In Central Texas, we’ve got plenty of sunshine. Also, plenty of bugs — this time of year you feel like you’re wading through a sea of grasshoppers as you walk through the yard, as they scatter with high jumps all around you. What we don’t have enough of is rain. It’s really quite dire. People keep moving to the area and, yet, our water resources aren’t getting any more plentiful. In fact, they’re shrinking.
All this to say that I don’t want to waste the opportunity to gather that precious rain whenever it appears. We’re lucky in Texas that this is encouraged, rather than outlawed. The nearby city of Round Rock recently started offering a rebate for folks who buy rain water collection systems. In some places, the capturing of rain water is far more complicated, in the legal sense.
I’m also lucky to have a rather handy husband, who rigged up our set up without the need to consult the resources I dug up online (though I’ll still share them later). We started with two 285 gallon IBC tanks (IBC stands for “intermediate bulk container”) that we bought from our local hardware store for $99 each (on sale). If you go this route, make sure the containers are food safe — that is, they haven’t previously contained any kind of noxious chemicals.
We set them up in a location near the downspout from our largest section of roof. They’re slightly elevated — on a stack of wooden planks — and they’re uphill from the area that’s to be watered. Both the elevation and the uphill are important because you need to take advantage of the natural water pressure, though there are ways around this by buying a pump. In our set-up, the left tank catches the water initially and, when that one gets full, the water flows over to the right tank.
Apparently, it’s better to have opaque tanks, to avoid algae growth, and that has been something of a problem that I’m trying to work out. We also don’t have filters at the top of our tanks, which would be useful to keep out debris (leaves, mostly), but we don’t have a real issue with that because we don’t have trees taller than our house nearby. The other thing we’ve worried about, but I think we’ve solved, is mosquitos. This is standing water, after all, but, thankfully, there is an organic product called a “mosquito dunk” that easily treats a whole lot of water.
So, once you’ve got the water in, the challenge is getting it out. My husband rigged up an adapter to allow the bottom openings of the tanks to drain into a water hose.
Then, we connected the two hoses together (one from each tank) so we’d get twice as much water pressure to a single hose.
But that only allows me to hand water, which can be very time consuming. So, I purchased a pair of solar-powered automatic pumps (the green boxes pictured below, called Solar RainMaker Automatic Watering Systems) that send water to an 1/4″ drip watering line. They’re strong enough to power drips, but not enough to power sprinklers or a soaker hose or that type of thing that needs more pressure.
One tank waters a set of plants in my vegetable garden raised bed, while the other waters my lemon tree, some aloe, a couple of lavender plants and a mini-herb bed filled with sage and thyme. They’re kind of limited in that they water every three hours for a maximum of 5 minutes. You can adjust how many minutes they water for, but not the interval between waterings.
We’re not anywhere near finished with our rain barrel project. We want to add a couple more barrels to catch water from other sections of the roof. A stronger pump with an automatic timer is also a subject of much research for me. But, for now, I’m so pleased to be able to have a resource to keep the veggies alive, even as local governments crack down with stricter watering restrictions to combat our perilous drought.
Here are a few resources I found useful when investigating the rain barrel project:
- Make a Rain Barrel, from the Texas Water Resources Institute (PDF)
- So, You’re Installing A Rain Barrel System (PDF)
- Rainwater Harvesting, from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center