What are the best ways to use rainwater in winter?
If you have rain barrels and you're not in a climate where you have to drain them in the winter, chances are they're full to the brim at this time of the year.
So what now?
If you're in an area that experiences hard freezes, it's time to think about winterizing your rainwater catchment system.
But if you live in a more moderate climate zone, you want to think of as many ways as possible to use your stored rainwater—to free up capacity to catch more. This is especially true in western states where most of the rainfall comes between October and April.
If you can use your rainwater steadily throughout the winter, you will maximize the bang for your buck in a handful of ways:
- Literally, you'll save some bucks... because every drop you use from your rain barrels is a drop you won't see on your water/sewer bill.
- You'll maximize the many environmental benefits of collecting rainwater... Most notably by multiplying your water conservation and stormwater reduction. If you continually draw down your stored water and allow it to recharge, you will save (and benefit from) much more water than you have storage capacity!
- You'll cycle older water out, making room for newer water... Although rainwater can be stored safely for long periods of time, common sense dictates that fresher is better.
Read on for ideas about how to use your rainwater throughout the winter, so you can free up capacity to catch more.
Winter uses for rainwater:
In many North American climate zones, it rains during the winter when we're not irrigating. So what can we do with those full rain barrels while we wait for the irrigation season to start up again? Plenty!
Rainwater is suitable for most non-potable uses:
- Watering your winter garden (carrots and beets and broccoli, oh my!).
- Watering houseplants, because they need water year-round. They'll show extra appreciation for the rainwater for many reasons. (And what about that Christmas tree? Give it a fresh flush of rainwater every couple of days to keep those needles fragrant and green.)
- Watering pets, livestock, and wildlife (while us humans need to treat rainwater before drinking, if your animals drink out of toilets or puddles, they can safely drink stored rainwater).
- Re-filling the kettle on your wood-burning stove to humidify the dry winter air.
- Defrosting your windshield on frosty mornings.
- Washing your car—guilt free!
- Rinsing patio furniture, compost buckets, and other gardenware.
- Flushing toilets.
- Pumping water into extra storage containers to free up space to catch more. (Click here to learn how.)
- If you still have extra water, release some into a simple infiltration basin or rain garden during winter dry spells. This allows water to infiltrate and recharge groundwater. It also helps take the peak off of stormwater loads by making space in your barrels to collect more rainfall.
Special tip from the common-sense pros:
Leave a watering can next to your rain barrels at all times and fill it up again every single time you use it (that's right—keep it full!). That way you'll have at least one bucket's worth of capacity to catch more fresh rainfall, and you'll have water at-the-ready to grab in a hurry. It's the best way to encourage consistent use!
If you use your water throughout the winter, you'll get continual refills as the rainy season goes on. You may be able to double or triple (or more!) your effective storage capacity (and your positive impact) by continually drawing down and recharging your system all winter long.
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