Collecting Rain Water

Local resident Kevin Sutherland inspects a rain water collection barrel"

Most local residents are grateful for the recent rains, despite the many problems that it caused, such a flooding and auto accidents.

But we should not be complacent about water. Our period of no rain should bring home the lesson that this sprawling urban expansion of greater Los Angeles County is an anomaly in nature with so many people residing here depending on so much of their water from lands far away.

While we get up to a quarter or so of our water from local sources, the bulk of our needed water comes from either the Colorado River or the Central Valley. We should all recognize that we live in a coastal desert plain, and we should have long ago learned to adapt our ways to a land with little water.

There are many methods that genuine desert dwellers have learned when there was no choice but to adapt. Yet, today’s residents of Los Angeles County are lulled into a false sense of security since we’ve always been able to turn on the faucet and get water. We have built wasteful lifestyles around this presumption. 

There are many positive ways to become a part of this solution, ways that have been known for centuries.

For example, how about capturing more of that rain that falls for use in your yard, and for your personal needs? It’s not hard, despite the fact that there are expensive methods that can be purchased for rain-catchment systems. As of this writing, I only collected 20 gallons of clean rain from this storm. First, I waited until the rain cleaned off the roof. Then I put out a bucket near the downspout so the bucket would fill quickly.

After the sediment in the water settled, I scooped it out and poured it through a cotton filter, filling my individual storage containers (recycled water and juice containers, both plastic and glass). These I use to make coffee and other beverages. 

Other water catchment buckets can be set out to collect water for fruit trees and the garden. This can be very simple, but the buckets must be covered once they are full so you do not allow the breeding of mosquitoes.

I’ve included many more details of this method in my book “Self-Sufficient Home,” which is available from Amazon, and also available as a Kindle book.

There is a woman who lives nearby, Carol Kampe, who has a rain barrel at the bottom of every downspout around her home.  She uses large plastic barrels –the type that I’d seen used to import pickles into the United States. The entire lid can be screwed off to gain access to the water. The top had been modified with a screen to remove debris that came down from the roof, and a spigot was added to the bottom so one could easily use the collected rain water.

When I visited, Carol Kampe happily gave me a tour of her rain collection system.

It turned out that she had not one, but 10 rain-collecting barrels strategically located to collect the most rain from the house and garage roofs. Two of the barrels were 65 gallons each, and the other eight were 60 gallons each. 

The rain thus collected is used for outdoor purposes only – watering her fruit trees and other plants in the yard.

“Generally, I have enough rain water in my barrels to last me until August,” says Kampe.  This means that she is able to rely on the rain for watering her yard for approximately 2/3 of the year.  She estimates that she saves perhaps $300 a month in payments to the water company.

“But I don’t do this for economic reasons,” Kampe adds. “I do it because we live in a desert here in Southern California.  Water will become more critical as time goes on.  So it is just a shame to waste all this good rain.”

She was living in her home just a few years and then purchased seven of the rain-collecting barrels. She has since added three  more. The barrels were purchased for about $100 each by a company that modifies the pickle barrels into rain-collecting barrels. The company also provides hoses so that the barrels can be connected “daisy-chain,” so that the overflow of one barrel fills other barrels. 

Rain barrels are not light, and water weighs a little over 8 pounds a gallon. That means a 60 gallon barrel full of rain water weighs in the neighborhood of 480 pounds.  So when planning a rain collecting system like this, one has to recognize that the full barrel is not going to be moved.  Other barrels can be connected to the barrel under the downspout so that the overflow can be collected in a spot away from the house.

Also, Kampe is able to simply unscrew the lid of her rain barrels and scoop out water as needed for individual plants.

Emphasizing the need to save and conserve water where you have a desert and an ever-increasing population, Kampe echoes Santyana, pointing out that “anyone who doesn’t read history is doomed to repeat it.”

Christopher Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books. More information about Nyerges’ books and classes is available at  Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or visit www.ChristopherNyerges.com.

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