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Is a rain barrel system worth it...

 
Posts: 51
Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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Ok maybe this is a dumb question but I'm trying to understand if there would be any real benefit to installing a rain barrel catchment system off my greenhouse roof since the excess water from rain would just end up back in the ground where my well pulls it from anyways?

Our entire neighborhood is outside of town so not municipal water, all the wells in the area take from the same deep underground aquafer. Our well is the deepest at 800ft but we have two 900gal water tanks that automatically fill from the well when the buoy is triggered (we installed these to save the tiny pump at the bottom of the 800 ft from dying, it would cycle every time someone so much as turned a tap on.)

There is a baseline well at the bottom of the entire development that measures the water level month by month for every year since these properties started being build maybe 12 years ago, and each year more development goes in, a couple more wells drilling down to the aquafer. The baseline well shows that the aquafer is slowly dropping, even though it replenishes during the rainy season, it never gets back up to the original depth it was at when the well was installed 12 years ago.

I'm super concerned by this, mostly my neighbours are snooty developers and contractors with 4000-7000 sqr ft homes, these properties waste a lot of water. What can I do to avoid being a part of this problem? Is there a point to catching the rain water off my greenhouse?

I have a reparian area downhill from my orchard and garden and small livestock that is considered repairian status because it was classed as a salmon something or other, in reality it is a trickling swamp stream, and gets dryer every year as homes upstream break the rules and fill in their repairian areas or develop over them. I have a big weeping willow down there and lots of cedar and fir as well.

Any tips of how to think about water in this neighborhood?
 
pollinator
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I don't think barrels are worthwhile.  A big rain tank is good to have in case of drought or other emergency.  Think a couple thousand gallons or more.

Rain is most efficiently stored in the soil.  All urban and suburban areas can benefit from earth shaping to harvest rainwater.  The best resource I have found is https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

If every land owner (or even a significant number) implemented these techniques we could solve all our water problems very quickly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw&t=347s
 
pollinator
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It depends!  For a small urban or suburban property, I think they are a good idea, particularly if there are plants that need hand watering (planters, pots, greenhouse plants, etc);  or for an area without access to other water sources (we put one up near our little goldfish pond so we didn't have to drag the hose over to top it up).  I have four, totaling about 700L, and they are mainly used for watering my patio plants and for my poultry.  We get fairly consistent rainfall, even in summer, so there is usually fresh rainwater on hand.  I live on a very small suburban property.

I don't know if rain barrels are worth it for larger/more rural properties with their own well--I agree with tanks, as Tyler suggests.  Then again, your greenhouse plants/houseplants might prefer fresh rainwater over well water, so you could install one or two barrels just for them.


 
pollinator
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I think it really does depend on your situation.  If your garden is next to your greenhouse, and you have to drag a hose 300 feet from your house spigot to get it to the garden, a few hundred gallons coming off the greenhouse roof and stored right next to your garden could be a great thing.  It's very easy to connect 10 water barrels together with a minimal amount of PVC, and you can get used food-grade 55 gal barrels for $5 each (or at least I can).  That's 550 gals of water stored for a very low cost system that will last for generations.  Maybe now I only have to connect a 25 foot hose to get to the garden and don't have to run all the way back to the house to turn the water on and off.

I would love to have a large 2000 gal tank like Tyler is talking about, but the cost (or labor) is much higher and I probably won't be in the position to do it any time soon.  I also agree that earth works are a better option to store very large amounts of water, but there is no reason you can't do both if your circumstances make them both a good idea.
 
pollinator
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I don't know about the water rules in Canada, but here in Oregon, without irrigation rights, the only way that I can sell produce, is if it's watered without well water. So, for me, rainwater catchment is a must. Well water is only for domestic use.
 
pollinator
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I think it is worth it to get the barrels because any friends or family that comes over or even strangers that walk by and see it will think about it, and maybe years later be a bit more water conscious. But at a more personal and immediate level, I think that your tank should be sized to hold 1inch/1week worth of rain. So a greenhouse that is 1000sqft should have a 623gallon tank (500sqft=311gallon or IBC tote tank). You could then take that 1 inch of rain and then provided all the water that your greenhouse needs.

You could probably use this water twice wash clothes and then to water some plants/soil life, and the s 3rd time to recharge the aquifer.

Based on what I have seen it takes  24+ years for rainfall to make it to the aquifers, and from the unconfined reacharge zone to under your land, thousands to millions of years. No wonder some call it fossil water. In fact the water that falls over your land might never reach the aqufier wll water that you are pumping up.



 
gardener
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Aida,

I am going to take the view that rain catchment might be worth it if you really experience water shortages.  You stated that the water not caught in barrels will simply seep into the ground where it will end up in the aquifer.  This probably is not going to happen.  Most rain not actually caught by barrels, tanks or even ponds is not going to seep down, but rather run off.  Even the water that does seep down takes its sweet time reaching the aquifer, as in it might take a generation depending on the depth of your well.  Bottom line:  water not caught is probably wasted.

Now is this economical?  That I just can’t answer.  If you have a good well and no realistic chance of it running dry, then I would say no.  But if your groundwater is precarious, then a tank or cistern, or even a pond or barrels might be both affordable and handy.

I wish I could be more specific.

Eric
 
gardener
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I would definately catch water and use it for the greenhouse. I think it would be very beneficial for the plants. My guess is that the water coming up from a well that deep will be over mineralized.

A small inexpensive barrell setup can be added to overtime. Maybe condider an ibc tote which would hold 5 or 6x's what a barrel would hold. While there is a small cost to used ibc totes,  the plumbing threads are built in, saving some engineering work on your part.
 
Aida Alene
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Tyler Ludens wrote:https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

If every land owner (or even a significant number) implemented these techniques we could solve all our water problems very quickly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw&t=347s


Thankyou, I will have to check these out!
 
Aida Alene
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I'm using mobile so it's difficult to use the HTML to quote whoever I'm replying to. Thankyou all for your thoughtful advice.

In reference to the aquafer. Every rainy season its levels rise drastically, just never to where it was at before all these wells were tapped into it. So the rain must be getting down to the aquafer in short order no?

I had thought of the IBC tote, and I know a good place to get them, they are just very space consuming and my greenhouse is smack in the middle of my garden. I do have water very close by so that's not an issue

I had not considered the mineralization of the water, it is definately hard water. Very delicious, not sulphuric like so many of the dug and shallow wells in my region.

We do have the two 800 gallon tanks for back up already that pull from the well. All the water that runs off the greenhouse would trickle through the garden, but in the rainy season that's a lot of water. I might start with a few 55gallon barrels and see how that goes for us.
 
pollinator
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Aida Alene wrote:I

In reference to the aquafer. Every rainy season its levels rise drastically, just never to where it was at before all these wells were tapped into it. So the rain must be getting down to the aquafer in short order no?



Not necessarily. what is probably happening is that the amount of water being removed is lessening in the rainy season so the draw down cones are filling in, which would also explain why it never recovers to the same level as before


If water were getting down to the aquifer as fast as you are suggesting then the aquifer would not be potable as all surface contaminants would also be getting down there.

If you make an assumption that the aquifer is a regular shape and the rock has equal porosity and permeability throughout. then you can record how much lower your water drops each year and soon calculate how long you have left on your existing well. Of course this is only a rough guess as the aquifer will not meat the conditions I set out but it's still better than nothing. Unfortunately for you even if you personlay never draw on it again your neighbours will still run it down. What might be an idea especialy if you think the well will run dry is to start thinking about saving for a large buried water tank taken from all your roofs that can supply a much larger proportion of your water needs.

 
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I have two barrels and use them often during the  growing season. They are placed where they are handy, so no need to install pipes and faucets.
 
gardener
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First off, I want to say that this is not a stupid question.  You are concerned about your aquifer!  That is important, not just for you or your neighborhood, but for the long term health of the greater ecological communities around you.  It is also not a stupid question because water is the thing that the permaculture books say we need to focus on first.  Before roads and structures, and gardens, and trees:  Water.  You need to figure out your water.   Very important, and not stupid.   ... and a rain barrel, or tank contains water that falls from the sky for free.  Free.  Let that sink in, because as you mentioned, you are paying for pumps, and the electricity to pump them, to get you water, water that is depleting measurably in a quick time frame, largely from the excesses of others.  What's that going to be like with 30 years of further development?  It sounds like you have minimal water needs in comparison to some of your neighbors, but what are your needs/volumes exactly?  I'm not asking for my interest, but for yours.  You need to figure out what your water needs are, and figure out whether you can supply that from your rain... from your roof catchments.    

When I lived on Haida Gwaii, in my small off-grid cabin, I lived completely off my food-grade rain barrel that took water off less than half of the roof, a surface well at the garden (used rarely and only for gardening), and saltwater for washing.  On that island, there was pretty much year-round rain, in total abundance.  I had small water needs (being a single guy with a voluntary simplicity lifestyle), and I still reduced my demands because I loved the project of it.  The usefulness of any permaculture tool is in its context.  A rain barrel or tank is only as good as the uses that you put that water to, so if you were to build a massive tank out of ferroconcrete and then not use much of it, then that's a lot of money, time, and space taken up for little gain.  Permaculture should be all about getting the best bang for the buck.  The most uses out of a system.  Economy is your connection to ecos.  

Your rainfall situation is very important to consider.  Some of Vancouver Island has a summer drought.  It isn't West Texas or central Arizona, but it's dry.  So the context of rainfall at your location, and your water needs, and your ability to use that water effectively are all parts of the puzzle.  You can build a rainwater system to sustain you through your year, but you have to know what that amount is to calculate for the best investment.  You might be able to get that data from Environment Canada.  

Is it worth it?  It depends on whether you make it worth it.  Build your context around it, and it is very worth it.  

In then end, if you don't create a rainwater system and the aquifer drops more dramatically, and the regional district or municipality decided that there will be water restrictions, or you need to replace pumps and the economy has collapsed, or any number of other near future potentialities arises, then you might be out of luck, while the ones who can afford to will continue on with their lifestyle.  Not wanting you to be living in or acting out of fear.  Be rational about it, and figure out how to ensure that your needs are met.

As far as the aquifer goes, you might be able to form a group of concerned citizens who create an awareness campaign about the measured decreases in the deep water, and educate the developers and land owners about the need to develop a new water strategy.  Make it all about them and their interest, not about you and yours.  Make it about you as a community.   Even rainforests can have forest fires... a depleted aquifer is one way to stress trees, kill trees, increase the fuel load, and turn a lightning strike into a catastrophe.      
   
 
Aida Alene
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Skandi Rogers wrote:
Not necessarily. what is probably happening is that the amount of water being removed is lessening in the rainy season so the draw down cones are filling in, which would also explain why it never recovers to the same level as before ... What might be an idea especialy if you think the well will run dry is to start thinking about saving for a large buried water tank taken from all your roofs that can supply a much larger proportion of your water needs.



Thanks for the clarification, I had not considered your explanation.

Our well will likely be the last to run dry, we have by far the deepest, not sure why, the original builder was also the owner so he may have invested in the Xtra depth thinking he was building his permanent home. A neighbour walked by a few summers ago who had recently moved to town and said her well runs dry all the time in summer if she's not super careful. And yet many of the neighbours still water their lawns all summer while the municipality is on water restrictions (we are outside city limits and thus have much lower regulations). It is definately frustrating knowing that if I go out of my way to spare the aquafer, the rest of the houses will not and eventually it is likely to run out. This is not a neighborhood of environmentally concerned citizens, quite the opposite.
 
Aida Alene
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:  It sounds like you have minimal water needs in comparison to some of your neighbors, but what are your needs/volumes exactly?  I'm not asking for my interest, but for yours.  You need to figure out what your water needs are, and figure out whether you can supply that from your rain... from your roof catchments.    


Yes, our well is the deepest, and unfortunately this neighborhood is almost entirely made up of contractors, developers and other high society types that have a lot of money and don't think the environment is a concern. I'm almost looking forward to the day the wells start running dry.......

I share the property with several others and we don't always see eye to eye on best practices, I'm not sure a huge water catchment system would go over well, the others tend to see the well as sustainable . Only so many battles I can win! I thought I'd try to do what I could with the greenhouse roof

Roberto pokachinni wrote:
When I lived on Haida Gwaii, in my small off-grid cabin, I lived completely off my food-grade rain barrel that took water off less than half of the roof, a surface well at the garden (used rarely and only for gardening), and saltwater for washing.  On that island, there was pretty much year-round rain, in total abundance.  
   


Yes, I'm on a part of the island that experiences that summer drought that has become ever more common. I foresee a huge fire year this coming summer.

I am eager to learn techniques that help the soil retain moisture around where I plant trees and such. We are at 800ft elevation on rocky bluffs, the soil is fill or just mountainous so I've brought it a lot of nearby manure and debris for compost over the years. Being up here has huge advantages (very little garden pests and diseases, very good sun exposure, new clean ground that hasnt had diseased or sick livestock on it, no crops being sprayed nearby)

 
master gardener
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Yes, Environment Canada has the info, but it can be a little tricky to find. I will post the link for Victoria International Airport, which may have a similar pattern to what Aida gets in other areas of Vancouver Island, particularly the interior or the eastern side:
https://climate.weather.gc.ca/climate_normals/index_e.html   (OK, it wouldn't post the picture, but this link might work - Dinosaur Jay strikes out again)

Baring this in mind, the biggest issue I see is that the plants want to grow in the warm sunny summer when there's no rain, and all the rain comes when you don't need it! So most of the people I've met on the Island who want to truly be water independent, do *really* serious storage in huge tanks or salvaged above-ground swimming pools etc. Also, having used barrels, they either need to be elevated to give a little water pressure, or have the whole top removable so you can dip your watering can all the way in, or they just take too much time. In a perfect world, putting a large tank in on the highest area of the property would be worth it even if you had to pump the water up there, since electricity on Vancouver Island in the winter is mostly water powered, but in the summer, may come from fossil fuels, and the water is being pumped *much* farther out of the aquifer! The cheapest I've seen for food grade barrels is $15 and it's not like a bunch will fit in the back of a car, so unless you're traveling by a source regularly, it will take a *lot* of them to do much good.

I'll also add, especially in a fancy neighborhood, disguising and shading any water storage system is worth the effort. As much as I would *love* to have the largest water tank we could have transported onto and positioned on our property, I'd choose a spot to plant it that would be a happy place for plants also.

I also noticed that Aida posted this thread: https://permies.com/t/132224/ISO-recommended-reading-restoring-manmade  - so in the permaculture way of "the problem is the solution", chopping down rotted trees and letting them sit on the ground as giant sponges, replacing them with a mixed forest with plenty of deciduous trees and a large variety of long and short-lived trees and shrubs that will shade the forest floor and putting lots of "potholes" where rainfall will collect and seep in, rather than running off will help both the forest *and* the aquifer. If a bunch of those new trees and shrubs happen to be useful for food, fuel, nitrogen or medicine, you will get at least some direct benefit. That said, with the mentioned fire risk, smaller branches that aren't in firm contact with the ground, I'd consider chipping or using in garden beds where they can be dug in. Big logs on the ground don't seem to be the same fire risk as lots of little stuff - I believe it's a "surface area" issue.
 
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I'm another who gets major convenience from my rain barrels for watering. I also live in a place where we have an enormous aquifer, but where more and more people are using the water, and I also like to think of it (and encourage other people to think of it) as a precious resource, whether it gets replaced or not. Plus plants really do like rainwater!
 
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