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The Simplest Way to Collect Rainwater

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Almost two years ago, 70-year-old Donald Farrell of Avon, New York, was enjoying his regular walk in the woods near his home when he lost his footing, fell into a hedgerow with trees and tall weeds and was unable get up.

He languished alone in the mud for a week before his cousin found him, amazingly still alive. Actually, Donald was in fairly good condition despite being weakened from his ordeal. How is this possible? All thanks to rainwater.

You see, Donald drank rainwater from the leaves around him, which provided just enough water for him to survive until he was rescued.

Collect Rainwater

Rain Check

Before we discuss how to collect rainwater, there are two things you need to consider:

  1. The legality of collecting rainwater. In some states, collecting rainwater is actually illegal (crazy, I know). Many of the states with these restrictions are western states that face long droughts and rely on rainwater for agricultural purposes. And in some states, the rainwater supposedly “belongs” to the people who are downstream, which is why collection of rainwater is prohibited. So before you set up a collection system, make sure to check your local and state laws.
  2. The purpose of collecting rainwater. Is it for emergency use? Do you intend to drink it? Or do you plan on using it for outdoor tasks such as watering your garden or washing your car? Your answers will determine how much rainwater you’ll need to collect, the system you’ll need to use and the costs, equipment and maintenance involved.

OK, so you’ve determined the legality of collecting rainwater in your area and decided how you’re going to use it. Here are a few tips on doing it right:

One of the simplest (and most common) rainwater harvesting systems uses your gutters and downspouts to collect runoff from your roof in rain barrels. This is a very effective method — according to Garden Gate magazine, “the average 25-by-40-foot home roof sheds about 600 gallons of water in an hour of moderate rainfall.”

Before using this method, however, it’s important to know what your gutters are made of, because many older gutters contain lead, which is something you definitely want to avoid drinking and using to water edible plants.

Also, make sure your gutters are clear of debris. I recommend adding screens to your gutters to keep them from getting clogged and to keep animals from getting into them and contaminating your water supply.

Here’s another crucial piece of advice: Before you put a ton of effort into setting up your collection method, test it to make sure it works. Place a bucket under your downspout the next time it rains. If it doesn’t collect much water, check your gutters to see if they’re blocked or leaking at the joints.

If everything appears to be in working order, go ahead and set up larger rain barrels. Rain barrels are usually plastic, but they can also be made from wood, fiberglass or polyethylene. They have a spout at the bottom to release water, and they typically run on gravity. You can buy them at your local hardware store or you can make your own.

Putting Mother Nature to Work

If you plan on using rainwater for landscaping, you can simply store it in the barrels as it collects. But be sure to keep them covered. Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, and you don’t want to invite any more of these little disease carriers into your yard.

If you are collecting rainwater to use as a backup water supply in an emergency, you may want to transfer it to smaller containers that are easier to store and transport — like the 3.5-gallon WaterBricks water storage system.

You should also invest in a quality water filter (like the SurvFilter) if you intend to drink the rainwater you harvest. This filter can purify up to 250 gallons before needing to be replaced.

Frankly, I would never drink water collected from a roof unless it was filtered. Plus, rainwater can be contaminated depending on where you live. If you live in an industrial area, the rainwater could contain traces of the chemicals released by nearby manufacturing plants.

As I’ve mentioned time and time again, everyone should have ample food and water storage — ideally, 30 days’ worth, but at the very least enough to support your family for an entire week. Don’t forget to calculate how many gallons your family will need (one gallon of water per person, per day).

But should you ever find yourself in a long-term disaster situation where you need to find an alternate source of water, rainwater is certainly a viable option — if you take these factors into account.

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