The Joys Of Catching Rainwater
When It Rains, It Pours...Or Does It?
I never understood the importance of available running water before I moved in to a cabin with no running water. Life, as I knew it, was turn on the tap and out flows a wealth of "free" water. Where it came from, I had no idea. It was, I assumed, probably from some lake, river, spring, or maybe even the ocean for all I knew. And frankly, at the time I didn’t care where it came from just as long as I could take a long, hot shower, wash my dishes and clothes, and water my garden. Water, as I knew it, was just always there until one day.
Living off-the-grid poses many challenges. One of these challenges is obtaining water where there is no municipal supply, well, spring, lake, river, or ocean. How do you do it? You can have water delivered if you’re made out of money. Or, you can haul your own water if you have a truck with a tank and a willing source. But, what if you don’t have any of that stuff? How do you supply yourself with water, which is the staple of life, the taste that refreshes, the one thing every living being absolutely has to have?
My answer? Rainwater. My problem? The drought. When I moved in to my cabin I knew I had to set up a rainwater harvesting system immediately. I knew I had to catch ever drop of rain that I possibly could. Since rain in New Mexico is never guaranteed, I knew every rainstorm would be a gift from nature.
My cabin already had gutters on one side, so I installed gutters on the other side along with downspouts that lead in to 4-inch PVC pipe. The PVC pipe connected to the downspouts from both sides of the cabin. I placed the PVC along one side of my cabin inconspicuously hidden under my deck and carport. Only a 10-foot section of pipe from my carport to my 2,500-gallon tank could be seen, which I painted green to blend with the trees.
I installed a 6-foot section of pipe vertically from the main branch to act as a roof washer. The first water that entered the horizontal pipe carrying pine needles, bugs, and other debris filled up the vertical pipe. A foam ball in the vertical pipe (roof washer) floated to the top where a short 3-inch pipe section stopped the ball which plugged the vertical pipe and trapped the debris inside. The cleaner water continued to the tank. Later, I emptied the roof washer in to a basin that was piped to a small birdbath.
Installing my rainwater harvesting system was relatively simple, but would it work? Unfortunately, I had to wait a month or two before I would find out. In the meantime, I resorted to buying water in one-gallon jugs and dreamed of the day the rains came.
Then, it happened. I awoke one morning to the sound of thunder. In my sleepy haze, I dismissed the sound as a nuisance. I was too busy dreaming of solar panels and a composting toilet I was soon to install. Another rumble and I rolled over, covering my head with a pillow. There was another loud boom and then the glorious sound of rain pummeling my metal roof.
Realizing that it was finally raining, I sprung to my feet, grabbed a raincoat, forgot my shoes, and scrambled to my tank. As the rain soaked me, I waited. I wasn’t going to miss it. This could a monumental day for me and I simply wasn’t going to miss it. But nothing happened. A pang of worry began to overcome me and I doubted my ability to properly angle the gutters and pipe downhill. Just as soon as my worry came, it disappeared with the glorious sound of water rushing in to my tank. "Yahoo!" I exclaimed and did the victory dance that I always do when I’m actually successful at something. "I did it!"
I caught about 500 gallons of water with that one rainstorm. I only needed 4 more rains like that to fill my tank. But it wouldn’t come as quickly as I hoped, and I realized I would battle the drought for a long time. I also realized that water conservation was going to be a major focus in my life. My lifestyle was about to dramatically change. Wasting water would not be acceptable, because my supply was no longer never-ending. Now, I find myself carefully pouring water from one container to another or using leftover cooking water for plants. Whenever I can save water, I do.
I have realized that water is precious and that it can’t be taken for granted. Folks that live where water conservation doesn’t spark a thought of concern, don’t seem to have a clue. They use water like it will always be there. But I have learned a very valuable lesson. Something as important and necessary as water should be respected, appreciated, and conserved. There are no endless supplies or guarantees of water. We have it only by the generosity of nature and as we know, sometimes nature has a mind of its own.