Saving rainwater is great for a variety of reasons. For those who live in an urban area and are a part of a city’s water system, saving rainwater can be a way to irrigate ones’ garden, not only conserving resources, but saving money. For homesteaders or those that live in a dry climate, it could be a practical necessity. There are many ways to collect rainwater and store it, which are comparable to the many reasons one would do it. Let’s take a look at a couple different systems and their use.
The Rain Barrel
A rain barrel catches the run-off that comes off of a house or out-building’s roof. Your gutters and downspouts are connected to a plastic barrel that will store this water. Rain barrels can be linked together to store as much water as you want. This could be an option for people living in wet climates. In the American Pacific Northwest, for example, a rain barrel could overflow over the span of a couple rainy winter days.
A rain barrel needs a filter of some kind placed at the mouth of your downspout, so that large particulate matter, like old leaves, doesn’t fill your barrel. An overflow pipe (made out of PVC) should be installed near the top of the barrel, to channel overflow. You can channel it to another barrel, if you want to link them, as mentioned. A rain barrel needs to be elevated on a sturdy stand of some kind, as most have a spigot near the bottom and gravity will generate enough water pressure to run a hose from it.
You can buy one pre-made or make one yourself. The latter option requires little expertise to execute and there are a wealth of plans and how-to’s on the internet, to let you do it yourself.
A swale is a build-up of earth to channel and store water in a low depression, not quite a ditch. Placing one is a thought, as water follows gravity. Placing one in low area will collect excess water. The idea of a swale is to hold water. You could connect it to a gray water system or the overflow pipe of your rain barrel. Planting marsh plants that can handle lots of water will make the swale more attractive. Here’s a bit more information regarding swales (http://www.eoearth.org/article/Bioswale?topic=58075). The next step up, however, is the backyard wetland.
The Backyard Wetland
A backyard wetland is a home-scale micro-habitat which can include aquatic plants, fish and waterfowl. It should have organic, curved edges and the edges should have a gradual decline to the water, so that songbirds can use your wetland. Features such as waterfalls and bridges can be installed.
The basic principle is that of the swale, except now the water and the space around it intentionally becomes a more complex, nuanced ecosystem (your swale, left to its own devices would become the same, though in ways you may not desire). A good backyard wetland is the work of a Permacultural landscaper, but you can try it out. Just start out with something small and manageable and expand it once you’re comfortable. Or just dive right in if that’s your thing.
Author and Permaculturalist Toby Hemenway has a lot to say about wetlands in his book Gaia’s Garden.