Rainwater Catchment   (August 8, 2009)

Preparedness need not be expensive or difficult. Consider this simple rainwater catchment system.

Rainwater catchment is common in rural Hawaii and many other locales. In rural Hawaii, rainwater catchment isn't a backup supply of fresh water--it is the only source of household water, period.

But as knowledgeable reader Morris P. notes, any source of water which depends on electricity and pumps is prone to disruption or failure for any number of reasons. (Here in California, a serious earthquake would break water mains and disrupt electrical power.) Morris was kind enough to share his simple, effective rainwater catchment system which provides a backup water supply for any emergency.

As a kid growing up in rural Oklahoma we relied upon well water which was drawn from a 200-300 foot well by an electric pump. Often times we would lose electrical power for various reasons but it was only a minor inconvenience except for the fact we lost our drinking water supply! The electric water pump of course ceased operating when the power went out.

To offset the loss of their water supply people out there kept rainwater barrels strategically placed around their houses, barns and outbuildings to catch rain water running off the roofs. We had to use water from those barrels quite often. As a result, even today I have a catch-water system of four barrels. More people need to be storing water for emergencies.

The barrels I use are obtained from the Habitat For Humanity Restore Store for $20. I connect the barrels with PVC pipe. See photos attached. Very simple system that could come in real handy. These barrels are collecting water from my workshop which is 24x16 feet. I could easily have 20 of these positioned around the shop and store up to 1,000 gallons of water.

Collecting rainwater is even more important in dry climates, and fortunately there are resources to help desert-dwellers, such as the Phoenix Permaculture Guild.

Here's the thing about modern infrastructure systems like municipal waterworks: they are extremely vulnerable to disruption. Any system which has poor/no redundancy is more vulnerable than a system with redundancy. Any system with chokepoints is more vulnerable than systems without chokepoints.

Thus the Internet is more robust than most systems because traffic can be rerouted around overloaded nodes. But even the Internet is vulnerable to disruption or failure at key trans-ocean nodes where the fiber optic cables come ashore.

If a water main breaks somewhere in town, you may well lose your water pressure. There usually isn't another water main which can be activated to replace the broken one.

We have been lulled into complacency by the seeming robustness of our infrastructure. But all our major systems: energy, electricity, water and transport--are in reality quite vulnerable due to chokepoints, long, fragile supply lines, lack of redundancy, and so on.

I store about 100 gallons of water in recycled one-gallon milk containers but I am pondering where I can add a rain catchment barrel inobtrusively. Maybe you should, too, if you don't already.

Thank you, Morris, for sharing an excellent preparedness idea.

B>Further Research Required: Correspondent Chuck D. sent in these notes on the rain barrels and types of roofing:

Living where I have municipal water, I looked at this issue sometime ago. In my research I found a number of references stating that you cannot collect rainwater off a composition or shingle roof for human consumption because the water will leach chemicals out of the shingles as it runs off. You can use it for laundry, flushing commodes, bathing, but not for drinking, cooking and doing dishes. The only roofing you can collect water from for consumption, cooking and dishes are slate, tile and metal (steel/aluminium).

I see by the picture your correspondent sent along he has the blue barrels. As you probably are aware, these plastic storage devices such as barrels are color coded to tell you what their use is. Blue indicates they are food safe and that you can store liquids in them and they will remain safe for human consumption. Chemicals from the plastic used will not leach into the liquid being stored in them.

However, I also see that the roof on the shed appears to be a standard shingle roof. If so, then my understanding is that he CANNOT store this water for drinking and cooking. But since he has the blue barrels, it suggests that is why he doing so. If I am correct, he may want to rethink his method and you need to offer up this disclaimer and recommend readers do their own research on these issues.

Thank you, Chuck. As a camper--and that's what we will become in an emergency, campers-- water collected off shingle roofing will certainly have plenty of uses. But storing potable (drinking/cooking) water in one or five-gallon containers makes sense, too. A good water filter is also an important preparedness tool, and some research is required as some filter out organisms while others also claim to remove chemicals.

Correspondent Ishabaka also has a rainwater catchment system and he made this suggestion:

As for an inobtrusive system - check out Krylon Fusion plastic spray paint. You can make those blue rain barrels the same color as your house. Really makes a difference. I used to have to order it from an art supply store, but now Home Depot and Lowes carry it.

Thank you, Ishabaka.

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