Water, Water Everywhere … Until It’s Not
By Barbara Canetti
The concept of harvesting rainwater hits all the buzz words: reuse, recycle, repurpose and reduce. It’s an easy way to lower your water bill while helping to conserve a precious natural resource.
Harvesting means accumulating and storing water that normally cascades off the roof during a rain storm. It is one of the oldest methods for self-supplying non-potable water, to be used for lawns, plants, car washes and irrigation. The earliest collections were done in underground cisterns like the one at Buffalo Bayou Park. That facility, built in 1926 and the size of one and a half football fields, was capable of holding 15 million gallons of water.
On a smaller level home harvesting is a way to supplement water usage while conserving resources. Ted Driscoll, community engagement coordinator with the Galveston Bay Foundation, says 40 percent of all summertime water consumption is for lawns and gardens. “But by capturing rainwater and reusing it, it helps to save water and money,” says Driscoll. “One 35-gallon rain barrel can conserve up to 1,000 gallons a year.”
The Galveston Bay Foundation started a rain barrel program in 2013, teaching homeowners how to set up a simple system. He estimates more than 2,000 people have gone through the program, saving about seven million gallons – enough to fill the Astrodome three times.
The retrieved rainwater is not drinkable without treatment. Chemicals on the roof, bird poop and other undesirable bacterium could be washed into the barrel because there is no filtration system. Adding chlorine is not an option and won’t rid the water of many of those substances.
The Galveston Bay Foundation uses 35-gallon plastic barrels that have been donated to them by the Coca-Cola Corporation. The company has partnered with the foundation to recycle these former syrup receptacles. The barrels are translucent, so Driscoll suggests priming and painting the barrel to eliminate sun exposure and the development of algae.
We found all sorts of helpful products at Baytec Containers: rain collection systems, tanks, water bags and rainwater barrels. Baytec’s Pamala Hook says their barrels and tanks come in a variety of colors to match the house.
Hook says customers also use Baytec products for storing fresh water in preparation for hurricane season, when roadways become impassible or the store shelves are bare. “Many of us were trapped in our homes during [Tropical Storm Harvey], so having a new water barrel with purified water ready to use is the number one thing to have on hand in the event of an occurrence.” Hook recommends Purogene to treat the water and remove oxygen, prohibiting the growth of bacteria. She suggests adding a pump to the barrel and supplementing those emergency reserves with jugs and buckets.
Tim Janke has been harvesting rainwater at his Santa Fe home since 2012. He has three 50-gallon barrels, which allow him to easily water his lawn and plants all summer. For every inch of rain that falls over one square foot, a bit more than a half gallon of water is collected.
“It’s not hard at all with a gutter system,” says Janke, explaining that the water can be directed into the barrel with pipes and downspouts. “But the simplest is collecting from houses where there are valleys in the roof and the streams of water just fill up the barrels.”
Janke, a Galveston County Master Gardener who has lectured on this subject, tells us that, as the population grows so does the demand for water. Harvesting rainwater is one solution to the problem of finite water sources.
“We just need to find a way to recycle and slow down the usage. Having good quality water is a concern of mine,” he adds.
Why Harvest Rainwater?
• Protect our rivers, streams, and ponds from runoff pollution
• Divert water from the municipal storm drain system
• Conserve this vital natural resource and reduce your water bills
• Use rainwater to grow healthy and lush plants
• Control moisture levels around the foundation of your home
Source: City of Houston
4761 Highway 146, Bacliff
City of Houston
Office of Sustainability
Galveston Bay Foundation
Rain Barrel Workshops:
June 15, Pearland
July 13, Texas City
August 17, Houston