Rain water storage – turn those rain drops into pennies from Heaven

 

Red sky at morning - quick, get your rain barrels in place under those downspouts!

Red sky at morning – quick, get your rain barrels in place under those downspouts!

Oh boy, it’s DUMPING! I’m so happy my husband went to the trouble to set up rain barrels on a couple of our downspouts.

We have three plastic 50 gallon barrels we bought on Craigslist years ago, for some crazy giveaway price, less than $5 each. We would have bought more, but the guy had sold them all. They were old apple juice barrels, he’d had them laying around in his storage unit, and oh god they stunk of rotten applejack, I thought I would never get rid of that smell.

The barrels sat around here for years holding recyclables. We found they were too big – if we filled them up too much they were impossible to lift into the truck. So we switched  to planter buckets from trees we’d bought, those work great. The barrels sat, lids on tight, for a couple more years, behind the apartment. Out of sight, out of mind – the only time I go back there is to pull weeds and clean a couple of times a year.

When Cal Water started their rate hike jab, I started to get anxious about having to give up our lifestyle because it costs too much to have a decent garden or orchard. I immediately thought of Star Wars – now remember folks, what did Luke Skywalker’s step-uncle do for a living there on Tatooine? That’s right – moisture farmer! Give the little lady  a cigar!

My rooftop collects a lot of water, when it rains like this, the water builds up pretty quickly just off my patio, my driveway gets big puddles, and a little creek forms along our walkway, running to a  back acre that looks like the Land o’ Lakes. So, my husband placed  the barrels under the downspouts that seem to make the biggest puddles, and holy crap, do they fill up fast in a dumper like this.

Next morning, full  to overflowing. I "repurposed" a broken window screen into covers for two barrels - I used the gasket from the screen to tie them on. God, I just kick ass at "repurposing."

Next morning, full to overflowing. I “repurposed” a broken window screen into covers for two barrels – I used the gasket from the screen to tie them on. God, I just kick ass at “repurposing.”

We attached hoses to carry the overflow out away from the house – that is a big improvement. I just have to keep an eye on the downpour and turn the hose off when it slows down again.

A longer rain gutter requires two barrels behind the house.

A longer rain gutter requires two barrels behind the house. My husband hooked them together with parts from old hoses, and they both filled up in that last storm.  We realized, the first barrel should probably be placed on a higher stand. But, whatever, it worked! We can set it up better next year.

My husband rigged a hose to carry the water from the first barrel into the second. He didn't think it would work, but both barrels got full over the course of that last series of storms we had. For this storm we waited until the first barrel was full to overflowing again and hooked it up to a garden hose to carry the water away from the house.

My husband rigged this old green hose to carry the water from the first barrel into the second. He put that two headed spigot on there so we could shut off the second barrel when it was full.  It was still full  for this storm, so we waited until the first barrel was full to overflowing again and hooked it up to a garden hose to carry the water away from the house.

 

Rain barrels have been a learning experience. At first I was so eager and naive – it never occurred to me how fast these things fill up, how much water actually pours off our roof.  But three 50 gallon barrels? That’s not even a dollar’s worth of water – one ccf is 750 gallons.  I realize, if I were serious about doing more of my landscape watering with rainwater, I’d have to get a more serious storage tank.

http://www.tanksforless.com/c/44/bushman-rainwater-tanks

Hey, you know, the city of Oakland and the city of Palo Alto both have programs to help people buy rain water collection systems for their homes. I’m dreaming – the city of Chico is hardly in any position to subsidize anything but employee pensions.

Sure, I realize, the tank I could afford would still hold less than a dollar’s worth of water. But here’s what I’ve learned from my rain barrels – a little bit of water goes a long way. It’s easy to forget how much water you’re using – maybe way too much. You might think you’re all efficient with your sprinklers all set on timers – did it ever occur to you, you might be using more water than you need? Your plants are on automatic timers – how do you know how long they could go without being watered? I found a lot of my landscaping, even a lawn, will stay alive, even in the hottest part of summer, with only a couple of waterings a week.

It’s hard to set a timer to run when the lawn needs it.  At our rentals we have to use the timers because we’re not there, but we’ve set them for as seldom  as is possible on the timer. Here at our house, we water the lawn when it starts to look peaked – less than once a week. I don’t want it to turn to dirt, but I don’t need a lush carpet of green either.  I get that in Winter, and it’s all I can  do to keep it mowed!

As for other plants – use a water can. I got that from P. Allen Smith, who got it from his grandpa. For one thing, you know how much you’re using. That’s what I use the barrels for, mostly. I can also use the attached hose to water small plants by hand – P. Allen Smith’s grandpa says, count to 25, that’s usually enough water coming out of an inch hose, for the average plant.  We put wells and berms around our baby trees, I fill the well and walk away. I watch the leaves on the tree to see when they need water.

Here's the Elephant Ears I planted a couple of weeks ago - it's working on it's second leaf since I moved it, it's so happy to be out of the pot I had it in. I think I have to cover it for frost, and if we have a hard freeze, I'm supposed to dig it up and wrap it in a blanket in the garage. It's a weird plant, almost like a pet.

Here’s the Elephant Ears I planted a couple of weeks ago – it’s working on it’s second leaf since I moved it, it’s so happy to be out of the pot I had it in.  I water it with the hose from the rain barrel when the ground appears to be drying out – it doesn’t need a lot of water, but it needs consistent watering.  I think I have to cover it for frost, and if we have a hard freeze, I’m supposed to dig it up and wrap the bulb in a blanket in the garage. It’s a weird plant, almost like a pet.

I also water my indoor and porch plants with this water.

I found this beat up old style bike basket laying alongside the road. It had been there a couple of days, so I figured the owner had abandoned it. I already had a much better bike basket, so - you got it! - I "repurposed" it into a planter for some aloe vera.

I found this beat up old style bike basket laying alongside the road. It had been there a couple of days, so I figured the owner had abandoned it. I already had a much better bike basket, so – you got it! – I “repurposed” it into a planter for some aloe vera.  I put an old dog food bag turned inside out to hold some peat moss. I started with three smallish plants, I don’t know what happened. – some kind of population explosion! Under the protective awning of my patio, it hardly needs any water. This picture doesn’t really do it justice, it’s so green and alive, it almost talks to you.

Another use for rainwater is washing stuff outside – your patio, your car, etc. I keep a 5 gallon bucket under one handy downspout at the end of my patio – this I used to wash the mud off my boots when I come in from the back yard. I just pour it over my feet and then I can wash the patio too, keeps the mud out of the doorway. And, you know dogs – my dogs love the rain bucket, they would rather drink rainwater than the chlorine stinking Cal Water in their continuous water dish.

My husband  keeps the gutters cleaned out, so the water really looks nice. And no chlorine.

My husband keeps the gutters cleaned out, and most of whatever leaf gunk sinks to the bottom,  so the water really looks nice. And no chlorine.

Installing water collection systems on homes would certainly change our water dynamic – I was just watching the rain literally pour down a storm drain across from my house, headed  for Chico Creek, full of who knows what. You could hear that sound, like a water main was busted, from across the street. Meanwhile, water collects on my property and seeps back into the ground within about 24 hours after the storm is over. My property is actually recharging the water table, while these newer homes with all their nice concrete driveways are causing a regular stream in the gutters that flows right straight out to the Sacramento River.  Before development all that water went right back into the ground.

On a related note, when I went out earlier in the storm, Palmetto was starting to flood because people are putting their leaves into the gutters in front of their homes to be picked up by the city of Chico. The leaf pick-up program is a disaster – come on, people and their landscapers are bringing hundreds of pounds of leaves and landscape garbage from back yards, even properties along private driveways, and dumping them in the street to flood the gutters and cause dangerous passage for cars and bicyclists. These piles are huge, eliminating parking. They sit for weeks on end – I’ve seen them go from a somewhat neatly organized mound to a smear up and down the street within a week.

The city website clearly states that it is a violation to pile any leaves on the street that didn’t come from trees that are on the street – look at  these piles folks. In front of houses with NO trees in their front yard?  The wrong leaves – maple leaves piled up in front  of a house with Evergreens in the front yard? How stupid is the city of Chico? How stupid are we to put up with this shit? Landscapers should have to either compost their customers’  leaves at their customers’ houses, or pay to trailer them to the compost facility. The city will not enforce the law,  so they dump leaves in the street wherever they feel like it.

So one rainy  evening you notice water is creeping up your driveway toward your garage – go check the gutter in front of your house – some idiot – maybe YOU!  – has piled leaves in the gutter. On Palmetto, there was a flood at the end of one driveway, caused by piles of leaves left to either side – but the rest of the gutter was clear all the way to a nearby drain. Duh.

So, the city of Chico subsidizes landscape companies and people with big back yards, but I’m guessing I’d be laughed out of City Hall if I suggested they pay me a rebate for installing a water storage tank on my house. And Cal Water ain’t going to stand for  that – in fact, watch for legislation in the coming years that makes rain “harvesting” illegal.

Wow, I started writing this blog yesterday, and it looks like we’re just getting a little break. I sure don’t mind the rain – I like to  think of it as pennies from Heaven.

 

 

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