How to Conserve Water by Harvesting Rain or Snow
When I was young many families in my town in China had a large jug or tank in the courtyard that collected rain water. In my family the water is usually used to water plants or raise goldfish. Some families also used the water to wash their clothes or toilets. In some areas the water is also used for drinking after boiling or other treatment. Recently rainwater harvesting is becoming more popular in America and states such as Arizona and New Mexico are adopting laws that mandate rainwater harvesting for new buildings. Here are some tips on how you can harvest rain or snow and conserve water.
The simplest way to collect rainwater is to just put large containers outside on the roof or in the yard. This is basically what we did in China. However, you would need a large surface area to collect enough usable water. Another simple method to collect rainwater is to use some rain barrels. These large barrels with a spigot are commercially available. They collect the rain water that come from a roof's rain gutter or downspout and multiple barrels can be linked for more water storage. If you are the do-it-yourself type, here is a great video from HGTV on how to make your own rain barrel.
In areas with snow, it is possible to harvest quite a bit of water every winter by simply saving snow in large tanks or barrels. Once the snow melts you will have a good amount of water stored up. This is fairly simple to do as long as you have space for the containers. If you have to shovel snow out of your driveway anyway then it does not hurt to save some of it for later use.
If you do start to collect rain or snow as a water supply then you should have some covering on these large containers so that pets and kids will not fall into them. Also, you should check with your locality to see the legality of collecting and using rainwater. Apparently in Utah and Washington State, it is illegal to collect water from the roof unless the owner of the roof also owns the water rights on the ground. In Colorado rainwater collection was just recently legalized. In Portland you would need a permit for the indoor use of rainwater.
Generally, you should not drink the water you collect because there are various forms of pollution and dirt as rain falls onto various surfaces. It is possible to set up a treatment system that cleanses the water to make it drinkable, but the systems could be costly. The most economic use of collected water is probably gardening since plants thrive on rain anyway. The collected water can also used for the following purposes:
- Washing vehicles or buildings
- Flushing or washing toilets
- Mopping the floor
- Recharge the aquifer by redirecting water from storm drains
Drinkable water is actually a very precious resource and Americans often waste it because it just does not seem very expensive. Having your own rainwater supply will probably not cut your water bills significantly unless you invest in a full treatment system and stop using municipal water all together. Even if you do not go to that extreme, using stored rainwater is great for the environment and would definitely help in times of drought when water usage restrictions are in place.