Right as Rain Pt. 1: Why Harvesting Rain Is The Right Thing To Do

Right as Rain Pt. 1: Why Harvesting Rain Is The Right Thing To Do

Jun 11, 2008 |  by  |  Water Conservation  |  Share

Over seven billion gallons per day. That’s how much the EPA estimates is used nationwide on landscape irrigation. Now, no matter how you spin that, it’s far too much water. And the scary thing is most people don’t even think about it. I’ve got a friend who has a large, lush green lawn and I asked him what he did to make it look so nice.

“Man, I just get home, turn the water on and let it run most of the night,” he said.

“How often do you do that?” I asked.

“Mmm…’bout every day.”

All I could think was, “Every day? C’mon, man, seriously?”

If you break that seven billion figure down into family use what you’ll find is that of the 400 gallons of water a family of four can use per day, almost a third of it is used outdoors. And of that water, over half is used to water lawns and gardens. The other half goes toward other outdoor uses such as washing cars, cleaning driveways and pool maintenance.

So what’s the big deal? Well, not only is too much water being used, but some experts say that more than half of the water that is used for residential landscape irrigation is wasted on things such as overwatering, evaporation and wind, and inefficient irrigation design. So you have far too many people out there watering their lawns too often and too long and spraying water all over pavement and other areas that waste the water supply.

It’s sad, really, but not hopeless and harvesting the natural form of the one thing we often waste can not only help preserve our water but also save us a few bucks as well. Rainwater collection can be incredibly easy (and doesn’t have to look like you live next to a toxic waste dump – see above photo) – rain falls on your roof, runs down your gutter and into your rain barrel. The barrel includes a spigot that you connect a hose to and by way of gravity you water your plants using the water you collected. It can get a bit more complicated if you implement a more advanced system that incorporates pumps, flow controls and such, but it doesn’t have to be. So here you have it – three easy steps to begin harvesting rain:

1. Buy a rain collection barrel (and a downspout attachment).

2. Place it beneath a downspout.

3. Wait for rain (or do a rain dance if it’s not filling as quick as you’d like)

4. (Optional) Buy a pump (electric or battery powered), allowing you to water your lawn from the rain barrel.

Wanna know how much you could potentially collect using a rain barrel? Rainbarrelguide does the math for us. Still wondering if you should invest in the practice of harvesting rain? Do the math yourself…it’s elementary.


Featured photo credit: chiot’s run



pixel Right as Rain Pt. 1: Why Harvesting Rain Is The Right Thing To Do


6 Comments


  1. One thing I’ve never understood is that the reports always talk about how much water is “wasted”, but in the end doesn’t all this water end up back in the water supply? I can understand collecting rain in arid regions to save money, or to save money on watering your lawn, but what is the real environmental advantage if you use a small pump to move water from your barrel or if you use the city’s pressurized water line?

    I apologize for being the contrarian, but I’m just a bit confused about this rainbarrel issue… Maybe I just need to see the numbers or some report about what effect this has on the environment. To me it just seems like harvesting water to use for your own yard anyways, the only difference being you’re not paying for the water or using the energy it takes to purify and get the water to you.

    • Here is my perspective on harvesting rain- based on several years of collecting data and designing a variety of rainwater systems. It is true that rainwater, if not collected, would otherwise end up back in the water supply if your city’s water supply is coming from an impounded lake. However, the water that is shed during heavy rain events is the type of water that gives most city managers headaches- storm water. Storm water is laden with chemicals from lawns, petrochemicals from roadways and silt from farms and fields. Most of this water is channeled straight into nearby waterways and is what causes flooding, stream erosion and eventually lake pollution. Given the option, it would be better environmentally to keep this water out of our rivers and lakes and hold it on site where it can be released slowly through irrigation, rain gardens and gray water recycling systems.

      Economically, the result of collecting rainwater is even more dramatic. Not only is storm water management a very expensive challenge for cities, but water purification and pumping is a major expense. Think about the fact that only 1% of the water that is treated to drinking water standards at your local water treatment plant is ever consumed by people. The rest is used to flush toilets, wash clothes and dishes, and irrigate landscapes. The power required to pump water over long distances through inefficient piping systems (where up to 50% is lost due to leaks) is one of the most power intensive services that states and cities provide. In California, the State Water Project is the largest single user of energy. It consumes an average of 5 billion kWh/yr, accounting for about 2 to 3 percent of all electricity consumed in California. (EPA 2009)

      Possibly the most underestimated value of rainwater- the one that is farthest from sight and mind- is water purity. While many will contend that rainwater can collect chemicals from roofing materials, acid rain, or from bird droppings, recent studies show that the levels of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, that are compounding in our public water supplies are dangerously high and ARE NOT being filtered out of our water before it is piped back to residents to consume. Sooner or later the EPA is going to step in and determine that these levels are too high to safely consume and will mandate that cities apply advanced filtration processes to clean up these chemicals, which will in turn dramatically raise the price of treated water. Remember, cities treat all water that is sent to residents, whether it is drinking water or not. When this happens, rainwater systems will be much more common and the payoff will make sense for many people. This is a growing industry that will be the norm in 10 years- and even sooner in places like Tucson, Santa Fe, Dallas and San Antonio.

      • Excellent explanation, Jeremy. And with us moving to Texas in the near future, your comments are even more applicable to our situation. Thanks for sharing!

  2. thecraftsman

    Excellent comments, Corey. My response is coming…

  3. Cool! Will be interesting to see if there is a point where the rain barrels are worth putting in, or what real benefit they offer. I haven’t done the heavy research on it. :)

  4. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production uses TREMENDOUS amounts of fresh water, that is combined with proprietary chemical mixes and unfit for any other uses afterward. I’m sure there are many other aspects of modern life where this also is true – water is treated as a one-time use resource. Additionally, most of the fresh water on Earth is frozen. We have a small amount available to us and we do not use it wisely.

    Love the blog! Great info, not preachy. I’ll be back!

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