Rain Wisdom

My home state, Florida, has a “sales tax holiday” period for people to purchase hurricane-preparedness supplies. Goods qualifying for the tax exemption include tarps, bungee cords, radios (powered by battery, solar, or hand crank), and portable generators. Besides those commonsense items, the tax holiday also inevitably includes one of my top pet peeves, bottled water. (I won’t go into yet another tirade about how I hate seeing people waste money on this stuff when they could just fill up reusable containers in advance from their faucets.)

One item not listed as a tax-exempt good is rain barrels. That is a shame, since sky-water is great for plants and for the skin (as well as for the wallet, seeing as how it falls from the sky for free). Tax-exempt or no, rainbarrels are an investment that pays dividends throughout the year, and I encourage everyone, regardless of whether you live in a dry or a wet climate, to get rainbarrels if you don’t have them already. Even just a barrel or two is a great start, giving you 50 to 100 gallons of rainwater storage capacity.

I’ve been collecting and using rainwater for years. My favorite uses for it, besides watering plants, are clothes-washing, bathing, and cooking/drinking. (You may need or want to filter your rainwater before using it for drinking or cooking. It makes tasty coffee, by the way. I boiled some up in the kettle just this morning.)

To me, the difference between stocking up on bottled water and collecting rainwater is the difference between household preparedness (on a very superficial level) and household resilience. Collecting and using rainwater gives you options; makes you less dependent on modern conveniences. And that feeling of reduced dependence carries over into a general can-do state of mind that helps you get through hard times and come out stronger.

Suggested homework: 1) Calculate your monthly water consumption if you don’t know it already. 2) Look up the average monthly rainfall in your area and the average annual total, if you don’t know those figures already. I used weather-us.com, and input my city (Daytona Beach). 3) Calculate how much water can potentially be captured off your roof in any given month, and for the year. (Here is my favorite rainwater-catchment calculator. This website, watercache.com, has a lot of other valuable info as well.) 4) Notice any differences between your household water consumption and the amount of rain you could potentially capture. In most cases, if you were able to capture it all, the amount of rain that falls would be far more than you could ever use!* (Do not rush out and buy a huge cistern though. I really recommend just starting with one 40- to 50-gallon barrel, maybe two. Or even just line up a bunch of buckets or other containers–whatever you have handy–under your roofline the next time it rains, and enjoy the experience of collecting and using free water from the sky.) Let me know how it goes for you!

Example: Where I live, April is our driest month; we get 2.2 inches of rain on average. Using the rain-catchment calculator, I find that my 1,000-square-foot roof has a total rainwater collection potential of 1,370 gallons from that amount of rainfall. My water usage is 300 to 450 gallons per month (10-15 gallons per day). So if I needed to, I could meet my water needs entirely with rainwater! (I’ve only got 450 gallons of storage capacity in barrels right now, but that’s OK, because my yard itself is a “sponge” that collects most of the water it needs without my help. So most of the water I collect in barrels can be used for human needs as opposed to plant needs.)

Rainbarrels are like a bank account for water. You can catch the surplus during abundant times, and use it to get you through sparse times. (An even bigger, more capacious bank account for water is the ground itself; I write elsewhere on this blog and in my book about how you can engineer your landscape to capture and store rainwater, making it less vulnerable to both drought and flooding. As the folks at the Watercache site put it, “Some people install urban rainwater harvesting systems because they have found that rain barrels just don’t hold enough water. As an added benefit to having free water to irrigate your landscape with, you can solve some drainage problems that you may be having on your property.”

*According to rainwater-harvesting expert Brad Lancaster (who I often cite on this blog and in my book), even in a super dry place like his hometown Tucson, enough rain falls to meet the needs of every resident, if people were capturing it and using it wisely. Which Brad teaches people how to do! Check out his YouTube channel; I particularly recommend his 18-minute TED talk Planting the Rain to Grow Abundance.