For centuries, people have relied on rainwater harvesting to supply water for household, personal, landscape, livestock, and agricultural uses. Before the advent of large centralized water supply systems, rainwater was collected from roofs and stored on site in tanks known as cisterns. With the development of large, reliable water treatment & distribution systems and more affordable well drilling equipment; rain water harvesting was all but forgotten, despite it being a source of pure, soft, low-sodium water.
What’s the use of one blue barrel with 55 gallons of rainwater against a severe, year(s)-long drought or seasonal dry patch? A lot! It can provide a mulched raised vegetable bed (measuring 4' X 8'), with enough water to survive until the next rain. Rain rolling off roofs and gutters is always valuable. More and more gardeners & conservationists alike are collecting runoff as a hedge against drought and as their contribution to conserving water. Although a single 55-gallon barrel is not going to hold enough to water for your entire lawn, it can water a lot of houseplants or backyard herb gardens or ornamental pots.
A little rain can go further than you think. Just 600 square feet of a roof’s surface — one downspout capturing a small portion of a typical residential roof — can fill a barrel in 3 minutes with a 1" per hour rain. "Barrels can be linked together to capture more water and others can be added at additional downspouts," according to Clint Wolfe, Urban Water Program Manager for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Research Center in Richardson.
Gutter downspouts, not properly channeled can be detrimental to house foundations. An unchecked downspout can create severe erosion issues around a foundation, destabilizing the biggest investment we make, our home. Downspouts can be captured for rainwater collection or channeled away from the home to protect the foundation. Instead of sending the runoff into your local municipality's storm-water runoff, you can begin to harvest the water for your conservation and reuse.
Developing and deploying a residential rainwater collection system is not as simple as shoving a barrel under a downspout and capturing the roof run-off. Filtration, overflow management, containment management, mosquito & pest management, utilization methods, proper placement and code compliance are critical issues to recognize and incorporate into your designed solution. Check your surrounding cities' websites for Classes on how to get started; Allen, McKinney, Frisco, Plano, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension have classes for a small fee, (to cover the cost of the barrel). You do not have to be a resident of a particular city to attend their class, you only need to register! Better to learn the basic mechanics before you dive in.
Ordinances & regulations vary about size and placement of collection devices. Homeowners should check with their city before installing a major system. In general for larger systems, municipalities prohibit tanks in the front & side yards and backyard containers (in some cities) must be screened. The collection opening also must be topped with a screen for mosquito control. The state of Texas allows Homeowners Associations to regulate where tanks are placed but cannot forbid them.
Texas’s water needs is a major issue during drought or rain abundant years. Texas continues to be a great destination for soon-to-be-Texas-residents and the old adage, "I wasn't born here, but I got here as quick as I could", applies to businesses, major corporations and people alike. The water needs for current residents and future residents is a critical & contentious issue. Texas' 50-year water plan counts on conservation for almost one-fourth of the additional water supply projected needs over the next 50 years.
The TEXAS approach:
A renewed interest in this time-honored approach of rainwater collection in Texas (& elsewhere) is because of escalating economic costs, environmental needs and the capability to independently contribute to & control our own water needs. Texas is one of only a few states in the nation that has devoted a considerable amount of attention to rainwater harvesting and has enacted many laws regulating the practice of collecting rainwater.
- Texas Tax Code 151.355 allows for a state sales tax exemption on rainwater harvesting equipment.
- Texas Property Code 202.007 prevents homeowners associations from banning rainwater harvesting installations.
- Texas House Bill 3391 requires rainwater harvesting system technology to be incorporated into the design of new state buildings and allows financial institutions to consider making loans for developments using rainwater as the sole source of water supply.
We can all participate in whatever level we can. Start your rain water harvesting plan with solid knowledge and your results will be greater than you imagined.