DIY Files: Creative Twists on the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

The least I could do in exchange for the great service I got from BlueBarrel was to document the construction of my systems. Hopefully, my “innovations of necessity” give you ideas for what is possible for your own. – Erik

Thanks to BlueBarrel customer Erik – of Moreno Valley, California – for sharing photos of his BlueBarrel System™ installation, including some very creative embellishments. Read on and get inspired by our DIY highlight of the season!

 

In southern California’s dry climate, we need lots of water storage to get us through a long dry season. Erik installed 27 barrels for nearly 1,500 gallons of capacity, to keep his suburban lot green.

He installed nine barrels in the front yard, two in the back, and he managed to fit 16 along his narrow side yard corridor – an ideal place to hide a long string of barrels.

Before he began, Erik painted 11 barrels for the front- and back-yard installations. He didn’t bother painting the remaining 16 barrels for the hidden side-yard system.

Under themed headings, we’ve highlighted some of Erik’s creative customizations:

 

Double Duty Downspout Diverters

With nine barrels in the front yard, Erik spanned enough space that he could easily collect from two existing downspouts. He ordered an extra downspout diverter for his 9-Barrel RainKit™ to accomplish this.

 
Look closely to notice one of his downspout diverter hoses is installed level, and the other descends from a higher point on the downspout down to the barrel.
 

This is a subtle detail, but one worth noting for those who are connecting to multiple downspouts: Our standard downspout diverters are designed to be installed so that the inlet hose is level. This allows water to get into the barrels when they have capacity. But when barrels are full, water will back up the inlet hose and escape down the downspout as it normally would. Erik wants to send all of his overflow through the front-most downspout, so by installing the second diverter higher, he forces his overflow to the downspout of his choice. Pretty clever, Erik!

 

Custom Curves and Spacing

Look more closely at the 9-barrel system to notice Erik used custom spacing to work around small obstacles (an existing irrigation manifold and standpipe). He also rounded a corner to mimic the curve of his home.

Per the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System design, barrels are spaced at 24” on center for the tightest spacing possible, but one of the biggest benefits of our design is the ability to customize to work around such obstacles, and it’s a customization that many of our customers make. We do offer a flexible link in our accessories menu to make it easy to round corners with any BlueBarrel System.

 

Leaf Eaters

Notice Erik used leaf eaters (also available in our online store) on every downspout to keep leaves and debris out of his BlueBarrel Systems.

Leaf eaters (also known as debris excluders) are simple screen filters that are recommended over first flush diverters in most cases. They are effective in keeping debris out of a rain barrel system without obstructing the flow of water or nutrients into the barrels, and they are very easy to service.

The top screen is easy to remove, shake off and rinse, and snap back into place.  If installed at eye-level (as Erik has done), this can be done without a ladder.

 

Double-Stacked Downspout Diverters

In the back yard, Erik had less space for barrels, but he managed to fit two right next to a corner downspout.

Here again you’ll see Erik doubled up on diverters, but this time in a different way.

As discussed above, our downspout diverters send overflow down the downspout as normal when barrels are full.

The rubberized diverter head that inserts into the downspout seals off the interior to divert water into the barrels, but it has an internal spillover so that excess water falls down the normal course of the downspout when the system is overwhelmed. Likewise, if the flow of water down the downspout exceeds the capacity of the inlet hose, small amounts of water will discharge down the downspout as the barrels fill.

Erik installed a second diverter below the first to capture as much of this overflow as possible into his two-barrel system.

 

Spanning the Distance

Erik really made use of the space in his narrow side yard. With each barrel occupying only a 2’ x 2’ footprint, even an extremely narrow side yard can accommodate a long line of barrels while leaving a passable circulation corridor. Notorious for becoming “junk storage” space, narrow side-yard corridors are ideally suited for rain barrels. Notice again Erik used custom spacing to install barrels on either side of a window-seat bumpout. As all barrels in a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System are plumbed along the bottom, all 16 barrels will still fill and empty at the same rate.

While Erik had one downspout descending within range of this side-yard system, he wanted to grab water from an un-tapped downspout farther away to service these 16 barrels with as much water as possible. This is easy to do with BlueBarrel’s extension hose, which we sell by the foot in our online store. Many people have a great place for barrels that doesn’t happen to be near a downspout. As Erik demonstrates, this does not need to be a limiting factor.

 

Fun with Funnels and Filters

Many of our customers ask us how to get water from other sources into their BlueBarrel Systems. This is easy to do because the vent pieces in our DIY RainKits are fitted with a screened hose-swivel, and the user can simply connect a garden hose to fill barrels when there is no rain.

Many drought-conscious California residents keep a bucket in their shower to capture “warm-up” water… or that water that normally flows down the drain when one waits for the shower to heat up. This water can be added to rain barrels using a funnel through one of the vent pieces.

Leave it to Erik to come up with an improvement on the funnel idea. Noticing that a standard two-liter soda bottle is threaded just like a garden hose, Erik cut the bottom off of a Coke bottle and painted it to match, for a very attractive funnel that screws securely into the vent on any of his barrels. A standard stainless steel coffee filter fits perfectly as a fine-mesh filter for water that he pours into his rain barrels from various sources.

 

Well done, Erik, and thanks for sharing your inspiration for our DIY-Files series.

 

Stay tuned for our next customer highlight.

 

Everything You Need to Know (and More!) About Doing Laundry with Rainwater

And exploration of laundry with rainwater, by guest blogger  Linda Holliday

Economy of using rainwater in the laundry room

Whether our goal is to save money or the environment, most of us detest wasting anything. Many folks may not realize, however, how much soap is squandered in the laundry room when washing clothes in hard water — rather than naturally soft rainwater.

These jeans will stand by themselves after being washed in hard water!

As most homesteaders rely on water pumped from far below ground to fill their washing machines, and hard water is prevalent in vast regions of the United States, soap-wasting is widespread. I hail from the Missouri Ozarks atop a karst (limestone) terrain. Our water is exceedingly hard, meaning it contains a considerable quantity of dissolved minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium. Iron and manganese are also often present in hard water.

Those minerals, while safe to drink, make soap less effective, smearing into a grayish cream with no lather. Because soap does not dissolve in hard water, much of it will remain in the materials being washed, leave scum in the wash basin, or simply go down the drain. Here, jeans laundered in well water can stand on their own after line-drying on a breezeless day.

Hard water can even shorten the life of fabrics. Over time, this buildup of soap makes clothing grimy, drab and discolored. Sadly, pretty garments often end up in the rag bin far sooner than necessary.

Municipal water, in most cases, also comes from drilled wells or reservoirs of hard water that is then chemically treated to reduce hardness.

 

Laundry with Rainwater

Hard Water Map

U.S. Geological Survey Hard Water Map.  General guidelines: 0 to 60 mg/L (milligrams per liter) is soft; 61 to 120 mg/L is moderately hard; 121 to 180 mg/L is hard; and more than 180 mg/L is very hard.

Rainwater, on the other hand, contains concentrations of sodium and potassium ions that dissolve soap and lift soil. Just a few generations ago, folks would bathe and wash clothes in rainwater with no soap whatsoever. Great-grandma knew the cleaning properties of rainwater and always saved enough to wash her hair.

In the 1906 classic, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, protagonist Jurgis Rudkus finally eliminated months of slaughterhouse and fertilizer plant grime from himself by scrubbing his body and clothes with sand in a stream. Hard Chicago water couldn’t get the poor fellow clean.

In many countries it is common to see families bathing and doing laundry in local rivers and streams.

 

Soap vs. detergent

We often use the terms, “soap” and “detergent” to mean the same thing, but there is a vast difference. Soap is basically made of an alkali (historically plant ashes) and a fat or oil (animal or vegetable). By itself, the alkali substance is corrosive and injurious to cloth and skin. Combined with fats in soft water, it is safe to use on skin and fabric. Detergents, as explained below, are manufactured with petrochemicals and/or oleochemicals.

The original reference “The Laundry Manual; or Washing Made Easy” of 1863 states, recommends soaking heavily soiled clothing and linens overnight to loosen dirt before washing, thereby reducing wear to fabrics by vigorous rubbing and scrubbing. Rainwater, of course, is best for presoaking.

“Soft water is of itself a good solvent, even of the oily materials that collect upon the linen worn in contact with the body,” the book states.

For years, I have collected such books as I have found them to be the source of much wisdom. For those who prefer learning in an electronic format, Open Library.org has thousands of old-time books in the public domain to download for free. Search for household cleaning or laundry work for information on rainwater uses. Remember, these books were written when every home had a rain barrel beneath the downspout.

Besides relearning old-fashioned skills in my antique books, occasionally I am amused and more appreciative of living in modern times. Consider this bit of housework advice at the onset of the Civil War:

“We have found by experience that the use of the above recipe [presoaking and then boiling laundry] is the best friend to the washer-woman ever invented. By it one person can do the washing for a family of ten or fifteen persons before breakfast, have the clothes out to dry, and the house kept in good order, and the gentlemen of the family, as well as all about the house, free from washing-day annoyances, and all without rubbing or machinery. Who would not wish to have such comforts?”

I suspect there are not many 15-person households in the United States these days, and of course the “gentlemen” are doing plenty of laundry themselves!

 

Potions needed for hard-water laundry

When animal and vegetable fats and oils became scarce during World Wars I and II (as they were needed for making bombs), scientists developed petroleum-based detergents to replace soap and make cleaning more effective in hard water, according to the American Cleaning Institute. At that time, petroleum was found to be a plentiful source for manufacturing detergents.

Today, there are a host of chemical laundry aids available to contribute to the effectiveness of detergents, particularly in hard water:

Bleaches – to whiten and brighten fabrics

Bluing –to counteract natural yellowing of fabric

Boosters – used with detergent to enhance stain removal

Enzyme presoaks – to remove stains and boost a detergent’s cleaning power

Fabric softeners – added to the final rinse to make fabrics soft and fluffy, decrease static cling, wrinkling, and drying time, to impart a pleasant smell and make ironing easier

Prewash soil and stain removers – to pretreat heavily soiled or stained garments

Starches, fabric finishes and sizing – used in the final rinse or after drying to give body to fabrics, make them more soil-resistant and make ironing easier

Water softeners – added to the wash or rinse cycle to inactivate hard water minerals and increase cleaning power.

 

Rainwater laundry methods

Amish Wringer Laundry

Open-top wringer washing machines can still be found at farm auctions and are easy to fill with rainwater.

While making your clothing smell like a springtime meadow, such supplements add more time and expense to laundry day – and are completely unnecessary if doing laundry with rainwater and natural soap. Incidentally, one needn’t have a washtub to clean clothes in rainwater. If a washing machine is in a basement, a hose can be routed from the rain barrel to gravity-feed water to the machine. A valve at the discharge end makes filling the machine easier, although it must be monitored to prevent overflow.

Or, for the more physically ambitious, the machine can be filled more quickly by bucket. Depending on load size, the wash and rinse cycle each require about 15 gallons of water. Wringer washing machines from the 1950s work especially well like this.

 

Testing water for hardness

Generally, it is obvious by the rigidity of line-dried garments and by scum or scale left on tubs, sinks and toilets whether the household’s water is hard or soft. For a quantified result, inexpensive water test kits are available in hardware stores. Also, many county health departments will test well water for impurities and hardness for a small fee.

Hard Water Test

The glass on the left is filled with rainwater, clearing dissolving soap and forming suds. The soap did not dissolve in the glass on the right, filled with hard water.

For the do-it-yourselfer, “Household Discoveries” of 1909 explains an easy way to discern if your water is fit for laundry purposes. Simply dissolve a dab of good white soap (not detergent) in a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Put a few drops of this in a glass of water. “If the water is pure, the soap solution will be dissolved and the water will continue limpid, but if it is impure the soap will form into white flakes which will tend to float on the surface.” Results will be readily apparent.

For comparison, I filled two glasses of water – one from our drilled well and the other from the rain barrel. I mashed up a small chunk of my favorite homemade goat milk soap in rubbing alcohol and put equal drops in both glasses. The soap disappeared immediately in the rainwater, but never dissolved or formed suds in the well water. After an hour, the well water glass had a scummy ring on top. The rainwater glass never did – even after sitting overnight.

 

Softening hard water naturally

“Household Discoveries” lists numerous ways to soften hard water, such as by boiling with baking soda or wood ashes tied in a woolen bag or adding chalk, potash, borax, soda lye or quicklime and then incorporating air by repeatedly pouring the modified water from one container at some height to a tub at length.

All of the above water-softening steps and aforementioned chemical cleaning agents can be avoided by simply collecting and using rainwater. As an added plus, doing laundry with rainwater will also save money – and the environment.

 

About Linda Holliday

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, LLC, a company that designs and builds devices – including the WaterBuck Pump – to help people live more self-sufficiently, especially regarding water. Linda is a Mother Earth News blogger, former newspaper editor and reporter and has been featured in national publications such as “Grit” and “Farm Show Magazine.”

 

To First Flush, or not to First Flush

An exploration of the first flush diverter by Jesse Savou, ARCSA A.P., Founder of BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems

To First Flush or not to First Flush: It's a topic of much discussion in the rainwater harvesting world. A first flush diverter (also known as a roof washer) is a simple contraption that diverts the first flow of water away from a rainwater catchment system. The first pass of water in any storm essentially washes your roof of all the sediments that have collected since the last rain. The idea is that diverting the first flush can help ensure cleaner water in your rain tanks or barrels.

Sounds like a good idea, right?
It turns out many rainwater harvesting professionals don't think so.
As a case in point, all 5 panelists at the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association's national conference in 2013 agreed that they prefer not to use first flushes. In a separate session of the same conference, keynote speaker Barnabas Kane of TBK Design also highlighted his distaste for first flush diverters, noting that over the years he's been hired to remove more of them than to put them in.
First Flush Diverter
In this photo, the straight-pipe to the right of the tank is a first flush diverter. Water enters the straight-pipe first, and as sediments sink to the bottom, additional water spills over into the rain tank.

So why wouldn't we use a first flush diverter if it's so easy to do?

In fact, there are many reasons:

 

1. First flush diverters need to be sized correctly for optimal performance, and this is difficult if not impossible to do.
There are many variables that go into determining the optimal size for a first flush diverter. These include rainfall intensity and duration; length of time between rains; roof size, slope, and material; gutter size; wind direction and speed; and air quality. Since most of these factors can vary tremendously even in a single location, you may find that the "optimal size" for your first flush diversion is different for every storm.  And yes, a mis-sized first flush is a bad thing:

If your first flush is too big, you limit your ability to fill your collection tanks. Rainfall abstraction refers to the amount of water that is prevented from reaching your rain barrels or tanks. You can use a rainfall calculator to figure out how much water your rooftop generates, but you'll have to subtract the amount that a first flush diverts... every single time it rains.

If your first flush is too small, the unit will be overwhelmed and sediments will enter your primary storage anyway. In fact, if you have accumulated sediments in your first flush diverter from prior storms, you may even introduce extra particulates to your rain collection system. And this leads us into the maintenance issue...

healthy plants and soils
The organic matter that accumulates on your roof between rains is actually good for your plants and soils. Why divert what amounts to a light application of fertilizer? (See #5.)
2. A first flush diverter is the only part of a rainwater system that requires significant maintenance, and if neglected, it can worsen the problem it aims to solve.
Luckily for most of us, non-potable rainwater catchment systems are amazingly low-maintenance. However, first flush diverters must be cleaned out regularly in order to serve their purpose, and in fact should be emptied prior to every storm event to prevent mixing diverted ("dirty") water with fresher flow. Professionals have witnessed that even the most well-meaning user will neglect this maintenance and reap the consequences.
First flush diverters can be designed with a continuous drain to eliminate the need to empty between rains, but with so much "bleeding," this can be a liability, especially in climates with light rains and/or long dry seasons. It is like having a constant leak that draws water away from your rain tanks or barrels.
3. First flush diverters create a weak point in the conveyance system.
A first flush diverter is usually made of exposed pipe material. This makes it more vulnerable to physical impacts and freeze-cracking than other parts of the rainwater catchment system. Since a first flush device is "upstream" of the storage tanks by design, a damaged first flush will divert too much water—and potentially all water—from the storage vessels. This will result in slow fill rates, or even empty tanks.
4. You have to screen the water anyway. Does a first flush diverter provide additional benefit?
Many states have adopted code to establish simple standards for building safe and effective rain catchment systems. In the state of California, for example, one key requirement is that systems must be equipped with a "debris excluder" (e.g. a leaf eater), and in fact all openings must be protected by 16th" mesh, including the inlet.  This mesh keeps particulates from clogging the system, and also prevents the entrance of insects and other small creatures. If the code requires screening as the preferred method for rough-filtration at the intake, what we're left to determine is whether there's significant additional benefit to adding a first flush diversion.
Leaf-Eater-Installed1
This photo shows a debris excluder ("leaf eater"): the white screened box that prevents debris from entering the rain barrel system. These rain barrels are used for garden irrigation, so there is no need for an additional first flush. The clear plastic inlet hose can be manually detached if the user wants to divert the first rain of the season.
5. It turns out plants actually like the organic matter that the first flush of rain delivers.
If you are harvesting water for irrigation use (as most of our customers do), the plants actually benefit from the organic accumulation that the first flush delivers. Why go to the effort to divert what amounts to a nice fertilizer mix? In the case of non-potable rain catchment systems that are used primarily for garden irrigation, a first flush may be attempting to solve a problem that's not really a problem.
6. It may be easier to divert the first flush manually.
You may find that only the very first rain of the season is dirty enough to justify diverting. Rather than losing all that water in subsequent rains, take the control into your own hands and remove your downspout diverter while the first storm washes your roof. This may be one of the world's greatest ironies, but if an automatic first flush requires manual emptying after every storm, the manual first flush method described here requires less manual input than the "automatic."

Decide for yourself, but all in all, at BlueBarrel we find that first flush diversions are just that: a diversion. With the benefits so questionable, why not focus on what really matters: collecting the abundant fresh water source that falls on your roof. You have no time to lose!

Capturing Rainwater for Household Use

By guest blogger Justin Bodell, of Sonoma Resource Conservation District

Originally published by the Russian River Watershed Association (RRWA),  Environmental Column – April 2017

Capturing Rainwater for Household Use

The rainy winter that we’ve experienced in California after a long drought has brought stormwater and rainwater management to the front of everyone’s mind. We’re challenged in California’s Mediterranean climate by the yearly cycle of rainy and dry seasons, as well as periodic drought conditions. One of the ways that these challenges can be met is through small rainwater catchment systems that capture rainwater from rooftops in winter and store the water for future use.

Small rooftop rainwater collection system

It doesn’t take much roof surface to fill a rain storage vessel. See details about sizing below.

 

Non-Potable Use

Rainwater catchment systems have great potential benefit to residents and the environment. Since the Rainwater Catchment Act of 2012 was enacted, Californians have been allowed to use rainwater collected from the roofs of buildings for beneficial purposes. Rainwater catchment systems for non-potable uses, such as garden and landscape irrigation, have been built in Sonoma County for years. The Sonoma and Gold Ridge Resource Conservation Districts, through the Russian River Coho Partnership and related efforts, have worked with numerous landowners in rural areas to develop these systems to provide better water reliability for residents, while improving stream flows for endangered Coho salmon.

Potable Use

The County of Sonoma recently took another huge step toward water resource sustainability. In January 2017, the Permit and Resource Management Department adopted a new code section that, for the first time, gives Sonoma County homeowners the opportunity to legally build systems that capture rainwater for potable uses, such as drinking and cooking. The adoption of Appendix K of the California Plumbing Code now provides a framework for homeowners and businesses in unincorporated Sonoma County to use rainwater for potable purposes. Such systems would require a permit, approval of which would depend on many factors such as allowable roofing material; maintenance, inspection, and monitoring requirements; and minimum water quality requirements. Nonetheless, residents of unincorporated areas of Sonoma County now have a pathway to apply for permits to build those systems legally. If you live within city limits, check with your local planning/permitting department to find out if potable rainwater is allowed where you live.

Appendix K - Potable Rainwater Systems

 

Cost/Benefit

While the costs of a rainwater catchment system can be high relative to more common water sources such as a well or municipality, the benefits of rainwater in some situations may outweigh the costs. A rainwater catchment system can provide a secure, reliable source of clean water. Some wells in water-scarce areas may not be able to keep up with demand, particularly in drought years. A rainwater catchment system can bridge the gap between water need and water availability.

The benefits of rainwater catchment to the environment are diverse. Most buildings, particularly in urban areas, direct rainwater from the roof into a stormwater sewer system which then drains into nearby streams and rivers. A rainwater catchment system bypasses that system by capturing rainwater and temporarily storing it to be released in the summer. This reduces the building’s impact on the water cycle, which is helpful to the environment in several ways.

  • Decreasing the amount of rainwater that enters the stormwater system can:
    • Reduce flooding;
    • Reduce the soil erosion that pollutes the water and hurts coho salmon and steelhead; and
    • Reduce stream channel incision that can adversely affect groundwater level.
  • Increasing the amount, and changing the timing, of rainwater that soaks into the ground can:
    • Improve groundwater supply;
    • Improve streamflow in the summer, when it’s critical for fish and wildlife survival; and
    • Contribute to reducing carbon in the atmosphere by promoting plant growth.

System Sizing

There are, of course, some very important considerations before deciding to build a rainwater catchment system for your home or business:

  • How much water are you currently using? Are there any more ways to reduce the water you’re already using? Answering this question is the start of figuring how much water storage you need.
  • How much water can you collect from your roof? The size and configuration of your roof is another factor in determining the storage size. Use the following calculation to estimate the amount of water you can collect from your roof:Square footage of your roof x 0.63 x yearly rainfall in your area (in inches) = gallons you can collect annually (see Resources below)
     
  • How much space is available to store water? Property size, zoning restrictions, and the terrain surrounding the building are determining factors in figuring out the size of the system.
     
  • What is the cost/benefit ratio? Some homeowners pay a high cost to pump and treat groundwater, others must pay water trucks to bring them water in the summer. The costs that should be weighed against the potential benefit include: design of the system, permitting, construction, and maintenance. Depending on the location of the property, grant funding or rebates may be available to defray the cost of the system.

 

Rain Barrels Sebastopol

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System for outdoor use, Sebastopol, CA

Resources:
 
For general rainwater catchment, water management information and a list of technical assistance resources, municipalities, contractors and consultants, and rainwater system suppliers, see the resource section of the Slow It. Spread It. Sink It. Store It! Guide to Beneficial Stormwater Management and Water Conservation Strategies
http://www.sonomarcd.org/documents/Slow-it-Spread-it-Sink-it-Store-it.pdf
 
This article was authored by Justin Bodell, of Sonoma Resource Conservation District, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

From Drought to Deluge: An Ecological Approach to Water Crisis

By guest blogger Erik Ohlsen and Permaculture Artisans

The heavy rains in California this winter, coming on the heels of years of drought, highlight the need to rectify our relationship to water, both as individual land stewards and communities alike. 

Home-scale solutions can make immediate impacts on our ability to address both drought and flood problems while also contributing to the health and well being of nearby streams and fish. But perhaps more important to address is a shift in our perspective in terms of how we see and approach water management on our landscapes in context of our local watersheds and our place in them.

A sensible relationship with water is a key factor that has been missing from the management of our landscapes over the last 100+ years. The development industry has thought of water as a negative that needed to be drained away lest it destroy our structures and cause flooding.

 

We need to think about water within the context of runoff

Since we have built towns and cities with a “drain away” design, we have created our own drought. If we examine the amount of stormwater which drains away from buildings, roads and farmlands, we’d be shocked by the volume of water we cause to flow away from where we need it most – water that, as it runs off, actually increases the risk of flooding.

Managing stormwater in ways that maximize its infiltration potential within our landscapes is the key to all of this. Putting it into perspective, the Winter of 2014-15 in Sonoma County, saw approximately 20 inches of rain, or roughly half the average rain we get in a “normal” year. But 20 inches is still a lot of water! One inch of rain over 1 acre is approximately 27,000 gallons of water! One inch on 1,000 ft.² of roof yields approximately 620 gallons. In a 20-inch year, 12,400 gallons of water falls on a 1000 ft.² roof, and we still have millions of gallons flowing through our rural, suburban and urban communities. We can use this water!

 

Water needs to be the first element designed into a landscape

By integrating water into all our developments and all future planning, human and ecological systems can thrive.

The best place to put water is into the soil, which has a phenomenal capacity to store it. Think of soil as a water “battery.” It can hold an incredible charge. We just need to charge it up safely. We do this by “slowing, spreading, sinking, and saving” the water that falls and runs on our landscape. 

We can immediately implement solutions that will store literally millions of gallons of water per year. You can do it too!

 

Water-Catchment and Flood-Mitigation Planning

Whether planning for a new development, or as is more often the case, mitigating and re-designing existing landscapes, here is a step-by-step process for designing water-catchment and flood-mitigation plans for your property.

1) Assess your drainage needs – Identify areas where you need to drain water away. Water can damage houses, roads, pathways and other built structures, which all need good drainage.

2) Design your storage system – Decide if catchment is right for you and identify the best locations for tanks, ponds or cisterns. Once drainage and storage locations are identified, they become the basis for your entire water management plan.

3) Develop a water infiltration plan – Identify opportunities to allow water to sink into the soil. Think of the side of roads and pathways, in landscapes, farmlands, pastures, forests, parks, and other areas where there is no danger to structures. Usually there are more places to let water infiltrate than we realize. This can help to recharge groundwater while also protecting nearby creeks from erosion sediment that can have a negative impact on fish populations. 

4) Be smart about your design – Be purposeful when planning infiltration systems in the landscape or on the farm. The best ideas are usually those that integrate other needs like food production. Strategically locating elements where they can serve more than one function and work in symbiotic relationship with other elements will cut energy use and raise yields. For instance, a privacy screen can also act as a water infiltration system if it is planted on top of a rain garden. If you use edible plants, you now have an edible water-harvesting privacy screen that yields a variety of food and serves several functions. Successful design needs to adapt to the constraints of your soil, climate, topography and context in your greater hydrological ecosystem.

Water infiltration techniques that manage water across landscapes – often called “earthworks” – offer a variety of ways to shape and grade the soil to fulfill multiple functions and uses. Whether it’s contour swales, rain gardens, or terraces, the appropriate technique needs to reflect the ultimate goals and design of the space to achieve good function, stability, safety, environmental health and aesthetics.

 

Harvesting water is vital, but we have to design for flood protection too

A big source of flooding is the enormous amount of manageable stormwater running off of landscapes, houses, roadways, and agricultural soils. This quickly inundates low-lying land because it has nowhere to infiltrate. With no water being absorbed in the upper reaches of the watershed, an enormous volume of water floods into our creeks and rivers.

We need to turn our built environments and our agricultural lands into water-catchment, water-absorbing systems.With an ecological design approach, we can actually drought-proof our communities and reduce the threat of devastating floods at the same time.

Water is the basis for life. So let us ensure that the waters of our planet run free and clear for all living things. If we want a viable future for our children and grandchildren and security for ourselves in the here-and-now, we must fundamentally change our relationship to water.

8 Things to Know about Gardening with Native Plants

Did you know that fall into early winter is the best time to plant California native plants? And in fact, planting with a native plant palette is a great way to bring your landscape into balance with nature – wherever you are.

Native landscaping extends habitat for pollinators. It also works with nature rather than against it in terms of water needs and climate conditions. Our soils have evolved with native plants. A native plant palette is a beautiful way to honor the natural heritage of your local community.

CA Native Plants: Columbine

CA Native Plants: Manzanita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are highlighting a piece by BlueBarrel customer, Melissa Keyser, author of the Sweet Bee Garden Blog. This peace features the most important things to know about planting with California native plants.

Many of these tips will apply to other regions as well, so please dig in with Melissa to read her 8 Things to Know about Gardening with California Native Plants.

Since many native plants can be watered in with gravity fed drip irrigation, and since they are water-use appropriate by definition, native plants are the perfect match for a rainwater-irrigated garden. 

For a past issue about Melissa’s BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, click here!

What’s up with the California Drought?

Drought or Deluge, Rainwater Harvesting is about Water Sustainability

California Drought

As the historic California drought enters its 6th consecutive year, everybody wants to know… What’s up with California’s water supply, anyway, and what can we expect for 2017?

The much anticipated El Niño winter we experienced in 2016 brought only “near average” rains. This was not enough to replenish reservoirs and aquifers, which are overdrawn even in normal rainfall years. 

But with the drought out of the news cycle and mandatory water use restrictions lifted, Californians slipped by nearly 10 percentage points in water conservation. We conserved only 18% from benchmark in August 2016, down from a laudable 27% conservation in August 2015. Now the state is considering bringing back mandatory restrictions for 2017. 


What’s to Learn?

It turns out messaging is important, and Californians (because we are human) need continual reminders to keep pushing the envelope on water conservation. 

Lots of people think rainwater harvesting is cool. But what does it take to get that rain barrel or greywater project to rise to the top of your priority list? It takes a sense of urgency!

Or better yet, it takes an understanding that rainwater harvesting is about so much more than water conservation. The California drought shouldn’t be the only thing motivating us. Rainwater harvesting is about sustainable on-site water management in a holistic sense – no matter what the climate is doing this day, month, or year.

Rainwater Harvesting is about Sustainability – not just Water Conservation

Whether it’s wet or dry, rainwater harvesting mitigates the impact that we’ve created with all the hardscape in our environment by helping water infiltrate into the ground like it would in nature. Earth is our largest water tank. If we all steward what we take out of the collective, we will be more resilient in the face of whatever the climate has in store. 

With climate change on the radar (but too big for the average person to really digest), we all need to shift towards lifestyle measures that will help us live in balance with Earth’s capacity to meet our needs.

The Hydrologic Cycle – a refresher:

Hydrologic Cycle

The hydrologic cycle is something you probably learned about in the 4th grade, but everybody can use a refresher. Water evaporates from Earth’s surface and condenses into clouds. Clouds create precipitation. Some of the water that falls infiltrates to recharge groundwater, and some runs off into rivers, lakes, and the ocean. From there the whole process starts over. This has been happening since the beginning of time. The part that many of us forget is that we have just as much water on the planet as we ever did… and we always will!

So What’s All the Fluster about the California Drought?

Hydrologic Cycle
Look closely to see we’ve added rain barrels to the hydrologic cycle to reduce runoff and increase infiltration!

Even though the planet has as much water as ever, humans have drastically impacted the hydrologic cycle and how the water is distributed. We have built our environments to shed water off, rather than welcome it back into the ground where it belongs.

Here’s the thing: modern cultures create hardscape virtually everywhere we go. Hardscape is defined as any surface that water cannot penetrate. This includes roads, parking lots, and the roofs over our heads. Interestingly enough, lawns also qualify as hardscape, with dense roots preventing infiltration and, if sprayed or fertilized, lawns actually add more pollutants to the runoff that sheets off them.

The crux is that we’ve broken the infiltration link in the hydrologic cycle by laying down surfaces that water can’t get through. Moreover, all of this hardscape adds pollutant load to the increased volumes of runoff (think automotive chemicals, pesticides, etc.).

How Humans have Changed the “Nature” of Water

In a natural environment, roughly 50% of the rain that falls on the ground infiltrates. This serves to hydrate soils, recharge shallow and deep aquifers, and maintain base levels in rivers and streams. About 40% evaporates or evapotranspirates, and the remaining 10% becomes runoff.

Let’s compare that to developed environments like our towns and cities. In a developed landscape, only about 15% of rainfall infiltrates, and a whopping 55% becomes runoff.

Infiltration & Runoff in Natural vs. Developed Environments
Diagram by Jesse Savou, illustrating infiltration & runoff in natural vs. developed environments.

Yikes! Let’s stop for a minute to really process this. We’ve virtually flipped nature on its head as far as the hydrologic cycle is concerned.  Instead of allowing water to infiltrate and replenish the water table, we send it swiftly away. This runoff sheets off our expansive hardscapes, causing erosion along the way, and polluting our sensitive waterways.  In dry climates this causes droughts to be much more pronounced. In wet climates, it makes stormwater loads unmanageable. 

The Problem with Runoff

The extreme quantities of runoff generated in our urban and suburban environments have become one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

Also known as “nonpoint source pollution,” these amplified volumes of runoff pick up chemicals and nutrients and swiftly deliver those to our sensitive waterways. The increased runoff also causes streambanks to erode, stripping our waterways of their natural defenses. According to EPA, stormwater runoff is the single largest contributor to water pollution.

This is a good time to note that in nature, runoff is actually not the primary contributor to stream flows. In undeveloped environments, only 10% of precipitation enters waterways as runoff. The majority of water replenishes the water table, and groundwater is what maintains the base flows in our rivers and streams.

How does Rainwater Harvesting Help in ALL Climates?

Rain Tanks Wet Climate
Rain tanks mitigate stormwater impacts in wet climates and make water available between storms.
Rain Tank Dry Climate
Rain tanks are an age-old technique for helping desert dwellers conserve water during dry times.

Rainwater harvesting is the simplest direct way to mitigate the hardscape on your property – and it is essential your efforts to get back into sync with the environment – in any climate zone.

Harvesting rainwater helps take the peak off of storm loads, and makes water available during dry spells. Every drop we use from a rain tank is a drop we don’t take from our overdrawn collective water resources.

In dry climates, we’re focused on the water conservation side. In wet climates, rainwater harvesters are motivated by reducing stormwater impacts.

But in fact, people in all climates benefit from both sides of the coin. Even drought-ridden areas experience severe stormwater impacts when it does rain (if you’ve stuck with me through this whole article, you know exactly why: all the hardscape and parched earth prevents water from infiltrating). In wetter climate zones, shorter periods between rains mean users can more easily rely on collected rainwater as a primary irrigation source. Those of us who use rainwater in the garden help keep our soils hydrated, with excess seeping back into the ground where it belongs. This helps to mimic nature’s infiltration patterns, and also keeps soil biology active and healthy.

All this is to say, by harvesting rainwater, you are essentially mitigating some of the impact created by your roof.

Hint for Advanced Rainwater Harvesters:

Once you see how quickly your rain barrels fill, take the opportunity to bleed some of your water off into an infiltration basin during the dry times between storms. This will help get more water back into the ground, and free up capacity to collect more the next time it rains. You can also pump water into more accessible tanks to free up capacity to collect more. Click here to learn how!

Keep harvesting, folks – and you don’t have to wait for the next fear-based news piece on the California drought. Those who harvest rain enjoy the benefits of increased resilience and self-reliance, and healthy plants and soils. 

How to Purify Rainwater for Drinking

Potable Rainwater Video

Click to watch how BlueBarrel customer Rob Greenfield purifies his rainwater for drinking.

Published September 16, 2016 

September is National Emergency Preparedness month – established to encourage us to think about what we would do in the event of a natural disaster, or any emergency that stops the flow of daily life. These days, emergencies seem increasingly likely as we witness floods, fires, and more impact the nation from coast to coast. 

While it’s easy to think it could never happen to you, emergencies are something we all need to prepare for. Haunting stories like Flint, Michigan’s lead-poisoned water, the 2014 West Virginia chemical spill, and of course the infamous Exxon-Valdez oil spill remind us that nobody is immune. Now is a good time to think through what you might do if you suddenly couldn’t drink the water that comes from your tap.

Rainwater for Emergency Preparedness

The good news is, preparedness doesn’t need to be difficult. If you have a rainwater catchment system in place, you’re halfway there already. Just choose from a variety of ways to purify rainwater for drinking, and you’ll have more peace of mind when it comes to emergency water sources.

The environmental benefits of rainwater harvesting are what motivate most of our customers to install rain barrels. These positive environmental impacts make our households and communities more resistant to emergency in the first place. They also make us more resilient, should disaster strike.

But emergency preparedness is also a popular benefit. Knowing you have hundreds or even thousands of gallons of high-quality water stored on-site brings tremendous peace of mind.

In fact our flagship product offering, the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ is specifically designed to let you take advantage of both benefits. BlueBarrel’s unique under-plumbed design, including isolation valves, allow you to hold water in some barrels (should you ever need it in case of emergency), while fully draining others for primary non-potable uses, which for most people includes irrigation.

While collected rainwater is high quality water, it has been exposed to anything that’s on your roof. This means it is not potable (i.e. you can’t drink it) without treating it first.

The good news is, it’s there are many easy ways to treat non-potable water for drinking, should you need to. Stored rainwater has similar bacterial load to a creek or stream in nature. There are a variety of home-scale and portable water treatment methods available at sporting-goods or outdoor retailers. From tablets to carbon filters to uv light, find a method or two that fit your style and budget. Then enjoy the peace of mind that preparedness gives you. 

(Watch our customer Rob Greenfield’s quick video showing how he purifies his water for every-day drinking using the AquaCera Traveler XL Water Filtration System from Berkey water.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: BlueBarrel specializes in rainwater catchment systems made from recycled (once-used) barrels. Ours is a non-potable water storage solution, intended for garden irrigation and other non-potable uses. While any water can become an emergency backup supply with proper treatment, BlueBarrel does not sell potable water storage or treatment solutions, and we do not endorse specific methods for treating stored water to safe drinking standards. This article contains informational content only and does not constitute professional advice.

Use a Pump to Keep your Rain Barrels Full Year-Round!

We hear it from our customers every day:

"I was amazed by how quickly my barrels filled up, and now I need to find room for more!"

It's true, with over 600 gallons of high quality rain water available for every single inch of rain that falls on a 1,000 square-foot roof surface, those who harvest rainwater quickly discover that rain is truly abundant, even in drought-prone areas. If you've never done it before, use a rainwater calculator to see just how much water is available from your own roof in an average year.

This is one of the reasons our Add-On Kits are so popular. Once people get going with their basic BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™, our customers have the easy option to expand it by adding more barrels, or even start over with a new system under a different downspout.

But what if you're maxed out and you just don't have room for more barrels near your downspouts? Or what if you simply want to store some water in a more convenient location (e.g. closer to your garden, rather than right next to the house)?

Check out these two videos for a simple solution. The first video demonstrates the idea of building a non-roof-tied BlueBarrel System in a more convenient location (call us to special order your kit without a downspout diverter); and the second video shows how to pump water from one system to another to free up capacity in the barrels that fill fastest, and keep your barrels full year-round.

Click here for pumps that are compatible with the BlueBarrel System.

 

Overflow BlueBarrel System

This video demonstrates the concept of a non-roof-tied BlueBarrel System™ to hold your overflow.

How to Pump for Full Barrels

In this video you will learn how to pump water from one BlueBarrel System™ to another.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Rainwater Harvesting Illegal? Colorado’s Journey to “Legalize It”

By Jesse Savou, M.A., ARCSA A.P., Founder of BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems

Legalize It T-ShirtThe phrase “Legalize It” has taken on special significance in the great state of Colorado as of late. And the lesser known reason is the epic legalization of rainwater harvesting—albeit on a limited basis—that went into full effect on August 10th, 2016. 

While Colorado's allowance of 2 rain barrels per household is huge news to celebrate, I want to start by highlighting the fact that rainwater harvesting is actually perfectly legal in most places. Colorado was one of the only states in the USA that imposed broad-brush bans on collecting the water that falls on one's own roof.

One of the most common myths about rainwater harvesting is that it is illegal. Every time we demo our rain barrel systems at an event, we get a good handful of people saying “too bad that’s illegal!” Funny thing though, when asked, (unless they’re from Colorado or Nevada) none of these folks can ever cite a law, or any source more official than a neighbor or friend.

I don’t know where these myths generate, but if anyone ever had a neighbor that tried to permit a rainwater catchment system and got rejected, I’m sure it spreads like wildfire that the government won’t even let you capture the water that falls on your own roof.

Rain Barrel System

Says the owner of this 2-barrel BlueBarrel System: "The installation went well and I just received a rebate that covers the total cost of the system!"

In fact, it's possible this myth traces back to a single case in Oregon, where a man went to jail for erecting large dams on his property to obstruct the flow of water across his site. That's a little different. Or perhaps it's the case of Colorado that has caused this rumor to spread like rhizomes, beyond its reasonable boundaries.

Truth be told, in most places rainwater harvesting is perfectly legal and always has been, although perhaps wrought with a reputation of lawlessness because there simply wasn’t much knowledge about it.

And in recent history, many jurisdictions have even begun to incentivize rainwater harvesting as a sustainability measure. The environmental benefits of rainwater harvesting are so great, both in terms of water conservation and stormwater management, that cities, counties, and water agencies across the nation are offering rebates for rain barrels, rain gardens, and other techniques for slowing the flow of water across the landscape and infiltrating it on site. (The popular mantra for this movement is “slow it, spread it, sink it, store it!” … this, as opposed to “pump it, pipe it, pollute it”).

 

Rainwater Code: California as a Case Study

Many states have adopted code in recent years to establish simple guidelines for rainwater catchment systems. While the mere idea of code and regulations makes many people cringe, at BlueBarrel we support the code because it is comprised of simple common-sense guidelines for storing water safely, and has helped make regulators more comfortable with rainwater harvesting. In the state of California and elsewhere, the code is formatted to outline requirements for a non-permitted system, meaning if one follows the guidelines, no permit is necessary, and we can feel safe knowing that things like mosquito abatement, tank safety, and safe storage of water have been handled properly. (Our BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ is code compliant, by the way!)

In the past, a building official may have rejected a permit application simply because there were no established guidelines to evaluate it against. Maybe this is where some of those pesky rumors came from! And those who avoided the building official (which in this case was probably a smart thing to do), may have smirked that they were somehow getting around the law. But now that the rules are clear, so is the path for the average homeowner (or renter!) to become more sustainable by installing a rainwater catchment system. And as of August 10th, the path is clear for Coloradans as well.

 

Rainwater Harvesting in Colorado

The Colorado special: BlueBarrel's 2-Barrel system - exactly 110 gallons of fully accessible water storage.

The Colorado special: BlueBarrel's 2-Barrel system - exactly 110 gallons of fully usable water storage. (Note the tap is under the barrels, so the user can drain every last drop.)

So what's the story with Colorado? While rainwater harvesting was permitted in specific situations already, Colorado was one of the only places in the USA (in the world, maybe?) that the average homeowner was not allowed to place a bucket under a downspout. But hard-fought legislation legalizes rainwater harvesting on a limited basis, and thanks to the recent passage of House Bill 16-1005, most Colorado residents are now allowed two rain barrels (up to 110 gallons of storage) per household.

Why the such a strict limitation? Colorado has a very unique and complicated (and some would say antiquated) set of laws governing water rights. With the Colorado River serving 18 states and parts of Mexico, the prior appropriation doctrine states that water rights are held by those who first staked claim (“appropriated”) the water from the Colorado River, not necessarily those who live in the watershed. There is a fear that if upstream users harvest water from their roofs, it will diminish the yields for those scattered entities (senior water rights holders) who own the rights to draw from the Colorado River.

 

Do the Senior Water Rights Holders Really Have Anything to Worry About? (Read: A Simple Lesson on How the Hydrologic Cycle Works)

Two barrels tucked in a shady area - ready for rain!

Two barrels tucked away in a shady spot in the garden - all ready for the rain!

While it may seem logical to assume the more water we harvest in tanks and barrels, the less water makes it back to the river; whole-systems thinking reveals that rainwater harvesting actually increases hydrologic health, and in most cases will actually help maintain base levels in rivers, lakes, and streams.

Why is this? In a natural environment, roughly 50% of the rain that falls on the ground infiltrates to hydrate soils, recharge shallow and deep aquifers, and maintain base levels in rivers and streams. About 40% evaporates, and the remaining 10% becomes runoff.

Did you catch that? When water infiltrates, it actually replenishes the water table and this is the primary force that keeps our rivers flowing. In a natural environment, only a minimal amount of water runs off the surface to replenish waterways.

Diagram by Jesse Savou, showing infiltration and runoff figures in natural versus developed environments.

Let’s compare that to developed environments, like our cities, towns, and fields. In a developed landscape with 75% impervious surface (think roads, parking lots, lawns (yes, lawns!), and (uhem) your roof)... only about 15% of rainfall infiltrates, and a whopping 55% becomes runoff.

Yikes! We’ve virtually flipped nature on its head as far as the hydrologic cycle is concerned, most notably by preventing water from infiltrating to replenish the water table. This is precisely the reason that droughts are so pronounced in arid western states like Colorado and California.

But what about that 55% runoff that our hardscapes create? Surely that helps the streams somewhat, right? While this runoff does make its way to streams eventually, the extreme quantities of runoff generated in our urban and suburban environments have become one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

Also known as “nonpoint source pollution,” these amplified volumes of runoff sheet over our hardscapes, picking up automotive, industrial, and agricultural chemicals along the way, and swiftly deliver those to our sensitive waterways. As if that weren’t enough, the increased runoff delivery also causes streambanks to erode, stripping our waterways of their natural defenses and making the ecosystem even more vulnerable. According to EPA, stormwater runoff is the single largest contributor to water pollution.

 

What is the role of Rainwater Harvesting in Restoring the Hydrologic Cycle?

Hydrologic Cycle

The hydrologic cycle: naturally recycling water since the beginning of time.

In case you’ve lost the thread here, let’s take one last step to really tie rainwater harvesting back into the equation of hydrologic health - just to prove that Colorado is on the right track by allowing residents to harvest rainwater.

Now that we see how much impact we’ve had on the hydrologic cycle by creating so much hardscape in our environment, catching a little (or a lot!) from our roofs is a common-sense measure to mitigate some of the negative impacts of that hardscape.

While the initial harvest helps take the peak off of stormwater loads, suddenly we have water stored for use between rains - an especially valuable resource in drought prone areas.

If you’ve never done the simple calculation to figure out how much runoff your roof (however small) generates, it may just blow your mind. To give you an example, a single inch of rain falling on 1,000 square foot rooftop will generate more than 600 gallons of high quality irrigation water. That’s enough to fill 11 (count ‘em - e l e v e n !) of our 55-gallon rain barrels. And remember, that’s just what’s available from a single inch of rain falling on quite a small roof!

You can use our rainwater calculator to see how much rainwater is available from your roof in an average storm, or an average year .

Those who really get into rainwater harvesting will find themselves bleeding full rain tanks out between storms, simply so they can catch more the next time it rains. In the dry times between rains, thirsty plants, soils, and aquifers really appreciate the influx of high quality water, so it’s no waste at all to let it infiltrate. This, in effect, begins to mimic the more natural rates of infiltration that we would see if our roofs weren’t there in the first place.

Rain barrels Colorado

This Colorado customer painted his BlueBarrel System to match the house.

The average Coloradan rainwater harvester, with 110 gallons of water storage, may actually catch many times that in an average year. But considering the alarming volumes of runoff our rooftops create (which in turn pollute the river), Colorado’s allowance for two rain barrels should hardly scare the owners of the water rights.

In fact, once Colorado gets a chance to observe the positive impact of rainwater harvesting, one can only hope that Colorado, like most places, will open up and allow unlimited storage. Rainwater Harvesting is legal, and after all, it helps us remember that this precious and limited resource—when managed sustainably—actually is abundant, and there is plenty to go around.

 

Get Recycled Plastic Rain Barrels – All Over the USA!

Nantucket Bog

TO WET: Bog in Nantucket

Taos NM

FROM DRY: Taos in the Fall

Did you know that rainwater harvesting is an essential component of an eco-friendly garden in climates wet and dry?  

From the marshy bogs of the east to the dry deserts of the west, rainwater harvesting is an essential and age-old technique for sustainable water management; both conserving this life-giving resource in dry climates, and managing its abundant overflow where it’s wet.

In fact, wet and dry climates alike benefit from both sides of rainwater harvesting. Even in the parched west where water conservation is the word, stormwater impacts are severe. According to USEPA and NOAA, stormwater runoff is the number one cause of water pollution, causing stream banks to erode and delivering overloads of chemicals and nutrients to our sensitive waterways (nonpoint source pollution). Harvesting rain takes the peak off of storm loads while also conserving the precious resource of water, and keeping our shared water sources cleaner.

Read more about the environmental benefits of rainwater harvesting here.

 

BlueBarrel is based in northern California, but many don’t realize we serve customers all over the USA (and beyond) with our user friendly DIY RainKits™ and recycled plastic barrels!

How do we do it?

Blue Barrel Rain Water Collection System Demo

3-barrel BlueBarrel System in Hopland, CA

Food products are shipped world-wide in 55-gallon blue food-grade poly-drums. They end up literally everywhere as a byproduct of our nation’s food manufacturing process. BlueBarrel partners with food manufacturers all over the USA so that we can serve our customers with recycled plastic rain barrels from their own local regions. That’s right – BlueBarrel not only helps you to harvest rainwater, we help you to upcycle food-grade drums locally into streamlined, multi-barrel catchment systems – a double-win for the environment.

 

Please read below for details, and help us spread the word to your eco-conscious friends all over the map!

Current barrel pickup sites are noted on the map. We add new barrel supplier partners frequently! (Interested in becoming a partner barrel supplier? Click on COMMERCIAL BARREL RECYCLING PROGRAM at the upper-right corner of our website and submit our intake questionnaire to get started!)

BlueBarrel serves customers all over the USA with our user-friendly mail-order DIY RainKits™, with all the parts you need to convert used food-grade drums into a multi-barrel rain collection system. We partner with food-industry barrel suppliers in many regions so that you can pick up your recycled plastic barrels (or have them delivered) locally!

And we add new participating barrel suppliers frequently!

You can customize your RainKit in our interactive online store. As part of the ordering process, you’ll be able to select your preferred barrel pickup location.

The RainKit will ship to your door, and you’ll receive a Barrel Voucher to claim your barrels from the pickup site you choose when you order! (Please note, most of our barrel pickup sites are not retailers, so you’ll need a voucher from us to claim your barrels.)

Our distributed barrel supplier network allows us to offer unbeatable prices on really great multi-barrel rain collection systems! We’ve eliminated the cost of manufacturing, storing and shipping bulky drums. This not only saves money, but also eliminates a huge chunk of the carbon footprint!

Don’t see a barrel pickup spot in your region?

Never fear – we can help you find barrels near you! Fill out our barrel supplier request form and we’ll send you an independent source with compatible barrels.

If you have your own barrel source, you can select “RainKit without Barrels” in our online store.

As you browse our online store, please contact us with your questions – we’re here to help!

Summer Inspiration: Why Summer is the Best Time to Install a Rainwater Collection System

Summer is upon us and depending on where you live, rain may be the last thing on your mind. In the arid western United States, skies can be dry from May to October with only the occasional off-season storm.

In the rest of the country, however, rain falls much more regularly throughout the year, with summer storms recharging rain barrels at intervals – perfect for irrigating during the short “droughts” between rains.

USA Climate Precipitation Graph

The red line on the right shows precipitation in the arid west (San Francisco, to be exact!), with the green band showing the more even distribution of precipitation throughout the USA on average. The graph on the left shows those soaring summer temps!

 

Ice Cold LemonadeBut regardless of where you live, this article makes the case that summer is your absolute best bet for seeing your rainwater harvesting project through to completion.

Just imagine pitching your shovel at the end of a warm summer evening, drawing up a glass of cold lemonade (or brewed beverage of choice!), and admiring a rainwater catchment system that’s ready for the rainy season…. and every cell in your body exclaiming: Ahhhhhhh that feels good!

Knowing you’re protecting the environment, getting prepared for emergencies, increasing self-sufficiency and resilience in your garden, providing the highest quality water possible for your plants, and saving money on your water/sewer bill are all part of the equation; but finishing a well-thought-out summer project just plain feels great. With long days to think, plan, and play in the garden, now is your chance.

 

Why is summer the best time to build a rainwater catchment system?

 

1. You’ve got time to plan

It doesn’t need to be complicated, but some folks like to do a careful job sizing and siting a rain collection system. Find the perfect spot, figure out how much water is available from your rooftop, think through your layout, and order your materials! We surveyed our customers this year, and found that most spend 30 – 90 minutes on our website customizing their BlueBarrel System, so it’s best to get a head start. Summer days are long, and many of us have lighter work and school schedules during the summer holidays.

2. You’ve got dry ground to build on

Even though this project is all about rain, the truth is, nobody wants to be rained on while

Summer Garden Work

Summer’s the time for garden projects!

they’re working. Installing a BlueBarrel System is an intermediate-level DIY project. If you have any leveling to do, you’ll want dry ground to work with.

3. You’re all set and ready for fall’s first catch (in the west)… or the next summer storm (for the rest)!

At the solstice, summer can feel like a long lazy road stretched out in front of us. But as June turns over to July, suddenly August is near and it’s almost time to resume the busy autumn bustle. Once those fall rains return, you’ve lost your chance to harvest autumn’s first rainfall. Remember that cold lemonade (or brewed beverage of choice)? It’ll taste better in the summer after you’ve triumphed over this incredibly worthy project.

3. You won’t have to wait in line

Many folks contact us right around the time of the first autumn rain hoping to make the best of the year’s capture. The truth is by that time, once you figure your sizing, siting, budget, and path forward, you’ve missed the first set of storms. Then you have to find some dry days to install the system when everybody in the rainwater world is scrambling. If you’re opting for a professional installation, you might find yourself in line as many hopeful rainwater harvesters compete for winter’s dry days. Summer’s slower pace offers a much more spacious experience for rainwater-harvesters-to-be.

So why wait? Here are a few simple steps to get you going. Click the image to get started…. and remember that cold glass of lemonade awaits you!

Plan your rain barrel system

Stretch your Water Supply with Beautiful Flowers – Robert’s Plant List for Rainwater

By author and guest blogger, Robert Kourik (more about Robert below!)

 

Buckwheat Flower

Buckwheat

Spanish Lavender

Spanish Lavender

Indoor plants love rain water. The salts and minerals found in many water supplies, plus the chlorine, build up in the limited soil volume of the house plant pot—they can be seen as a white crust on top of the soil. Over time, chlorinated household water can even kill sensitive houseplants. For some gardeners, a rain barrel (or many!) connected to the home’s downspout is a must for watering indoor plants. But what about outdoors?

Outdoor plants also love rainwater. And it is best distributed with a drip irrigation system. The precious amount of rainwater you have collected should be stretched as far as possible. Some “droughts” in the country are only a handful of weeks. Other gardens have dry skies from June until October.

All gardeners can use the efficient distribution of water to make the best use of their stored rain water: drip irrigation saves up to 50% of your water compared to using a sprinkler. But planting the right plants is the first way to save you a lot of water.

Below I have included a plant list—a recommended plant palette for the water-wise garden. USDA plant hardiness zones are included to note species that are appropriate for different US climate regions.

Plant Hardiness Zone Map

The USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map is an index of planting suitability in different US climate regions.

Some plants such as lavender (Lavandula spp. Zone 5-9), yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Zone 3-9), Powis Castle wormwood (Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, Zone 6-9), Bearded iris, and New Zealand flax (Phormium spp., Zone 8-9) use 75 percent less water than lawn grass. Some other plants with a low water use (up to 70% less water than lawn grass) include*:

BOTANICAL NAME

COMMON NAME

USDA ZONES

Aloysia triphlla Lemon Verbena 8-9
Aquilegia Columbine 4-9
Artemisia spp. Various names (includes Wormwood) 6-9
Coreopsis spp. Coreopsis 4-9
Erigeron karvinsklanus Mexican Daisy 4-9
Eriogonum spp. Buckwheat 6-10
Eriogonum grande rubescens Red Buckwheat 8-9
Euphorbia spp. Euphorbia 7-10
Gaillardia x grandiflora Arizona Sun Blanket 5-9
Gypsophila paniculata Baby’s Breath 4-9
Helianthemum nummularium Sun Rose 4-10
Iris douglosiana Pacific Coast Iris 6-10
Lantana spp. Lantana 7-11
Limonium perezii Sea Lavender 9-11
Linaria alpina Toadflax 4-9
Lobelia laxiflora Mexican Lobelia 9-11
Mentha piperita Chocolate Mint 8-9
Nepeta fassnell Cat Mint 3-9
Oenothera spp. Primrose 4-9
Osteospermum spp. African Daisy 9-11
Salvia corrugata Corrugated Sage 9-11
Salvia spp. Salvia (Check your local nursery) 3-9
Santolina chamaecyparis Santolina 7-9
Sisyrinchium californicum Blue-Eyed Grass 3-9
Stachys byzantina Lamb’s Ears 4-9
Tagetes lemmonii Copper Canyon Daisy 9-10
Verbena spp. Verbena 5-10

Once you’ve planted, set up your drip irrigation

Inline Emitters

Drip Irrigation with Inline Emitters

Drip irrigation is not only water efficient, it also promotes increased yields of fruits and vegetables. The use of drip can usually increase yields by at least 20%. In one case, with chilies, the drip system saved 38% of the water and increased yields by 48%. For row crops (i.e. vegetable gardens!), use in-line emitter tubing with emitters installed every 9 – 12 inches. In-line tubing has an emitter built inside the tubing so there is nothing to snap off.

For perennial gardens with irregular plant spacing, use custom-punch emitters. These will allow you to better control the amount of flow to each plant.

To use drip irrigation with your rain water:

  • Store as much as you can. Consider a large cistern, or a multi-barrel system to save space.
  • Use a 100-micron filter between your rain barrel(s) and drip line or soaker hose. Otherwise emitters and pores will clog.
  • Place the 55-gallon drums as high as possible above the drip tubing. Or, add a booster pump for good water pressure.
  • Keep the filter clean at all times. Use a toothbrush and bleach as necessary.
  • Flush the drip hose once a year when it is raining to get any dirt out.
  • In cold climates, store the filter indoors and drain the tubing.
  • Water in the evening, making sure no foliage gets wet.
  • Place the emitters about six inches from the base of the established plant.
  • Use no more than 30 feet of drip irrigation hose per connection.
  • For soaker hoses, use a specialty rain barrel soaker hose designed for non pressurized water sources – they have a special porosity ratio.

I wish you happy gardening!

 

 

 

ABOUT ROBERT KOURIK:

Does Robert Kourik really know his stuff when it comes to sustainable gardening? Well, just ask the experts: Sunset Magazine described his Drip Irrigation book as “The last word on [the subject]” and “infused with good humor.” Businessman, author and environmental activist Paul Hawken describes Robert’s work as “uncommonly valuable.” To see the 15 books Robert has written on topics like roots, grey water, lavender, edible landscaping and no-till gardening go to  http://www.robertkourik.com/drip_irrigation_garden_books.html.

 

*Source: Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species (WULCOLS) report.

Rainwater for Gardens: Why Plants Love Rainwater Best

by Jesse (Froehlich) Savou, ARCSA A.P.

It might not come as a surprise that there's no water plants love better than rainwater. Imagine your thirsty plants doused in droplets fallen fresh from the sky, their leaves expertly channeling the bounty down stalks and into the soil—right to the root zone where it is needed most. Read on to learn about rainwater for gardens!

Plants Love Rain—It's Just Natural!

YoungPlantsLoveRainwater

Why is rainwater such a preferred water source? There is more than just one reason—in fact there are four!:

1. Rainwater is 100% soft water. Free of the salts, minerals, treatment chemicals, and pharmaceuticals that are found in municipal water, groundwater, and surface water, rainwater is pure hydration. Salts and chemicals build up in your soil over time and these residues are tough on plants. This effect is exaggerated in potted plants where the accumulation is more pronounced.

2. Rainwater is slightly acidic—naturally! Green gardeners know that most organically grown plants prefer soil pH levels between 5.5 and 6.5. This is on the acidic side of the neutral pH 7, and by nature's design, it is the exact pH range for rainwater. City water, on the other hand, is treated to be alkaline to protect metal pipes from corroding, and can have a pH level upwards of 8.5. Greywater (once-used household water from a laundry machine, shower, or bathroom sink) will start with the same pH as your tap water, but can have a pH as high as 10.5 once it gets to the garden depending on the types of soaps and detergents that are in it. Irrigate with rainwater to flush out your soil and help keep your soil pH in perfect balance ongoingly!

3. Stored rainwater contains some organic matter. If collected from your rooftop, rainwater contains traces of organic material. While the water is very clean and should run clear, it has been exposed to anything on your roof. We're not talking about chunks (these get pre-filtered out on their way into properly-designed rain barrels)--we're just talking about contact exposure to leaf litter, pollen, bird droppings and the like (which perhaps not surprisingly are great for your plants). A rain barrel hosts a beneficial biology to keep the water alive - literally. It's like a light application of fertilizer every time you water!

4. Rain contains nitrates—an important macro-nutrient. Rainwater contains nitrate - the most bio-available form of nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the three key macro-nutrients that plants need to thrive--necessary for the development of lush foliage. Many forms of nitrogen are not actually absorbable by plants. Nitrates, which are made up of nitrogen and oxygen, are formulated by nature for maximum uptake by your plants. Plants typically absorb most of their nitrates from the soil. And where do those nitrates come from? Rain!

Plants have very unique ways of gathering moisture from the air and delivering it to their root zones. Nature's design!
Plants have very unique ways of gathering moisture from the air and delivering it to their root zones. Nature's design!

On a personal note, before I discovered rainwater, I doubted I would ever be able to keep a house plant alive. I had somewhat better luck outdoors in the garden, but little did I know that the potted plants were really suffering from the salt, chemical, and mineral buildup of tap water. Then I learned about watering with rainwater.  Rainwater straight from my rain barrels into a watering can is what I use for my potted plants and nursery starts. A gravity fed drip line allows me to apply rainwater directly to my in-ground garden with no effort at all. And what a difference it makes. Suddenly I have a green thumb... but (shhh, don't tell.... rather, tell EVERYBODY!) : the secret is the water.

Our friends at HarvestH2o provide more detail about appropriate uses for rainwater, greywater, and city water here.

Plant health is just one of the many benefits of harvesting rainwater. Click here for a handful of great reasons to collect the rain that falls on your roof!

Downspout Diverter in Action!

Did you know you can catch 600 gallons of fresh rainwater for every single inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of rooftop? That’s enough to fill eleven 55-gallon rain barrels! The downspout diverter is the key to the kingdom.

See below to watch and learn just how our downspout diverter works! It’s a simple but brilliant technology (with no moving pieces!) that allows you to harvest the abundant rain that falls on your rooftop every year, and store it away for when you need it most. And the best part is, it handles overflow automatically. Because as those who harvest rainwater already know, you WILL have overflow, even in the worst of drought conditions.

Click the images below to watch our short videos!

Rain Barrels Filling in Real-Time:

 

Rain Barrels Filling

Downspout Diverter in Action:

 

Downspout Diverter for rain barrels

We offer our standard downspout diverter in round and rectangular versions. Choose your diverter size when you customize your DIY RainKit™ in our online store! Installation is as simple as drilling a hole in your existing downspout and inserting the rubber diverter head. The piece seals inside the downspout and draws water through the inlet hose into your rain barrels. When barrels are full, water backs up in the inlet hose and falls through the internal spillover in the diverter. In other words, overflow exits down the normal course of your downspout.

That’s right—overflow is automatic! No on-and-off switch, and no mess!

 

Ready to build your own multi-barrel system?

Visit BlueBarrelSystems.com and navigate to the Online Store to customize and order your very own BlueBarrel SystemTM. Use our zip code search to find recycled barrels in YOUR local region, and we’ll ship the rest of the fittings to your door in our DIY RainKitTM!

For more inspiration, check out our online photo gallery, and don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help you with your order as you get ready to collect the spring rains!

 
 

home made rain barrel system

 

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

 

BlueBarrel Hydrologic Cycle Graphic

How to Paint Barrels – Any Color You Like!

Check out what Mike and Judy are doing — they're painting their barrels to match their house!

In fact, so many of our customers ask us why the barrels are blue, we thought we'd share Judy and Mike's story along with some tips & tricks on how to paint barrels!

HOW TO PAINT BARRELS:

Mike & Judy show us the ropes

man snads rain barrel to paint barrel
how to paint barrels: woman spray paints barrel for rainwater catchment
man lift rain barrel
7-Barrel Rainwater System

The barrels start blue because that's industry standard for food-grade. When you source barrels through BlueBarrel, they'll always be blue to ensure they're safe and compatible.*

But if blue's not for you, you can paint them!

STEP 1: PRIME THE SURFACE
Mike gives his barrels a once-over with sand paper to help the paint stick better. It's best to paint the barrels before you install them so that you can get a good even coat on them.

STEP 2: SELECT THE PAINT
Judy shows us the paint. Check your local hardware store for spray paints that are made for outdoor use and bond to plastic. It can take up to two cans of paint for each barrel to get a nice, even finish.

STEP 3: PROTECT YOUR STUFF!
Speaking of plastic, notice she's protected her fence and plants. She wants white barrels, but she doesn't need a white garden!

STEP 4: APPLY THE PAINT
Follow the directions on the paint can for a nice even coat. You may need two coats for a nice finish. And remember, you don't need to paint the bottom!

STEP 5: INSTALL YOUR SYSTEM!
Follow the instructions in your DIY RainKit to complete your BlueBarrel System (of any color!).

* If you start with white barrels, you HAVE to paint them. White, light, or transparent barrels will grow algae faster than you can say "hey, why are my white barrels green?!". Blue barrels exclude sunlight, so they won't grow algae. They don't need to be painted, but they certainly can be!

More Painted Systems

Painted Rain Barrels

Kurt started with white barrels and painted them to match the house (and for UV resistance). What a nice look!

BlueBarrel System painted white

Melissa's barrels started blue, but now they're white. A very nice paint job to match the trim on the house.

White Rain Barrels for rainwater catchment

Erik's barrels, also painted to match the house, nestle nicely under the overhang for an inviting entry.

Rain barrels painted red

Gayle painted not only her barrels, but also the cinderblock footings for an inviting display at the entry to her home.

The DIY Files: Site Prep for a Rain Barrel System

This feature highlights some of the details involved in prepping a site for a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™. BlueBarrel customers, Judy and Mike, have shared some photos of their site prep process!

 

How to Prep your Site for a Rain Barrel System

Site prep is quite simple, really, but there are some important details to understand before you dive in.

SIte your System

Mike chose this downspout to feed his system - in a nice, flat, shady spot near his garden beds. (Did you notice the barrels are painted? We'll highlight barrel painting in our next blog post - stay tuned!!)

The first step is to identify the best spot for your rainwater system. You're looking for a place that is near an existing downspout, near your garden (if using the water for irrigation), and ideally in the shade. See our siting guidelines for more detail.

Next, your site needs to be leveled if it isn't already. If you are building a multi-barrel system like the BlueBarrel System, all barrels need to be at the same level. Some ask us whether they should install their barrels on a slight downslope to encourage the flow of water towards one end. The answer is NO! If barrels trend downward, the system won't fill any higher than the top of the lowest barrel. Every barrel must be vented, so water will escape through the vents on the lower barrels before the higher barrels are able to fill.

Water is heavy, and a 55-gallon barrel will weigh nearly 500 pounds when full. For this reason, you want to install your system on a stable surface that the barrels won't settle and go wonky. If you have concrete or asphalt in place already, you're ready to go. But you don't need to install more hardscape if it's not there already!

This downspout will feed the BlueBarrel System. The downspout diverter inserts into the downspout and sends overflow down the normal course of the downspout after the barrels fill up.

This downspout will feed the BlueBarrel System. The downspout diverter inserts into the downspout and sends overflow down the normal course of the downspout after the barrels fill up.

The foundation pad is a simple frame filled with compact gravel - a solid surface for the cinder block footing and barrels.

The foundation pad is a simple frame filled with compact gravel - a solid surface for the cinder block footing and barrels.

If your site is bare soil, simply add a layer (about 3" thick) of a base rock material and compact it until it is firm and level. Crushed base rock is ideal (a.k.a. base rock, road base, blue shale crush, or simply crush.) This material is inexpensive and will compact nicely. Any jagged-edged gravel will do (Judy and Mike used decomposed granite), but be sure to avoid round substrates like pea gravel or river rock. If you're not sure, pick up a handful: if you can roll it around nicely in your palm, it won't compact. Find something jagged!

You can frame your foundation pad like Judy and Mike did, but this is not necessary. A frame adds a nice visual touch, and can add a little elevation for gravity flow if you build it above grade and back-fill with gravel. If you are building a frame for a large (i.e. long) system, a cross-member helps so that your frame doesn't bow out over time.

The last step for building your foundation is laying the cinder blocks. Cinder blocks are an important component of the BlueBarrel System design, creating a lane for the underplumbing that makes our system so unique. The spacing in the cinderblocks also allows for an isolation valve between every couple of barrels (another key to the BlueBarrel System design, included with our DIY RainKits), and add 8" extra elevation for gravity flow.

Whether or not you are building a frame, you can find the dimensional details for a BlueBarrel System foundation here!

Well done, Judy and Mike, and thanks for sharing your photos with us!

7-Barrel Rainwater System

What to do with Overflow: Rain Gardens and More!

by guest bloggers Mary and Sean Jennings, Rootstock Landscapes

It almost time for that rain again. Hopefully you have your BlueBarrel System all set up and ready to fill, baby, fill!  

Have you ever thought about catching all the water that over flows when the barrels are full?  With 600 gallons of runoff produced for every single inch of rain falling on 1000 square feet of rooftop, even with a very large rain catchment system you’re certain to have overflow. Rain gardens are a perfect way to store that excess!

bio swale

This bio-swale will fill with water when it rains. Photo courtesy of Rootstock Landscapes

A gently depressed, landscaped basin can hold water beautifully while recharging the groundwater in your garden. A raised and planted berm can keep that precious runoff from running off down the street. The new mantra for on-site water management is Slow it, Spread it, Skink it, Store it! (Rather than Pump it, Pipe it, Pollute it!) You can even entice water from the street into your landscape with creative earthworks. 

Mulched Garden

Mulched Garden. Photo courtesy of Rootstock Landscapes

All your favorite landscape and garden plants, edible or ornamental, can thrive in raised or depressed beds. Check out Rootstock Landscapes for more ideas about how to store water right underfoot in your landscape.

And if you want to add more barrels or haven’t even gotten around to installing your barrels yet, Rootstock can help with that too!  

Happy Harvesting! 

BlueBarrel System

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, installed under deck

The DIY Files: SoCal’s most Water Conscious Resident (and Potable Rainwater!)

 

Rob Greenfield and BlueBarrel

Rob Greenfield: SoCal’s most water conscious resident?

Meet BlueBarrel customer Rob Greenfield: tiny-house homesteader and water-conservationist extraordinaire.

Rob lives in sunny San Diego, California, where “normal” years boast 12″ of rain on average. Of course in the face of California’s worst drought in recorded history, recent years have seen much less rainfall than average.

But Rob lives in abundance, employing a handful of techniques to allow him to live on just 5 gallons of water per day. And where does that water come from? From the roof (his neighbor’s roof, mind you!), collected into his BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™.

In his short video, Rob even explains how he treats his rainwater so that he can drink it! Potable rainwater is something many people ask about. In our FAQ’s we emphasize that untreated rainwater is strictly non-potable (although perfect for garden irrigation and other non-potable uses). Pay attention to Rob’s techniques for treating rainwater! A valuable emergency preparedness tool for many, for Rob its a way of life.

Click here for a variety of reliable drinking water treatment options.

The DIY Files: “Introducing My BlueBarrel System!” – Notes from a DIY rain barrel customer

Ever wonder what it’s like to build a BlueBarrel System? Wonder if you have the skills? Follow the link to read this post by BlueBarrel customer Melissa, blogger and homesteader extraordinaire, on her blog, Forgotten Skills: Introducing My BlueBarrel System.

Melissa built her 15-barrel BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™  all by herself over a couple of days using BlueBarrel’s RainKit™   (our customizable DIY rain barrel kit) squeezing the project into stolen moments before work. The system collects from her chicken coop, and will fill with just 6″ of rain falling on the coop’s 200-square-foot roof.

Melissa did a fantastic job, and her garden (and chickens!) will thank her!

Click here for more photos, and to read about her experience installing her 15-barrel system!

BlueBarrel Rain System Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 12.55.25 PM

 

Watch Rain Barrels Filling in Real-Time!

A single inch of rain falling on 1000 square feet of rooftop will generate 600 gallons of harvestable water! That’s enough to fill 11 standard sized rain barrels!

Watch for yourself to believe it! The 8-barrel (440 gallon) BlueBarrel System in the video will fill with less than 1.5″ of rain falling on the 450 square-foot rooftop area.

Use our rainwater calculator to estimate the catchment potential at your own place.

How to Measure Water Level in your Rain Barrels

We get this question a lot: How do I measure water level in my rain barrels?

If you've tried to guess how much water is in your rain barrels, you know that the "tap test" and "temperature feel" aren't as easy as we'd hope. Here are a few ways to pinpoint the water level in your BlueBarrel System™ to the tee!:

 

Tank Gauge

One of our most popular system accessories is the Tank Gauge by Rain Harvesting.

It monitors the water level in your BlueBarrel System™ with an easy-to-read dial. It is quick and easy to install, and uses a non-numbered "Empty-to-Full" scale so it will work with tanks of any size (up to 100" in height)...and BlueBarrel Systems with any number of barrels.

With the BlueBarrel System's unique under-plumbed design, your water level will be the same in all barrels, so you only need one Tank Gauge for each multi-barrel system. (With other multi-barrel designs, you may need a gauge on each barrel as each may have a different water level).

Find the Tank Gauge in our Online Store. You can order it along with your DIY RainKit™, or on its own under Tools & Accessories.

 

Liquid Level Sensor

Liquid Level Sensor

A more precise method is to use a Liquid Level Sensor.

This tool is a little more costly, but it works like a stud finder to call out the level in your barrels. It beeps and lights up with a level display of lights to pinpoint the water level in your tanks.

If you have separate tanks or systems on different downspouts, or if you're using valves close off parts of your BlueBarrel System (our design allows people to hold water in some tanks for emergency storage while draining others for irrigation), this tool is well worth it to get quick and accurate measurements on every barrel.

Find the Liquid Level Sensor in our Online Store. You can order it along with your DIY RainKit™, or on its own under Tools & Accessories.

 

Hand-Crafted Sight Level Gauge

Or you can go the DIY route. Here's a quick guide for how to build a sight glass, or sight level.

Clear Level Gauge

Because of the leveling function of BlueBarrel's unique under-plumbed design, all barrels in a BlueBarrel System will maintain the same water level. By installing a clear tube into the same plumbing line that connects the barrels, you can read your water level by observing the water level in the clear tube. Our customer, Randy, from Sacramento, CA shared photos of his creative self-made water level gauge.*

PLEASE NOTE: the top of the tube needs to be vented so that water can enter the tube without trapping air. And as with all openings on a rain collection system, the vents should be protected with 1/16" mesh to prevent mosquito breeding and entry of large particulates.

 

*As a quick caution - a clear level gauge is often the weakest part of a rainwater collection system. If it cracks or leaks, all of the water in your BlueBarrel System will be compromised. If you decide to craft your own level gauge, be sure you use durable materials that will give you a good fit and a tight seal! Make sure to keep a clear gauge shaded at all times, as exposure to sunlight will lead to algae growth. (Blue barrels are opaque and UV resistant, so no worries about algae in your BlueBarrel System otherwise!)

Check out this video for a water-level demo.
For photos of this installation and more, visit our online photo gallery!

How Rainwater Harvesting Replenishes Groundwater

California Governor, Jerry Brown, has recently taken action to address the dire groundwater situation in that state. What’s the issue? Namely that groundwater is being pumped out faster than it’s being replenished—think of it like overdrawing a bank account.

 

The issue:

Historically, the state of California has not monitored groundwater with enough detail to determine exactly where the limit is in terms of how much water is truly available. Wells are not typically metered, so in most cases farms, businesses, and residents are drawing from the same shared sources without any control on how much is too much.

 

What does rainwater harvesting have to do with it?

While the state takes regulatory action, we can’t forget the power we have as individual Citizens of the Planet to manage the water that falls upon us (literally). In fact, with proper management of rainfall, we even have the power to recharge groundwater under our own feet.

 

Here’s how:

HeirloomFestivalDemo

When you collect rainwater on your site, either in tanks or barrels for later use, or in landscaped infiltration basins and swales, you harness that valuable and increasingly scarce gift of free and fresh water by holding it on your site and allowing it to infiltrate at a rate that assimilates nature. While you nourish your garden with the cheapest and highest quality water available, you also allow the excess to infiltrate, recharging the very groundwater resources that supply most of our community needs.

 

 

 

What happens otherwise?

Humans have drastically altered the global hydrologic cycle by covering much of our earth’s living, breathing surface with hardscape—think buildings, roads, parking lots, driveways, and even the roof over your own head. In a natural landscape, over 50% of the rainfall that hits the earth infiltrates to recharge groundwater. In our urbanized/suburbanized world, that figure drops below 15%. This leads to the twin issues of stormwater pollution and groundwater overdraw.

So do your part! Dig out some infiltration features in your landscape, and install some rainwater tanks (or barrels!) to harness this precious resource. It’s in your power to have a positive impact on the drought!

This diagram shows infiltration rates in natural versus developed environments.

This diagram shows infiltration rates in natural versus developed environments.

Rainwater vs. Greywater

Rainwater and greywater are two terms we’re hearing more often amongst the eco-conscious—especially when it comes to do-it-yourself (DIY) water conservation for the home and garden.

Rainwater collection and greywater reuse are wonderful ways to nourish a garden while making the most out of every last drop of water. But it’s important to understand that rainwater and greywater are not the same. Their applications are complimentary, but they are different.

 

The difference between rainwater and greywater

Rainwater is fresh precipitation straight from the sky. Completely free of salts, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and minerals; it’s naturally pure, and the cleanest water our hydrologic cycle offers. Of course to get that water into rain barrels or tanks, most of us collect from the roof, which means there’s some accumulation of organic matter. But by all accounts, this water (organic cooties and all) is universally appreciated by a thirsty garden. In fact, rainwater is the absolute best water for your plants. To your plants, those cooties are fertilizer!

Greywater is once-used household water, discharged from washing machines, showers, tubs, and bathroom sinks. This can also be a great source of irrigation water if the household uses greywater-safe products. You’ll notice kitchen sinks aren’t on the greywater list. Kitchen sink discharge is considered blackwater because of the bacterial load (think raw meat!). So in sum, you can think of greywater as “everything but the kitchen sink” (and of course the toilet).

 

How do I irrigate with rainwater vs. greywater?

Rainwater/Greywater Oasis

This home uses rainwater for the drip-irrigated edibles, while greywater serves the fruit trees and medicinals around the perimeter.

 

Rainwater

Because rainwater is relatively clean, it can be stored safely for long periods of time and released at the gardener’s discretion. BlueBarrel offers an affordable DIY multi-barrel rain barrel system, made from recycled barrels! Particulates are filtered out on the way into the tanks, cisterns, or barrels, so the water doesn’t contain anything chunky that might lead to growth or clogs.

Many people use stored rainwtaer to hand-water potted plants (which are particularly sensitive to salt and chemical buildup from other water sources); or to irrigate garden beds—even edibles!—through a simple gravity-fed drip irrigation line.

 

Greywater

Greywater, on the other hand, is not recommended for storage and is best distributed directly onto the landscape (released a couple of inches below the soil’s surface). Complex greywater systems may include surge tanks to gain a little more control over distribution rate, but an automatic pump is used to keep that water cycling out at least every 24 hours—lest it become blackwater!

The Laundry-to-Landscape (or L2L) setup is one of the more popular systems for DIY greywater gardeners, and in many areas can be done without a permit. Laundry discharge is diverted through a pipe that leads out of your house and directly into a series of mulch basins in your garden.

Because greywater contains lint and suds, it is not recommended for potted plants or for drip irrigation lines (that’s what rainwater is for!). That said, it’s a wonderful water source for less sensitive perennial plantings, shrubs, vines and trees—even fruit trees. In sum, greywater is great for plants that can handle the irregular flood-load of water that comes when you do laundry, and that won’t suffer from the stuff in the water.

What about showers and sinks? Whereas laundry discharge can be intercepted without cutting into any potable plumbing lines, sinks and showers are a different story. Many people collect greywater from sink and shower drains but these systems require a permit in most jurisdictions, and often require the help of a professional.

 

Can I incorporate rainwater AND greywater in my garden?

First of all, if you’re asking that question, you’re awesome. Bravo!

You can and should incorporate both rainwater and greywater into your eco-paradise. In fact, they are ideal in tandem (see the photo example above).

Since rainwater and greywater have different properties and are suited to different kinds of plants and irrigation strategies, you can maximize your efficiency by using both—but we recommend you think of them as two separate systems.

For example:

Imagine an edible garden served by hyper-efficient drip irrigation, surrounded by a gorgeous border of perennials, medicinals, pollinator attractors, flowering vines, and fruit trees. Potted plants bring life to the inside of the home. (Perhaps this sounds like YOUR garden!)

Now add a series of rain barrels (ahem, a BlueBarrel System!) to service your drip irrigation line clog-free (yes, rainwater is suitable for edibles!), and for hand-watering those sensitive potted plants.

Next, redirect your laundry discharge (greywater) around the border where you have shrubs and perennials that will handle the flood-load. The greywater gets a push from your washer’s pump, so it can make it around the border.

 

THE “GREY” AREA: shower warmup water

It’s worth mentioning that shower warmup water is in a category on its own. (This is the potable bounty that us water-geeks collect in buckets while we wait for our showers to warm up…) 

Many think of shower warmup as greywater, and it certainly is greywater once it hits the drain. But if we intercept it in a clean container, this is actually potable water with many potential reuses. I personally use my shower warmup to flush the toilet, only because it’s right there.

But shower warmup water can be stored along with your rainwater, and we’ve had quite a few BlueBarrel customers do just that. Shower warmup water can be directed out the bathroom window through a hose that connects directly to a vent on your BlueBarrel System; or you can use a funnel to pour this extra water in by hand.

 

In conclusion…

You should do rainwater and greywater, but you shouldn’t combine them into one system unless you’re a pro. But then again, if you recognize that the ideal uses for rainwater and greywater are so compatible, you may still achieve your best and most sustainable design by employing the two systems side by side.

 

HOW TO:

DIY rainwater harvesting resources:

DIY greywater resources:

 

 

A BlueBarrel System™ for FREE?!

It sounds too good to be true, but it could very well be within reach—a FREE BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™, that is!

How?

If you live in a place that has a robust rainwater harvesting rebate program, you may actually get the cost of your BlueBarrel System fully refunded through a local incentive program.

 
Many municipalities, water districts, and conservation organizations are funded to incentivize home-scale water conservation and stormwater management, including rooftop rainwater collection.

Rainwater harvesting rebates come in a few different shapes and sizes:

  • Money back for each gallon of storage capacity installed (e.g.$1 per gallon for City of San Diego residents and $0.25 per gallon in the City of Santa Rosa, CA)
  • Money back for each rain barrel installed (e.g. $35 per qualifying barrel for SoCal MWD ratepayers)
  • A maximum lump sum to cover project costs (e.g. $500 per household in the American River Basin)

Each rebate program has its own structure and qualifying criteria.

But here’s the deal:

The BlueBarrel System is so cost-effective in terms of price per gallon that with many of these rebate programs, you may get the FULL cost of your system refunded!

Here are just a few examples of places where you can get a full refund on a BlueBarrel System!:

  • If you live in the county of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, or Ventura, you may qualify for $75 per rainbarrel through the SoCal WaterSmart residential rebate program. The rebate maxes out at 4 rain barrels (or so they say), which caps the rebate at $300 per household. When you price out your options at BlueBarrel’s online store, you can see that you could purchase a 7-barrel System for under $300.* What a deal!
  • If you’re lucky enough to live in San Diego, you are actually allowed to double-dip between SoCal WaterSmart and the City of San Diego‘s own $1 per gallon rainwater harvesting rebate, which maxes out at $400 per home. So with $700 to work with, you can now be fully refunded for up to a 20-barrel BlueBarrel System (1100 gallons of storage!)*
  • In northern California, those living in the American River Basin (Sacramento, Placer, and El Dorado counties) qualify for $500 per household for water conservation projects. That’s up to a 13-barrel BlueBarrel System fully covered!*

We’ve posted links to each of these programs and more on our Rebates page. If your region isn’t listed, try a Google search, and if you still don’t find anything, it might be time to call your city or water district and encourage them to incentivize the collection of rain as an important water conservation and stormwater management technique!

*Pricing estimates based on BlueBarrel RainKit pre-tax pricing, including barrels, at the date of this post. Pricing is subject to change. BlueBarrel does not administer any of the rebate programs listed above. Contact each rebate agency to learn of current incentives and criteria.

Meet BlueBarrel on Video!

BlueBarrel is a resource for do-it-yourself rainwater catchment. This video introduces you to the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ and the environmental benefits of capturing rainwater on your site. We offer all of the tools and resources you need to build your own rainwater catchment system.

Check out our 2-minute video – and share with your friends to spread the word about BlueBarrel!

Does Rainwater Harvesting Make Sense in Dry Climates?

Does Rainwater Harvesting Make Sense in Dry Climates?
By Jesse Froehlich, ARCSA A.P.
Founder, BlueBarrel
The answer to the question above is simple:

YES!!!

If you’re satisfied with that, you can stop reading here. And maybe visit www.BlueBarrelSystems.com for some great rainwater harvesting options!

If you need a little more convincing, read on.

WHERE DOES YOUR WATER COME FROM IN THE SUMMER?

Being in the rainwater harvesting business in arid California, I often hear comments like this:

“In our climate it rains in winter when we’re not irrigating. Then when we need the water in summer, there’s no rain. I just don’t see how rainwater harvesting makes sense with such a long dry season.”

Let’s dig into this predicament. We have to ask ourselves where our water comes from during this long, hot summer.

Whether you’re a municipal ratepayer or on a private well, there’s a good chance your water is pumped from underground aquifers. Or perhaps it comes from surface waters, or a combination. In any case, can you imagine what happens to these shared water sources as the dry summer drags on?

That’s right: they draw DOWN, DOWN, DOWN!

And unfortunately there’s another compounding factor: when it finally does rain again, this abundant fresh water resource sheets off our hardscapes, and hurries AWAY, AWAY, AWAY!

See below for an illustration of the effect of our hardscapes on nature’s hydrologic cycle. The water that is intended to infiltrate and recharge groundwater is largely prevented from doing so in our urban and semi-urban environments. The effect over time is overdraw, and in dry climates we are especially vulnerable.
Aquifer Depletion in California

That big downward-sloping blue line shows us what the California central valley aquifers have been up to (or “down” to) over a recent 40-year period: a steep decline. And with a rapidly growing population in this region, the problem is only getting worse.

So let’s consider this: What if you could do your share to counteract this trend by meeting even some of your summer irrigation demand with stored rainwater?

But this begs another question:

HOW MUCH WATER CAN I REALLY CATCH WHEN ITS SO DRY?

It is amazing just how much water you can catch off of a relatively small rooftop surface, even in a dry climate. Every square foot of catchment surface will yield about 0.6 gallons for every inch of rain. Check out the sizing tools on BlueBarrel’s website to refine the calculation for your own rooftop.

Rainwater Harvesting System

Now that you see the numbers in action, don’t forget about garages, workshops and sheds! You really don’t need much surface area to fill a rainbarrel, or even a series of them.

With these numbers in mind, the question isn’t about whether there’s enough water to catch, it’s about how much space you want to dedicate to water storage.

So let’s dig into THAT.

We all dream of a rainwater catchment system that can meet our year-round demand. (I sure do!) And as shown by the numbers above, that system may be possible even in arid California.

It is likely, however, that your budget and/or spatial constraints limit your ability to store that much water. So catch what you can and enjoy the benefits in proportion!

There are three ways to manage a rainwater catchment system if you can’t store enough water to meet your entire dry-season demand:

  1. Store what you can, use it while it lasts (which may be longer than you think if you use gravity-fed drip irrigation), and switch back to your existing water source when your rainwater runs dry.
  2. Store what you can, use it while it lasts, and then re-fill your rainwater tanks with your backup water source to continue using your gravity-fed drip system throughout the dry season.
  3. Dedicate your rainwater catchment system to a particular garden zone, like a perennial border or raised vegetable beds, and size the system to meet that zone’s irrigation need all summer long (BlueBarrel can help you strike this balance with a professional Site Assessment).

[NOTE: The BlueBarrel System includes specialty vent pieces with screened hose-swivel ports. This allows for safe and easy dry-season refilling if you’re using Strategy 2. We also offer a streamlined drip irrigation connection to ensure you are using your water efficiently.]

See below for a real-life case study from a recent BlueBarrel project at a Santa Rosa, CA residence.

THE CLIMATE CHANGE FACTOR – WON’T IT GET EVEN DRIER?

Climate change projections for the North Bay predict a decrease in average annual rainfall. But there’s more to the story: this diminished rainfall is expected to come in the form of stronger storms that occur less frequently. And in fact this is exactly what we have experienced in recent years.

Ironically, this presents an additional opportunity for Rainwater Harvesters: multiple irrigation and recharge cycles over the course of a year. (This means much less storage required to meet the entire year’s irrigation need, and much higher efficacy for small rainwater catchment systems.)

Last year we experienced heavy rains in autumn followed by an exceptionally dry winter. Then we had significant rainfall again as late as June! With the first autumn rains of this year falling in late September, North Bay Rainwater Harvesters got two full irrigation cycles (one in winter and one in summer), spanning a mere 12 weeks during the hot summer season! We’re on track for the same pattern in the current cycle.

[In this article I’m not focusing on the stormwater mitigation side of things, but it’s worth interjecting that with heavier rain events (as predicted), stormwater impacts will be more severe. Rainwater harvesting takes a chunk out of your hardscape impact in addition to your draw on scarce resources–a double win. Some jurisdictions are beginning to charge stormwater impact fees based on the amount of hardscape on a site. Homeowners can usually gain off-set credits by installing rainwater harvesting systems.]

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ENERGY SAVINGS AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

If climate change is on your mind, it’s worth noting the huge nexus between energy and water. 20% of per capita energy use in the state of California is dedicated to pumping, treating, heating, and transporting water. And in turn, there is a large water demand associated with cleaning and cooling energy generating facilities. When you reduce your draw on pumped and treated water sources, you shrink your carbon footprint as well. And with this energy savings, you contribute to a collective reduction in water needed for power delivery. Like many things in life, this is an interconnected cycle.

The conversation on climate change also brings up the awareness of a heightened need to be prepared for emergencies. Rainwater Harvesters experience tremendous peace of mind knowing they have many gallons of water stored onsite for the case of an emergency. It is important to note that stored rainwater is not potable without treatment, but it’s a wonderful emergency drinking water supply as it can easily be treated for human consumption with the same treatment methods that campers and backpackers use.

[NOTE: The BlueBarrel System includes customizable isolation valves so you can hold water in some barrels for emergency supply while using others to feed your irrigation line.]

HOW LONG CAN I STORE RAINWATER?

Is it a concern that water may sit in tanks for months before being used? Not with a well designed rainwater catchment system. Depending on your system’s overflow handling, you may actually be pushing older water out as newer water enters.

But even if rainwater is held in storage for extended periods, there are a couple of best practices that help prevent problems in your tanks:

  • Use dark-colored, opaque tanks. Sun exposure will quickly lead to algal growth, but this is completely prevented when sunlight is excluded.
  • Keep your tanks in the shade. If tanks are kept out of direct sunlight the temperature will remain cool enough to prevent bacterial growth in the tanks.
  • Keep up with routine seasonal gutter clean-outs. The most important time to sweep out your gutter is in the fall before the first rains.
  • Rough-filter the water on the way into the tanks. This serves to keep out any major particulates that can cause in-tank water quality to decline.
  • If storing for emergency purposes (i.e. holding the water and not drawing it down), drain and recharge your system at least once per year.

An optimized rainwater harvesting system (in a dry climate!) will drain by the end of the dry season so you’ll get a fresh recharge at least every year. I say “at least” because this wonderful water source is also good for washing cars, defrosting windshields, rinsing boots, gardenwares and lawn furniture, and watering pets, so you may find you draw down your tanks a bit (and in turn fill them up again!) even in the thick of the rainy season.

[NOTE: The BlueBarrel System includes the code-specified pre-filtration and of course uses opaque food-grade drums. We can help you work out your system siting strategy here.]

IN CONCLUSION

At this point my suspicion is that here in California we’re just not dry enough! It’s the very dry southwestern states (AZ, NM, TX) with annual rainfall averages as low as 8” – 12” that are spearheading the re-birth of rainwater harvesting in the USA with favorable policies, incentives, and active licensing programs. Many California jurisdictions are beginning to follow suit.

When it’s really dry, rainwater harvesting is a no-brainer. Of course when it’s really wet, it’s a no-brainer, too. Let’s not fall victim to the Goldilocks Complex. Let’s harness this fresh abundant resource to improve our gardens, be prepared for emergencies, and restore the broken link in our urban hydrologic cycle before it’s too late!

Call your city or county to see about rebates and incentives that may be available to you for rainwater harvesting, and check out the resources at www.BlueBarrelSystems.com to customize your very own rainwater catchment system!

Runoff in Developed Landscapes

Our Broken Hydrologic Cycle

In our developed environments, groundwater doesn’t recharge the way it would in nature.

In a natural landscape, about 50% of precipitation hits the ground and infiltrates to hydrate soils and recharge groundwater. About 40% evaporates (or evapotranspirates through the metabolic activity of plants and animals); and only about 10% becomes runoff.

In a developed landscape however (including our towns and cities), with 75% impervious groundcover (think roads, parking lots, buildings, driveways, and even lawns), only 15% of water is allowed to infiltrate, while a whopping 55% becomes runoff. In an urban environment, this runoff sheets off the hardscape picking up automotive, industrial, and other pollutants along the way, rushing them to our sensitive waterways.

Rainwater Harvesting gives us the opportunity to hold this hardscape runoff onsite and allow it to infiltrate at a more natural rate if we use it to irrigate our gardens when it’s not raining.

Santa Rosa Rainwater Harvesting Analysis

CASE STUDY:
Santa Rosa, CA Garden

The image above is the rainwater catchment system sizing analysis for a BlueBarrel project I completed in Santa Rosa, CA in October, 2013.

This homeowner wanted to irrigate a 250-square foot vegetable garden only with rainwater, so we sized her system to meet this irrigation need all summer long. We used a conservative safety factor to account for the especially dry conditions we’ve experienced in Santa Rosa over the last couple of years.

Our analysis showed us that even with dry years under consideration, 2,300 gallons of storage will serve this garden throughout the summer!

The lime green line shows the projected tank volume over the course of three years. We optimized the system size, so it nearly runs dry in a very dry year, but still holds some water by the time it starts refilling again in autumn. The purple line indicates supplemental water need. It’s hard to see this line in the diagram because it’s completely flat-lined at zero.

And best of all, we were able to catch all the water we need off her 480-square-foot workshop roof. Even with a small catchment surface, the system will fill with around 8” of rain. This means she gets additional bang for her buck with multiple recharges each year, depending on her water usage pattern.

We have reserved the option to tie in more rooftop surface for a quicker fill if we continue to experience extreme drought.

What can you do in your garden? Contact BlueBarrel for a professional Site Assessment.

To Boot, Rainwater is Just Too Good!

As if all this weren’t enough, serious gardeners know that rainwater is a good thing to have on hand, no matter how much rain (or how little!) you get.

Water Quality: Rainwater is the highest quality water source available to plants for three reasons:

1. Rainwater is free of the salts, minerals, and heavy metals that leach into groundwater and surface waters–a 100% soft water source.

2. If caught from a rooftop and stored in barrels, rainwater will accumulate a small amount of organic matter which can be very beneficial to your garden—a light application of fertilizer every time you water.

3. Rainwater is slightly acidic. Most organically grown plants prefer a soil pH of 5.5 – 6.5: on the acidic side of the neutral pH 7. Rainwater can help you maintain that perfect soil pH balance!

You will notice the difference, especially with young plants (they are particularly sensitive to salts and chemicals), and also with potted plants, whose containers tend to accumulate salts and minerals over time. In an open garden, you’ll also get much less soil salinization and mineral buildup with rainwater.

Gravity Feed: And for the resource-conscious gardener there’s even more! Stored rainwater is an ideal match for drip irrigation. In fact, drip irrigation will work by gravity feed, even on a flat site. Drip irrigation does not require pressure, it just requires water in the line. So as long as your water level is above the high-point on your drip line, you will get water to your garden with no added energy inputs!