Rainwater Harvesting

When I was a little kid growing up in central Texas in the ‘50’s, there was an extended drought. It lasted for years. My biggest worry was about small toys -- the beloved plastic soldiers and cowboys and horses. When they fell into the deep, gaping cracks in the parched black land soil in my family’s yard, they were lost forever. While I fretted over lost toys, central Texas ranchers and farmers were desperate about crops and livestock. On my grandfather’s ranch in the Hill Country, cattle would come running for food when they heard the blowtorch burning spines off the prickly pear so they could eat.

My great-grandfather was a clever fellow.  A German immigrant, he built the stone ranch house next to a cold spring. It was pure heaven to dip my fingers into the cold, clear water in the overflow tank that surrounded the old cistern that fed the house. What a blessing!  An endless supply of water even during that long drought.

Don’t you wish we all could be lucky enough to have a home at the bottom of a spring hill?

Rainwater

I was thinking about these things the other evening as I drew water from the simple 300-gallon rainwater tank Wayne set up to irrigate my tiny vegetable and herb garden. The plants love rain water. One brave little tomato plant is still bearing fruit, and the peppers and herbs are happy in the heat as long as they have enough water. A daily bucket of water goes to an oak sapling, too.

My tank still has plenty of water from a brief rain that fell some three weeks ago. Did you know -- it takes only one inch of rain on 1,000 square feet of roof to yield 623 gallons of water. In my case, fewer than 500 square feet of roof is guttered into my tank, but do the math and you can see why just one inch of rain from a cloudburst filled my tank to the brim.

In the Austin area, we average 32 inches of rain a year. Trouble is, it tends to come all at once. Whoosh. Wayne likes to say that in central Texas, we end our droughts with flash floods. If you have a rainwater harvesting system in place, you can make a lot of hay – or catch a lot of water – during one good rainfall. Check out the rainfall/yield chart in Table 1 on this web site to see what I mean.

What our callers are asking about

Given the current drought, it’s not at all surprising that almost every prospective new home owner who calls our office these days wants to talk about a rainwater harvesting system. If they’re in town, they want rainwater for irrigation. If they’re building in a rural location, they’re considering a rainwater system instead of a well.

So I decided it’s time to add more links about rainwater harvesting to the Resources page on our web site.  I looked around and found a lot of good material. Here are some of my favorite resources for home owners. If you find others you like as well, will you please let me know?

Some resources about rainwater harvesting

Events

Rain Water Revival.  Last year, Solluna Builders had a booth at the first annual Rain Water Revival in Dripping Springs. It was a terrific event. We really enjoyed it, and we met some nice folks. Mark your calendar for this year’s Revival on Saturday, October 8, 2011. We’ll be there with a booth, and Wayne will be a speaker, too. Loads of informative speakers, demos, and booths, plus good food and music. Do come.

Books and Publications

The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting. Published in 2005 by the Texas Water Development Board. It’s . . . well, it’s the manual. You want to know how this stuff works? Read this free publication.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volumes 1 and 2. Tucson-based author Brad Lancaster is something of a rock star in rainwater harvesting. I like his Eight Rainwater-Harvesting Principles.

Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged by Suzy Banks and Richard Heinichen. Fun to read, good illustrations for those of us who need pictures.

Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use--Includes How to Make Ferrocement Water Tanks, by Art Ludwig. Okay, I haven’t actually held this book in my hands, but the lengthy title is impressive, and it does come highly recommended by reliable sources.

Associations

American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association. A non-profit organization of professionals working in city, state, and federal government, academia, manufacturers and suppliers of rainwater harvesting equipment, consultants, and other interested individuals.

Web sites

Sustainable Sources: Harvested Rainwater. A tip of the hat to The Sustainable Sources web site, which has been providing reliable information for 17 years.  The rainwater section is hosted by our friend Dick Peterson.

HarvestH2O. This web site is dedicated to the advancement of sustainable water management practices for individuals, families, communities, and businesses. An abundance of articles and resources -- enjoy the feast.

Wikipedia: Rainwater harvesting. An international perspective.  Something fun on this page is an invitation to draw your roof on Google Maps to calculate how much rain you could harvest.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension -- Rainwater Harvesting. You can find some nice resources here if you dig around. I was glad to find info on rain gardens.

Water conservation

H2ouse.org. This impressive web site from the California Urban Water Conservation Council has a nifty home tour that lets you investigate your water saving opportunities in each area of your home. Drill your way down, and it offers up loads of practical info and advice. I plan to go back and spend more time here.

EPA WaterSense web site. Ways to use less water in your home, plus lists of water-efficient plumbing fixtures.

City of Austin Water Conservation. Read about Austin's landscape conversion incentive and its rainwater harvesting rebate.

Water use calculators

Austin Water Use Calculator. Figure your home’s water use and see how using water-efficient appliances and fixtures makes a difference.

Water Footprint. People use lots of water for drinking, cooking and washing, but even more for producing things such as food, paper, cotton clothes, etc. The water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

Water Footprint Calculator. Good for kids.

Wrap-Up

I hope these resources are useful to you. Please let me know.

About that drought in the ‘50’s . . . It did finally come to an end. Family legend has it that when the skies finally opened up one day, there was an enormous thunderstorm. It scared the wits out of one of my cousins and made him cry.  Because he was so little, and it had been so dry for so very long, he had never seen rain like that before.