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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Harvesting Rainwater

by Rebecca Selove

Tags: green building materials, LEED, green home, building a green home, sustainable architecture, tennessee, harvesting rainwater, rainwater harvesting, rainwater cisterns, rainwater catchment, rain barrels, rain barrel,

Our home is a rainwater harvesting tool. The roof was designed to capture 1200 gallons of water each time it rains an inch. The LEED rating system gives us four points for doing this, which is a pretty big pat on the back for reducing our dependence on the municipal water system. Our county’s building codes do not allow us to use that valuable rainwater for washing clothes or flushing our toilet, which we wanted to do. It will go to good use, nonetheless, for irrigating vegetables and blueberry bushes, and for hydrating a few cows and maybe some sheep.  

rainwater in the gutter
What type of rain barrel should accompany the new home? Photo Courtesy Rebecca Selove.

We don’t yet know where we will store the water. We’d hoped to find a bargain of a water tank a little town had outgrown, maybe a quaint round metal tower surrounded beautiful wood.  That hasn’t happened yet, so we are looking at polyurethane, concrete and metal cisterns, either above or below ground.

I believe that rainwater harvesting is good, and I also think that most cisterns are not very attractive. I think that we will use more resources if we dig a hole in the ground big enough to hold a 1700-gallon tank, which is what we have been told is our minimum, rather than plopping a 5 foot high green plastic tub beside our screened porch. As with many aspects of building a sustainable home, our decisions are affected by facts and our feelings.

We have gotten information about local contractors from our friend Gwen Griffith, Program Director of the Cumberland River Compact, and from Ronnie Barron, our local County Extension Agent. He has also provided some useful facts, such as these:  

• It takes approximately 27,000 gallons of water to supply 1 inch of irrigation to 1 acre. Most commercial vegetable growers try to supply at least 1 inch per acre per seven to 10 days. 

• Growing calves will consume about 5-15 gallons of water per day (depending on their size).
In evaluating our options, we are asking where and how the cistern is made, how durable will it be and what impact installation will have in the short- and long-term. Whether we bury it on a gravel bed or stand it above ground on a concrete pad, we’ll be using heavy equipment and hauling resources from off-site. It seems to me that over and over again we put our values on either side of a giant scale, weigh our options, and hope our final decision satisfies us for a long, long time.
I wonder how the facts will affect my perception of what is attractive.