The news isn’t very promising when it comes to our national drought crisis. According to the United States Drought Monitor, if you live west of the Rockies, you are in a long term drought situation! The California drought is so severe that Governor Jerry Brown has issued a drought State of Emergency that implements mandatory water use reductions that include the replacement of 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments and the banning of new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used.
One thing that all of us can do to help with the drought is to start collecting the rain that does fall on to our roofs (houses, sheds, doghouses, etc). This is called rainwater harvesting and trust us, anyone can do it! At our house, Dean had been eyeballing an overgrown back corner of the house as the future home of his rainwater harvesting tank and the installation of a vegetable garden was going to benefit from the free water!
MAKE A NEW PLAN, STAN!
Dean didn’t want to do just a rain barrel, he wanted a tank! An 865 gallon tank! Go big or go home, I guess? Your system can be anything from a bucket to 55 gallon rain barrels to 1000 gallon tanks and any rainwater harvesting system basically boils down to three things; Collection, Storage and Delivery. After drawing up a new plan for the back corner that took these things into consideration and getting HOA approval (please check with your local codes and covenants), we were ready to put it into action!
OUT WITH THE OLD
The first things that had to go to make way for the new project were the overgrown shrubs. These shrubs had been the topic of numerous morning walk discussions between Dean and I! Needless to say, he didn’t have any problems ripping them out of there! We had to be very careful getting the stumps out since they were very close to the pool equipment and I have to admit, I don’t miss them!
Since Dean had previously constructed a screen and gate at the front corner of the house (see first picture below), this area was going to get the same decorative treatment using a horizontal fence detail and green facade panels that would help hide the ginormous (Diane) tank! (Dean) It’s not really that big since it is only 7’ feet tall x 5’ wide! So, we laid everything out according to the plan and put in the pressure treated posts that would provide the frame. After the posts were installed, Dean stubbed out the 2” piping that works its way down to the vegetable garden and put in the recycled concrete stone base that the tank would sit upon. In some cases, you may need to raise the collection system on cinder blocks or even build a platform, so that gravity can help with water delivery pressure. Since we have about 7’ of grade change down to the vegetable garden, raising the tank wasn’t necessary and remember there will be 865 gallons of water pushing down on it! One gallon of water weighs 8.43 lbs. and with 865 of them, that is a lot of water pressure!
TANKS A LOT!
Just a few years ago it would have been much harder to find rainwater harvesting collection systems, but now a simple Google search can provide you with almost unlimited options. Tanks choices come in all shapes and sizes and it is easy to find one that will fit into your space. 55 gallon barrels can also be found in a number of retail locations and we have seen them at some Whole Foods locations. Check with your local garden center because they should definitely be carrying them! You can also check local listings for food grade 55 gallon plastic barrels. Dean found a local FL manufacturer, DuraCast, and after a lot of research and a lot of discussion over color of the tank, Dean went ahead and placed his order. The tank came with one 2” hole at the bottom of the tank and for a small price Dean had them provide an additional 2” hole at the top for an overflow. The order was placed into Will Call, since we were going to pick it up, and after about 2 weeks it was ready to be installed!
IT’S NOT THAT BIG…
Before the tank arrived to its new home, Dean had installed the greenscreen panels and put in Orange and Red Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) to help screen the tank from the neighbors. We left the fence unfinished so that we didn’t have to lift the tank over it and it basically was rolled right into the spot!
We hooked up the bottom drain and the top overflow using standard PVC fittings and moved ahead finishing off the fence. This is one line that goes to an in ground valve box where we can switch the overflow on to flow into the rain garden. Now all we needed were a gutter and a downspout! For some reason, there are home builders that offer rain gutters as an option and whoever bought the house originally didn’t get this add on! After the new roof was completed, we had Gutter King install the new gutter and they ran the downspout right into the top of the tank!
With an average annual rainfall of 50 inches, we are looking forward to collecting, storing and delivering a lot of free water for many years to come! So, how did we arrive at our decision to install this type of system? Well, it really has been more of a well thought out process than a quick decision. Over a number of years, we have developed a familiarity with these types of rainwater harvesting systems and Dean has installed them before. For a smaller installation, check out his video here. We also have a plan and a strategy for how we are going to use the water. Here is some simple math to help you determine how much you are going to collect:
1000 square feet of roof surface = 660 gallons of water per 1” of rainfall
We are collecting about 400 s.f. of roof surface, so we will be getting about 300 gallons or so for every 1” of rainfall. That is 15,000 gallons per year and about 1250 gallons per month. So, how much will you be using? It can go faster than you think:
10’ x 10’ (100 s.f.) vegetable garden can use anywhere from 30 to 90 gallons per week, depending on the time of year and location.
Our vegetable garden is about 200 square feet and let’s just use an average of 60 gallons per week. We estimate that we will be using 3120 gallons per year and about 260 per month. In addition, we will be using this free water for all of our container plantings which is probably about another 200 gallons or so per month. Any additional water (overflow) will go into the rain garden and will be taken up by the native plants. We have designed the system so that we can change the flow of the water to either the vegetable garden or the rain garden at any time. The goal is to rotate the water based upon the season and to not have standing water for extended periods of time. In addition to using mosquito netting on the top of the tank or mosquito dunks, we are confident that more mosquitoes will not be an issue. Trust us, there is plenty of standing water in Florida already!
ALL TOGETHER NOW
While not all of us are experiencing drought, all of us should conserve our water resources! The technology is available and includes things like dual flush toilets, smart irrigation timers, Water Sense appliances/products and exploring the possibilities of using grey water! The most important thing is that these possibilities are all affordable and if you choose to do them, they can put money back into your pocket! Collecting and using rainwater is an easy way to conserve water and whether you are collecting a bucketful or tankful, every little bit is virtually free! Start collecting and make sure to send us pictures of your projects or let us know if you have any questions. Let’s do our part to make sure that the spigot keeps flowing! Hope this is helpful when it comes to you installing a rainwater harvesting system. Let us know if you have questions.