How to Collect and Store Rainwater
Americans spend $16 billion per year on bottled water. According to the International Bottled Water Association, the average cost of bottled water is $1.27 per gallon or $1.11 per gallon. Bottled water is around 400 times more costly than tap water. That is a lot of money to spend on something that you can get free. When I say free, I am not referring to the stuff that comes out of your sink. Tap water costs money if you're paying for water, plumbing, rent, a filter, and so on. No, I am referring to an even cheaper source of water: Rain! Water falls from the sky, yet people are still paying for it. That is absurd on many levels. If you want to stop letting this natural resource go to waste, continue reading.
Before you begin the process of collecting rainwater, check your local laws. Some states or cities place restrictions on the amount of rainwater that you can have. You may need a permit to collect rainwater. You can find more information on your local rainwater collection laws here. If you need a permission slip, apply for one from your local environmental department. Now, if you were to ask me, the idea that you need a permit to collect rainwater is ridiculous. When it rains, am I breaking the law by getting wet? If my basement floods during a storm, will the police come knocking on my door and ask for a permit? Is the government trying to claim that they own the damn rain? States like Texas, Rhode Island, and Virginia encourage the collection of rainwater and offer tax exemptions when you purchase equipment. If only all of the US was as kind. I advise you to follow your local regulations to not get in any trouble. After you have double-checked to make sure everything is kosher, continue reading.
There are easy methods to collect rainwater and more sophisticated setups. A bowl placed in your backyard will collect rain, but not in an efficient manner. I would advise using a large plastic barrel, around 55 gallons, to store your water. The barrel should be a dark color to block light from entering into the container and promoting the growth of algae. Also, like our packaging, the barrel should be food safe.
Once you have your barrel:
- Drill a 5-inch hole at the top of the barrel, a 2-3 inches away from the edge.
- Cut out a 7 x 7 inch square of insect netting and glue it around this top hole to prevent mosquitoes and other insects from getting into your water supply.
- Drill a valve hole 2-3 inches up from the bottom of the barrel. Add a 1 3/4 inch faucet valve to this hole. Wrap the end of the faucet valve you are inserting into the hole with tape to waterproof it.
- Place your barrel on a sturdy foundation underneath one of your gutters downspouts. The barrel will need to be raised off the ground so that you can collect the water from the valve.
- Cut out a 12-inch section of your gutter's downspout. The first cut should be a foot above the barrel, and the top one should then be another 12 inches higher. After you remove the section, attach a rainwater diverter.
- Attach a first flush diverter to the rain filter diverter. This device collects the first few inches of rain and discards it in a flush system, removing debris like leaves, dirt, and bird droppings at the beginning of every downpour.
- Attach the flexible end of the first flush diverter onto the top hole of the barrel.
Now that your rainwater has the dirt, muck, leaves, and bugs filtered out of it, it's time to start cooking. Before you can drink your rainwater, you are going to need to run it through another round of filtration. The second round is to get any of the particulates that are left out. A charcoal filter or any filter used for tap water will work. After that, turn on the stove. You will want to boil your water for one minute. Boiling will kill any of the bacteria and pathogens that may be contaminating the water. You can also add small quantities of chlorine bleach to water, but I would not advise this course of action. Chlorine bleach is toxic in large doses, and will also give the water a chlorinated smell like pool water. Boiling is much simpler.
For convenient and secure water storage, pour your water into a large bottle pouch. These aluminum pouches are thick enough to prevent insects or rodents from chewing through the outer shell. They also help regulate the temperature of the water. The screw-on cap is capable of keeping the bags shut for extended periods.
Store your filled bottle pouches off of the ground, ideally in an airtight storage container. Every two or three months, test the PH levels of your water with water testing strips. These will determine if your water is still safe to drink. If the test strips indicate high levels of acidity, lead, or pesticides, discard it. Rainwater has different compositions based on the location you harvest it. Monitor these levels to prevent getting sick.
Collecting rainwater is a straight forward procedure. You set up a container to catch the sky drippings and call it a day. But, there are checks and measures that you need to take to ensure you are safely following the law. If you are interested in long term food preservation, consider reading our beef jerky packaging blog. Rainwater and homemade jerky? Yes, please.