Everything You Should Know About Collecting Rainwater
Learning how to collect rainwater is a sustainable solution to your gardening woes. Here's what you need to know to get started.
Living a sustainable life is a creative act. From upcycling household items to composting food scraps to growing your own produce, reducing your environmental footprint is all about rethinking habitual actions and ideas and making mindful steps in a new (or often, old) direction. Case in point: harvesting rainwater.
Whether you live in an area affected by drought or just want a way to reduce your water footprint (the average American household uses about 300 gallons of water daily) learning how to collect rainwater is a simple means of harnessing a precious natural resource rather than wasting it.
What Are the Benefits of Collecting Rainwater?
Plant coach and urban gardener Nick Cutsumpas (aka @farmernick on social) went viral when, after moving to Los Angeles, he opted to share his rain collection journey. For plant-lover Cutsumpas, the undertaking was a natural move—especially given the region's unending drought.
"If you're in areas like Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California, I think it's our duty to collect rainwater," says Cutsumpas, who uses the nutrient-dense water for his houseplants. "I think whatever way you're using it, it's a good thing."
In addition to providing storable and sustainable nourishment for your houseplants and outdoor garden beds, harvested rainwater helps to mitigate runoff. Also known as stormwater, runoff—the rain that sluices off roofs and gutters—can pick up chemicals and pollutants from fertilizer and other bacteria before joining local waterways.
"When you have cities that are not built from an urban planning standpoint, you have 24 trillion gallons of water being washed away on city streets made of cement, and they're carrying dirt and plastic pollution and where does it go? Right to the ocean," says Cutsumpas. As if that wasn't enough, runoff can also lead to flooding.
The takeaway? When combined with larger soak-up solutions, individual rainwater collection can benefit your household, your community, and the planet.
Is Collecting Rainwater Legal?
There's a popular myth that collecting rainwater is illegal. The reality is that collecting rainwater is legal in all 50 states—just be sure to check your city and state regulations to ensure no additional permits are required.
Some states have more regulations about rainwater collection than others. For example, in Arkansas, rainwater harvesting is allowed so long as it's used for "non-portable purposes." In Colorado, rainwater can be collected into two rain barrels with a combined capacity of 110 gallons—and it can only be used on the property for things like lawn irrigation and gardening.
Before beginning your rainwater collecting journey, find out if your state or city requires a permit or has any restrictions you should know about.
How to Collect Rainwater
"There are so many different ways to collect or even just divert rainwater," says Cutsumpas. And while placing containers outside and letting them fill with falling drops is certainly an option, rerouting your gutters is the most common means of meaningful collection.
Start by investing in one or two rain barrels, preferably with a filtration screen to catch leaves, twigs, and other debris. Next, simply reroute your gutter pipe to divert water into your personal cisterns.
According to the state of Oregon, the first gallon per 100-foot roof area should be discarded after each rain event to ensure only the cleanest water is harvested. If you're hoping for long-term storage, consider installing a filtration system to keep your rainwater and tanks as clean as possible.
Not into the idea of messing with your gutters? Install tuck a stout barrel beneath your rain chain for a lower-commitment means of collection. Regardless of your approach, your harvested rainwater provides an eco-friendly means of keeping plants healthy and hydrated—even in the dry season.
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