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Rainwater Collection-Clean, Free Water for the Homestead

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Rainwater is a largely untapped resource. It is surprisingly clean and even the shortest rainfall can produce enough water to take care of a few tomato plants. Until you have been in a flood you don't truly understand the amount of water that can fall in 6 hours on a rainy day!

A rain water collection system is not that expensive to install and once the initial investment is recouped everything is free. Initially the system will cost anywhere from $200.00 to $20,000.00 depending on whether you are going to use it for just watering plants or whole house water supply. Cost will also be affected by whether or not you are going to do all, or part of it, yourself.


The 5 Parts of Basic Rainwater Catchment Systems

The basic system contains five main parts. As you understand the function of each part you can see how easily this would be to implement.


The first part is the catchment system. This is where the rain is initially going to be caught- the roof. The very best roofs for catchment are metal roofs because they do not absorb water or add toxins to the water the way traditional shingles can. The water falls onto the catchment system and then runs to the conveyance system.

The Conveyance System

This system is made up of gutters and downspouts that divert the water to the third part of the system, the holding vessels or cisterns.

Storage System

There should also be a roof wash system in place to divert the first 10-20 gallons of rainwater away from the cistern. This first few gallons of water would carry with it bird droppings, twigs, leaves, bugs, and other things that might be on the roof that you would not necessarily want in your water. Once the first water is diverted then the cistern starts filling with the clean rainwater.

Delivery System

The next part of the system is the delivery system or pump. This is what is used to get the water from the cistern to where you want it inside or out. It could be as simple or as complex as you need it to be.

Treatment System

The last part of the system is the treatment system. This is where the water is purified before use. You will really only need it if you are going to use the water for drinking.


How Much Water Can You Harvest?

How much rain will you harvest? Here is a formula to calculate just that. [Catchment area of building] x [inches of rain] x [.75] x [600 gallons] / 1000

The catchment area of the building is the size of the footprint of the building. If your house is 30'x 60' for example then your catchment area is going to be 1800 sq ft. Basically 600 gallons per inch of rain per 1000 sq ft of catchment area. We have about a 2000 sq ft catchment we would expect 2400 gallons +/- when we got 2 inches of rain.

Amazing, isn't it? The possibilities are exciting! Add a barn to the catchment area and you have increased your harvest by that much more. Not only is this a good thing for the budget but it is also a good thing for the environment, decreasing the devastation caused by excessive run off and use of dwindling supply of ground water.

This is truly one of the first steps anyone can take in becoming self sufficient, and restoring their homestead green.

Check for Codes and Permits

You will need to contact your local government for specific codes and permits. In Texas an air-gap must exist between the public water system and the rainwater catchment system. For example, if a city water line feeds into a rainwater cistern as backup in dry weather there must be an air gap between the two. The Health Department requires a covered cistern, to avoid mosquito breeding.

Also in Texas there are tax breaks for installing rainwater collection systems so be sure to look in to that for your state.

Development Can Equal Flooding from Run-Off

In 2004 my husband and I experienced a night that we will never forget. During an unprecedented spell of abundant rain our property flooded. No one expected it, least of all us, yet there we were at 3:00 a.m. frantically trying to get horses, goats, sheep and chickens to safety in chest deep (on me, I am 5' 4") water.

For the past several years our area has been growing by leaps and bounds. There has been development all around us, small zero lot properties with lots of sidewalks, driveways, and alleys. A large Super- Walmart was constructed not far away, and then a Home Depot..and on and on. What was once a small farming community has turned into a bustling suburb and no-one planned for it.

The effect on the creek that runs behind our property has been unbelievable. The city has started requiring retaining ponds and other measures but it does not seem to be enough. While we have not flooded to that extent since 2004 we have seen the creek come out of it's banks. The cost in erosion, loss of habitat, and just plain stress has been enormous.

This was our pasture the morning after the flood. Some of the buildings you see floated on to our property from downstream.
This was our pasture the morning after the flood. Some of the buildings you see floated on to our property from downstream.

Catchment Systems Prevent Flooding

If even half of the houses in our town had rainwater collection systems in place there would be virtually no flooding and it's residual negative effects on the environment. If rainwater collection systems were in place the drought and dropping water tables that we face every summer in North Central Texas would not cause undue problems. Farmers could still water their animals, people could still water their yards and gardens...and all for free.


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    • ipsism profile image

      ipsism 10 years ago

      Global warming is real. Only thing is, global warming is a transient trend in the cycles of earth's history.

      If one reviews the temperature history that scientists have obtained, There can be no conclusion other than that our current climate is a natural cycle, no worse than prior cycles. See, Climatologists ignore the affects of geological events, such as sub-oceanic volcanoes and astrogocial findings. Everyone takes a small sampling of data to support their pet hypothesis, rather than examining the globe in a unified approach. As such, there is rancor and duplicity to force an agenda that will make a few super-rich while making the majority poorer.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Do check. The underground systems ARE nice but I would think an enclosed system would suffice? Anyway, good luck! It is alot of work but ultimately worth it!

    • profile image

      dafla 10 years ago

      I'm setting up an urban homestead, and this is one thing I've been meaning to look into, since we have a rainy season here in FL. I'm not sure it would be legal here, so I have to see. They only just began letting us have compost piles. I'm going to call the city today and see what the rules and regulations are on cisterns. Someone had suggested to me that they need to be enclosed or underground. That would make it much more expensive. Anyway, thanks so much for the article.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Thanks, SunSeven... WOuldn't it be amazing if all governemnets tapped this sustainable and ecologically sound source? I am afraid that our local governments will try to block or tax it since there would be revenue lost for them. We'll see.

    • SunSeven profile image

      SunSeven 10 years ago from Singapore / India

      Rain water is the best water a man can get. In our place the government is taking steps to ensure that rainwater is harvested properly in every household. You have written a great Hub. I wish more people read it. All The Best To You.