I have a real love/hate relationship with water…curious for someone whose body is about 60% water! Two years ago a groundhog family (unbeknownst to me) took up residence beneath my front porch. Their digging re-routed rainwater toward my home’s foundation causing extensive damage and ultimately necessitated a new foundation, a French drain, and the re-building of my porch…$$$!
Now I’m obsessed with keeping excess water away from my home, and coupled with a heightened awareness of environmental issues, I have fast-forwarded to rain barrels. Previously the only thing I knew about rain barrels was a song I was taught as a child:
I have since learned there is WAY more to rain barrels than I had previously thought! Water is such a basic need that it’s not surprising humans have been devising methods of collecting it since ancient times. The Valens aqueduct brought water from surrounding hillsides to the medieval city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) to be stored in reservoirs and giant underground cisterns like Yerebatan Sarayi, pictured here:
In the desert, ancient Egyptians dug a network of underground cisterns that collected rainwater. Over these cisterns, Egyptian armies built fortresses that were almost impervious to enemy invasion. Clearly, collecting and recycling water is not a new concept. As scientists began to understand the need for good sanitation and indoor plumbing became more available, older methods of water collection lost their popularity. The collected water was too contaminated. Today, we are vitally aware of the need to be good stewards of this precious resource!
Which brings me to my new best friend – rain barrels. Today a rain barrel can be as simple as a 55 gallon drum or container with a screen covered hole in the top. Be certain that the drum is food grade and has never been used to store chemicals. Then you’ll need a device that diverts rain water from your gutters into the barrel, a spigot toward the bottom, and an overflow outlet at the side. Because rain barrels are hot right now, there are a bazillion models from which to choose.
The Greenhouse purchased one from the Marion County Soil & Water Conservation District . Other container sources are Middle Eastern markets, local wine retailers and Craigslist. Buying locally also helps reduce shipping and handling waste.
CAUTION: ARITHMETIC AHEAD: ENGAGE LEFT-BRAIN!
It is estimated that one inch of rainwater running off of a 1,000 square foot roof has the potential of producing 623 gallons of water. To calculate the gallon yield of your roof, multiply the square footage of each section of roof feeding into a downspout by 623 and divide by 1,000.
THERE WILL NOT BE A QUIZ: YOU CAN RELAX NOW!
It is apparent that you either need more than one rain barrel or you’ll need a way to deal with overflow. For this, you will need a rain diverter, a device that fits into the downspout and, when the barrel is full, diverts water back into your existing drainage system that presumably slopes away from your foundation. Rainwater collected in barrels and then recycled into your garden can really help reduce the strain on our storm sewer infrastructure.
…And, rain barrels can save you money. Water collected in rain barrels is not potable, but can be used to flush toilets, water plants and wash your car just to name a few application. To make it easy, plan to install a rain barrel close to the garage for car washing, and for plants, use a downspout close to the garden. Be advised that the water pressure of a gravity feed system can be sluggish; so elevate the rain barrel on some cinder blocks.
To prevent or reduce algae growth, place the barrel(s) in a shaded location, choose a dark colored barrel, and screen out leaves…a rain diverter will help with this. Some experts recommend adding a few spoonfuls of bleach. If you have mosquito concerns, one tablespoon of olive oil in your barrel will kill any mosquito larvae and not harm the water quality. There are also commercially available mosquito control dunks; but if you use the water within 2 weeks of collection, this shouldn’t be necessary.
Be certain that the barrel lid is secure at all times to prevent a small child or animal from falling in! It’s a good idea to drain the barrel prior to winter as Indy is notorious for “freeze and thaw” winters.
I have recently noticed suspicious animal tracks in the snow leading under my back deck. I may need a recipe for fricassee of groundhog! And finally…