An interview with Jesse Savou + MadeLocal Magazine
Jesse graduated from Stanford and earned her master’s in Ecological Design at the Conway School. After building her first rain catchment system as an AmeriCorps project, she launched BlueBarrel in 2012. Jesse and her husband welcomed a son in 2014 and have been balancing work and play ever since!
JDT: Brifely explain the process of rainwater harvesting
JS: Rain barrels allow you to collect your roof-runoff for use in the garden (and other non-potable uses). Water that would otherwise be bound for the storm-drain gets diverted into barrels using a simple downspout diverter.
JDT: Why do it?
JS: So many reasons! It’s good for the environment: helps conserve water, reduces storm-water impacts, and builds soils (if used in the garden). A full outline of environmental benefits can be found on our website. Other benefits include reducing water and sewer bills, emergency preparedness, a healthier garden (rainwater is the highest-quality water available for plants), and the great feeling of accomplishment that comes with sourcing water on-site and tuning into nature’s flows.
"People believe we don’t get enough rain to justify harvesting in dry climates. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, a long dry season is a very good reason for storing water when it does rain."
JDT: What is one surprising thing you’ve learned?
JS: Just how easy it is. BlueBarrel ran a customer survey a couple years ago and most folks said the installation was easier than they’d thought. People are also surprised by how quickly the barrels fill. A lot of them come back to add more barrels once they see the kind of flow that’s available.
JDT: And one common myth you’d like to dispel?
JS: Many people believe we don’t get enough rain to justify harvesting it, especially in California and other dry climates. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, a long dry season is a very good reason for storing water when it does rain.
Historically, rainwater harvesting was the only way desert communities survived, before society developed energy-intensive methods for pumping and transporting water over long distances. So while rain barrels are re-emerging as an environmental trend, rainwater harvesting is not new. It’s an ancient technique learned from indigenous communities of the Southwest, and many others worldwide, because in fact, rainwater harvesting is a benefit in any climate.
A single inch of rain falling on a 1,000-square-foot roof surface will generate more than 600 gallons of the highest-quality irrigation water. To put that in perspective, it’s enough to fill 11 (yes, eleven!) 55-gallon rain barrels. At my home in Santa Rosa, I have a string of eight barrels collecting from one downspout, seven from another, and three from another, and I could collect so much more.
"Many DIY-ers have the experience of researching and installing and then the first time it rains, the water shows you exactly what you did wrong."
"That's when I realized the value that BlueBarrel could bring as a business. We tinkered until we got it just right, so there's no guesswork for our customers. Just a system that works."
JDT: One challenge or mishap you overcame?
JS: It took a lot to figure out an optimized inlet/overflow solution in the beginning. Many DIY-ers have had the experience of researching and installing and then the first time it rains, the water shows you exactly what you did wrong. That’s when I realized the value that BlueBarrel could bring as a business. We tinkered and tinkered until we got it just right—so there’s no guesswork for our customers. Just a system that works.