burden of separate infrastructure systems and needs were elegantly bundled and handled. The result: no stormwater pollution, no street flooding, no greenwaste, dramatic water and energy savings, more attractive landscape, and potentially thousands of new jobs.
The head of LA County Public Works’ flood control division couldn’t contain his enthusiasm and proclaimed that the simple elegance meant this demonstration could be easily replicated. A day later, after he and his staff reviewed both our engineered designs and cost-benefit analysis, he called me: “I’m sorry. We didn’t understand. We think you’ve cracked it. Your idea needs to be deployed throughout the whole county, but it’s going to cost more and take more time than you think. But despite that, we need to begin scaling this up immediately. We’d like to try this idea to solve one of the county’s most persistent urban flooding problems.”
That was the beginning of the Sun Valley Watershed project, located in the City of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. After a successful two-year feasibility study, the County Public Works Department launched a thorough “stakeholder-led” watershed management planning and environmental impact analysis. Six years later, both the plan and environmental report were approved; construction of the first project began within a few weeks. The plan calls for the retrofit of 20% to 40% of the watershed’s 8,000 homes, and installation of a diverse network of earthworks. The earthworks mix ranges from simple to complex, beginning with tree planting, pavement removal, mulching, and berming. On the more complex end, the projects will include installing street swales, and school watershed parks that replace asphalt play yards with permeable greenspaces above large underground infiltration systems and cisterns. Details of the Sun Valley Watershed Plan, progress and planning process are available at <http://www.SunValleyWatershed.org>www.SunValleyWatershed.org.
The Sun Valley Watershed planning process informed and transformed many of the participating agencies and organizations and inspired others who followed the process. For example, Los Angeles County Public Works formed a new, integrated Watershed Management Division. The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation launched and completed its first ever Integrated Resources Plan for Water. And among several cities outside the Los Angeles area, the City of Seattle initiated its Salmon Friendly Seattle program, which seeks to restore viable salmon habitat throughout the metropolitan area by revitalizing watershed and forest functionality in all the city’s neighborhoods.
There are several keys to the projects’ successes so far: 1) we demonstrated that these adaptations represented acceptable and attractive lifestyle changes that would be politically palatable; 2) we demonstrated with rigorous engineering that they were technically feasible, safe, and capable of solving pressing problems; 3) we demonstrated that they were economically feasible by identifying multiple outcomes and benefits that altogether would over time save money for the assembled funding partners; and 4) we engaged and educated all the stakeholders from both the community (including children) and relevant agencies.
This story is far from over. As it continues to unfold it presents a variety of political, jurisdictional, and regulatory issues and problems that we work to resolve. My initial vision was that so much water and money could be saved by local governments that agencies would help individuals and businesses cover the costs of installing and maintaining the systems on their properties. That is now happening in some cities, such as Santa Monica, Seattle, and Houston, that are giving grants for cisterns and water-saving landscapes.
As we confront growing water-quality and supply issues, plus the increased threat of flooding and weather-related calamities, it is increasingly urgent that we find ways of adapting our homes, neighborhoods, towns, and cities to become climate change and disaster resilient. You have a huge role to play in protecting your household and region by personally implementing some of the water-harvesting practices detailed in this book. If you do this, and make yours a demonstration project, you will help prove that it is feasible and attractive for your region. You will make it more politically palatable, so your local politicians can pass laws, change ordinances and codes, and make resources available to help others implement on a wide scale. And then, collectively, we just might tip the balance and put our nation on the road to a healthy, just, and sustainable future.
Dig in and have fun.
Andy Lipkis is president of TreePeople, a Los Angeles-based social-profit
he use of rain barrels is not only great for the environment but also great for your garden. Every drop of rain water that you collect from your roof and store for your garden is a drop of water that doesn't have to come from your local water reservoir, which can only be a good thing as many parts of the planet are now suffering from the affects of drought.
Charcoal should get most sorts of asphalt nastiness out. Commercial filter cartridges are a bit un-economical, but there are online instructions on re-filling them with ordinary activated charcoal.
"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men. They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
i have a small shed near my food forest garden and hope to add guttering and a rain barrel for extra water for that garden area this year..am learning some from this info but wouldn't need to have it "clean" for drinking, but would have to have it "clean" for not clogging my soaker hoses ..probably will have to flush them more often though..
did have a little drought problem back there last year and had to run the water from my pump..don't want to have to do that again !! it is a few hundred feet to pump it.
Bloom where you are planted.
Six pallets, some scavenged cable, some scrap carpet for padding, and a blue tarp. 1000 gallons.
Blue tarp has a short life when exposed to the sun. After a year I replaced it with greenhouse plastic, which could last a decade if protected from the worst of the sun. This arrangement finally failed when the liner ripped due to ice one winter. If that hadn't happened it would have failed due to the pallets rotting.
I've got a smaller one elsewhere that's made from a couple pallets and half sheets of plywood. It's basically 4'x4'x3', which is about 300 gallons.
In a place with milder winters, and put on a decent foundation, these could last a good long time. And they're dirt cheap.
Paddy spent all of his days in the O'Furniture back yard with this tiny ad: