Recycling Rain

Galvanized Watering Cans

Galvanized Watering Cans

As the summer heats up, water for gardens, lawns and flower beds can become a serious commodity. Many areas of the country are naturally dry this time of year, and others are hit with droughts when water is needed the most.

According to the EPA, lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40 percent of total household water use during the summer. That’s why now is the perfect time to learn how to harvest rain, one of the purest sources of water available on the planet. Without the chemicals found in many municipal water systems, rain is perfect for watering your edibles as well as the rest of your landscape. Of course, rain collection might seem like a far-fetched fantasy at the moment, but if you’re prepared for precipitation and keeping an eye on the sky, you’ll be all set to make the most of the season’s next storm.

Downspout Rain Catcher

Downspout Rain Catcher

What You Need

In order to reap the maximum benefits of rain, you’ll want to catch as much of it as possible. A collection system can be bottom-dollar basic: a rain barrel at the end of a downspout. If you want to get serious about gathering rain to quench an entire household, you can invest in a professionally installed system. Search for a rainwater system professional on the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association’s website at

For most home garden and landscaping needs, you can capitalize on the slope of your roof, a clean gutter system, and a smidgen of elbow grease. It’s easy to install a rain barrel, especially one that is already designed to do the job right. Barrels like the Suncast RB50D 50-Gallon Rain Barrel and the Achla Model RB-01 54-Gallon Rain Catcher (both available from for around $100) are equipped with filters and hoses, ready to gather rainwater from gutter downspouts and deliver it to your garden hose as needed.

How To Use Your Rain Barrel

Durable Rain Barrel

Durable Rain Barrel

When positioning your rain barrel under a downspout, you’ll need to cut the downspout using a hacksaw in order to allow the barrel to fit below it. The higher you can situate your barrel, the better the pressure you’ll have when watering from it. If you need additional height to elevate the barrel above the level of your garden, try building a simple platform using cinder blocks topped with a piece of 1-inch plywood for stability.

Once it’s in place, your job is easy. Just check the barrel’s screen occasionally to make sure it’s free of debris or holes. Keeping your gutters clear of leaves and branches will help to make sure your screen stays in good shape.

When the rain comes, sit back and listen to the sweet sound of your barrel filling up. For those in drought-prone regions, this can be a downright ecstatic experience. Even sprinkles that barely seem to dampen the dirt can add up to gallons when they roll down your roof and collect in one container. You can actually calculate how much rainwater your house is capable of harvesting with a fun online tool called Save the Rain. Go to and enter your address to see a satellite image of your house. Then, use your cursor to outline your roof, and the website will calculate the area of your roof, the amount of water you get in a year and how much water you can harvest!

Whether you have 15 or 50 gallons in your barrel, you can start watering right away. Try not to let your water sit for more than a week so that algae growth and bacteria are kept to a minimum. If your screen is in good shape and fits tightly on your tank, you won’t have to worry about mosquitoes.

At the end of the growing season, drain your barrel and give it a good scrub down with a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar, then rinse it thoroughly and let it dry. This will ensure that your barrel stays odor free and food safe for garden use. Over the winter, store your empty barrel upside down or in an enclosed shed to keep it from collecting water and cracking when temperatures fall below freezing.
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COPYRIGHT 2011 MaryJane Butters
1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106; (816) 581-7500

4 thoughts on “Recycling Rain

  1. There was a story awhile back about a car dealership that created a rain collection system on the roof of the buildings to be used to wash cars. Of course, someone tattled and called the gov’t and they were fined and told to stop the system…why??? because the local gov’t owned all water rights and they did not purchase a permit!!! OMG!!! I just couldn’t believe that. I was so upset. I will see if I can find the article and post it.

  2. 3 things – A) I think CO already holds all water rights on all land. So no saving it off your roof! B) It’s far more efficient to redirect the roof water since the barrel can’t hold 5 minutes worth of a good rain. C) 90% (I’ve read) of the US potable water is used in inudstrial farming. So – use your water to YOUR advantage, but to say the consumer is the problem is ludicrous.