Save That Rain Water!

By: Keith Johnson

The price of water is rising while home gardens are increasing. Depending on the size of your garden, watering can add up when you get your monthly correspondence from your water utility company. This is leading to an escalation in rainwater collection. Many states have laws that regulate or restrict the collection and storage of rain water. Fortunately, I do not live in one of those places! Of all the ridiculous, maddening rules and regulations in California, a ban on catching rain water is not one of them. In 2012, Gov Brown signed a law allowing the collection of rain water.

CA AB 1750 Would enact the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012. Would authorize residential, commercial and governmental landowners to install, maintain, and operate rain barrel systems and rainwater capture systems for specified purposes, provided that the systems comply with specified requirements. Would authorize a landscape contractor working within the classification of his or her license to enter into a prime contract for the construction of a rainwater capture system if the system is used exclusively for landscape irrigation.

For those interested in select state laws concerning rainwater collection, here is a link.

Regardless of laws, a few barrels should not attract attention from the authorities. If you have a busy-body, snitch neighbor, you have my condolences. Bigger collection projects could bring attention and in the case of Gary Harrington, get you 30 days in jail. Another case in Utah involved a car dealer saving rainwater to wash cars. He did not go to jail, but, had to deal with the rainwater Gestapo of Utah. I would think that the Mormon preppers would not allow their state to have laws restricting rain collection. We are not referring to diverting creeks or streams; these are cases involving persons collecting rain water on their property! Even states with restrictions allow for collection of rain from roof tops.

I prefer watering the garden with rain water. Water collection is also important in the event of an emergency such as earthquakes or an interuption in public water service. Without water we can only survive a few days to a week at most. Ten barrels amount to 550 gallons of water without the need to store it in a garage or pantry.

For the time being, our neighborhood has avoided the fluoride bullet; however, the strong chlorine and disinfectants are not good for plants. Sometimes our water smells like a swimming pool from the added chlorine. I filter our drinking water; however, I do not have the resources to water the garden with filtered water.

Online there are thousands of images, plans, and systems for rain water collection. Simple barrels fed by a downspout to complex systems with large tanks that hold 1,200 gallons, filtration devices, and watering piping with timers. If you put in the time and effort, you can have a rainwater system that requires very little maintenance. When the barrels are elevated, it allows adequate head pressure for a drip system.

Many supply stores sell 55 gallon water barrels, down spout adaptors, and syphon pumps. I have seen prices anywhere from $55 – $85! RainBarrel Man sells really nice cedar barrels if you have the money to spend. I do not; I was fortunate to find a local recycle yard that will sell them to me for $5!! Woo-Hoo! I only purchase barrels that contained food products such as soda flavoring or fruit puch syrup. Come to think of it, these are probably almost as toxic as chlorine.

Disclaimer: Even a few good rinses will not remove tiny particles that are lurking in little pits and crevises and can cause serious bacteria illness! Any water used for an emergency drinking or cooking situation must be properly filtered or disinfected!

These barrels come as a one piece, monolithic plastic barrel. There are two caps that are threaded into the top. There is even a small threaded hole in the cap that have a knock-out which can be removed. It has 3/4″ female threads for a possible hose bibb for those that want to get ambitious and turn the barrel upside down or sideways and hook up a garden hose.

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The parts I used are: 2″ ABS 45 degree fittings, a 3″ x 2″ ABS bell reducer, a 2″ PVC male threaded adapter, an adapter for the rain gutter outlet into a 3″ fitting, and a nylon stocking. Also pictured is a 3/4″ nipple and a hose bibb.

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The threaded holes in the top of the barrels also serve as a good receiver for 2″ ABS or PVC fittings. Although the threads do not line up, it fits into the hole. This is helpful for diverting the water from the rain gutters to the barrels.

I began by removing the down spout.

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I recommend a screen to filter leaves and debris from entering the barrel. A cheap alternative are thrift store stockings. Placing a knee high stocking inside the pipe, toe end first, folding the top over the pipe end, and securing it with a fitting. No glue is used.


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Cut the ABS pipe to fit the offset.

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Another option is flexible landscape piping. This will help you avoid cutting pipes to fit each barrels location. Eventually, the barrels will be connected with PVC pipes and can fill multiple barrels at once. The last barrel in the line will receive an overflow pipe at the top.

My house has one downspout in the backyard in the garden area (convenient!), two in front, two at the patio cover, and we have a shed. I will install rain gutters on both sides of the shed with collection systems. This will be seven sources of water. One good storm will fill a barrel quickly. You will be surprised at the volume of water that comes from the surface area of a roof, shed, or patio cover.

Make sure that the barrel is in the preferred location before filling! Water weighs 8.3 lbs. per gallon. A full 55 gallon barrel weighs 456.5 lbs!! I strongly recommend a way to secure the barrels, as a barrel falling on you at this weight could cause serious injury or death. Please do not let your garden kill you…

The Sensible Prepper has a good video on Youtube explaining his rainwater collection.

Until I install a piping system, I use a simple, inexpensive syphon pump or a piece of hose to syphon water into a bucket. If you use PVC piping, a coat of paint or pipe insulation will protect the piping from the sun. The sun will make PVC brittle and it will eventually break or crack. Eventually a copper system is my choice, but, copper is not cheap. However, it will last forever.

If you do not prefer the look of plastic barrels in the garden or patio, they can be decorated, concealed by plants, or partially buried. Make it a fun art project for the kids. Get them accustomed to rainwater collection and gardening while spending time together painting outside in the sun, soaking up vitamin D.

Water is one of the most valuable resources and in an emergency, it is more precious than gold or diamonds. It is wise to keep enough water to sustain you and your family, including pets and the garden, for at least 72 hours. After all, it falls from the sky, free of charge.

1 Comment

  1. DanR

    Great and very relevant article! Thanks for detailing your setup. Not only do I have my rain barrel, but a 500 gal hot tub and 4,900 Doughboy pool to store water as well. Above ground pools have gravity/siphon effect working for them as well as a very large area for rain collection. In California, a pool under 5,000 gal doesn’t need a permit, too!

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