Rain Harvest

In July 2005, Texas published the third edition of The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting. Hawaii is also a leader in water harvesting and conservation. This past December, the city of Seattle passed legislation to reduce storm water runoff by capturing rain before it could enter the lakes and streams and harm Washington’s famed salmon. Santa Fe, N.M., and Portland, Ore., also are on the record with water conservation-based initiatives and legislation.

Mike Mecke is an Extension Water Programs Specialist with the Texas Water Resource Institute. He first became interested in rainwater catchment while working on an Indian reservation in Arizona in 1980. Half of the reservation’s cattle were watered through rainwater harvesting. The tribe also used landscaping techniques to capture flash-flood waters for irrigation.

Hooked on the advantages of rainwater harvesting, Mecke lists several:

• Rainwater harvesting promotes self-sufficiency and fosters an appreciation for water as a resource.

• Rainwater harvesting conserves energy as the energy needed to operate a centralized water system is bypassed.

• Local erosion and flooding from impervious cover associated with buildings are lessened as a portion of local rainfall is diverted into collection tanks with less polluted stormwater to manage.

• Rainwater is one of the purest sources of water available.

• Rainwater often has a nitrogen content that provides a slight fertilizing effect for plants.

• Rainwater is soft. It can significantly lower the quantity of detergents and soaps needed for cleaning. Water heaters and pipes are free of the deposits caused by hard water and should last longer, thus saving money.

Mecke is quick to point out several rainwater harvesting examples in West Texas that show the variety of style, size and use. The McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas, captures stormwater for fire protection from 80,000 square feet of paved area into a 20,000-gallon covered tank. A much smaller application is the Alpine, Texas library that provides water for gardens from two barrels collecting rain from roof gutters. In between is the 3,000-gallon tank at the Van Horn, Culbertson County courthouse, which will be hooked up this spring to a drip irrigation system on a native plant garden, and to a bird bath by an employee’s picnic table under a shade tree. While many examples are for irrigation, others are for watering wildlife.

Perhaps the most notable example is the home of Menard County Extension Office Agent Billy Kniffen. The water needs for his entire home are provided through rainwater harvesting. Kniffen does not even have a well on his 10-acre property!

Mecke encourages experimentation with rain barrels. They are easy to build and inexpensive. You can build one for about $15; for directions, check out the following site: www.dnr.state.md.us/ed/rainbarrel.html.

He has other tips for for those just starting to experiment with rainwater collection:

1. Decide how you want to use your water.

2. Find someone with experience … or send someone to Texas!

3. Consider placement; rainbarrels can be subject to vandalism.

4. Incorporate a special interest group in the project, like the Master Gardeners.

“Zilker Park in downtown Austin, Texas, has a beautiful rainwater harvesting system built by volunteer Master Gardeners and funded by the city’s Water Conservation Progam,” says Mecke. The city has been promoting water conservation for several years by selling rainbarrels, giving rebates for larger systems, and conducting tours of commercial and residential rainwater harvesting systems.

Buying a Rainbarrel

Tony D’Amico bought two rainbarrels from Arid Solutions last year, and he’s ready to buy some more. Tony is the Assistant Park Director for the Wake County portion of The American Tobacco Trail in North Carolina. Currently at 14 miles, the trail eventually will span more than 22 miles in Durham and Wake counties. Trail users walk, bike, rollerblade, and ride horses on this shared-use greenway. The Wake County trail, the more rural portion of the trail, also enables wheelchair users to access the quiet beauty of the land.

D’Amico’s rainbarrels capture water off a restroom roof. “You’d be surprised how much water we harvest from a one-quarter- or one-half-inch rain off a small portion of roof,” he says. The water is used to clean the restroom.

“It’s great!” Tony says. “Staff no longer has to haul water to the restroom site.” While he hasn’t actually done a cost analysis, he knows he is saving staff time and gasoline.

The only downside to the rainbarrel was its popularity with folks on the trail who loved to use it to provide water for dogs. D’Amico had to add a lock on his rainbarrels to ensure water for staff use.

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