Rainwater harvesting: Making the most of early spring showers
As we bid winter goodbye and say hello to spring, we’re in much better shape than we were a year ago. Cape dam levels are looking good and before spring gives way to summer, we’re likely to see the heavens open up a few more times. Make the most of these early spring showers. There’s no knowing what 2020 holds. Lessons learned in 2018 were jolly tough and we’d do well never to forget them.
What is rainwater harvesting?
Rainwater harvesting has been around for thousands of years, especially in far-flung rural areas, but our years of drought in the city were a big wake-up call that sent thousands of urbanites scuttling off to the rainwater tank shop. It simply means collecting and storing rainwater for later use. Rainwater is most often collected from the roof of a home or building, but other methods are also used. It could be as easy as placing a bucket under a gutter downspout, or going the whole hog by connecting the tank to your plumbing system. Other options include catchment systems above and underground, drip-irrigation systems, and professionally landscaped rain gardens. Specifications and costs will vary depending on your needs and preferences.
Even with the immediate pressure to conserve water off, we can’t afford to let our guard slip. The Cape is and will continue to be a water-scarce region. (The entire Southern Africa is considered water poor and likely to become even drier as the climate globally continues its journey of madness.) We can never go back to our bad old water-wasting habits. And rainwater harvesting is an excellent way to reduce your reliance on municipal water usage (and save on your utility bills!).
And your plan of action?
The practice of rainwater harvesting is only as good as your strategy to put that water to work. If you don’t use the water, the tank simply stays full and overflows each time it rains. Your garden doesn’t enjoy any benefit and you don’t conserve any water. So, be smart about using the water. Use it efficiently and regularly, whether for garden irrigation or other purposes. Without a plan, your harvesting effort is meaningless.
If you want to extend the use of your rainwater tank into the summer months, you need a tank large enough to harvest enough water to last you a little longer. If this is your objective, make sure the tank is on solid ground—water is heavy.
Benefits of rainwater harvesting
The initial outlay of installing a rainwater tank is quickly offset by several gains, not least environmental and economic benefits. Harvesting rainwater helps control storm-water runoff, which in turn can reduce soil-erosion in your garden. It also eases the burden on storm-water infrastructure and sewer systems, while helping reduce the likelihood of flooding, which saves money for municipalities and citizens alike.
Stored rainwater can be used outdoors and indoors, depending on your circumstances. You can use it for landscape irrigation, watering plants and gardens, flushing toilets, laundry and washing cars. If you want to use it as drinking water, you’d need to treat the water chemically. Get expert advice before you do this.
Rather than being completely dependent on municipal water, you can control how your water is sourced, treated and used. If you are fortunate enough to have the means and resources to sink a borehole on top of your rainwater harvesting effort, who knows? You might find yourself off the water grid entirely in two shakes of a dog’s tail.
Why it’s a good idea to harvest rainwater
- It nourishes the soil in your garden, giving life to vegetation and making it look beautiful
- It helps conserve water
- It’s environmentally friendly
- It reduces municipal water use, helping slash utility bills
- It helps solve drainage problems in urban areas
- It helps control flooding
- It can reduce soil erosion
- It’s relatively cheap to install