Harvesting Rainwater

Rain barrels and cisterns save money.

rain barrel collecting water from runoff of house

Rain barrels and cisterns are storage containers designed to collect stormwater. For rain barrels, that water is typically collected from a roof. For cisterns, that water can be from a roof or a surrounding surface such as a parking lot. Depending on the size, they can hold anywhere from 15 to 5,000 gallons of stormwater, which comes in handy during times of drought.

Use safely

Water coming off surfaces may contain contaminants making it unsafe for drinking. Stored water should only be used to water lawns and non-edible plants. 

Save money

Capturing and reusing rainwater can help reduce the water bills, especially when homeowners have installed multiple rain barrels. During the summer months, it is estimated that nearly 40% of household water is used for lawn and landscape maintenance. 

Many cities and districts offer rain barrel rebates or host reduced price sales. Contact your city’s public works office or sustainability officials for information on opportunities in your community. 

Follow these tips for capturing rainwater

  1. Find a suitable downspout on your property to locate your rain barrel, determine the barrel size that works best for you, and be sure that the chosen location is sturdy and able to hold the weight of a full barrel. The barrel should be elevated, so consider using concrete blocks to hold the barrel.  
  2. Where the downspout empties into the rain barrel, make sure a screen is installed to prevent debris and insects from entering the barrel. 
  3. The rain barrel should have an overflow. Consider directing the overflow into a nearby garden and away from any foundations. 
  4. To avoid mosquitos, keep the water moving by using the collected water within three days, if possible. Alternatively, use a bacterium larvicide. 
  5. Before freezing temperatures at the end of the season, disconnect your rain barrel from the downspout and empty any remaining water. 
Stormwater at Home – Ep 2: Rain Barrels

Water Quality Specialist Eliana Brown talks about rain barrels, showing you how to install one properly so that it continues to work trouble free.

Written by Eliana Brown and Abby Bobrow

Post-production by Tucker Good and John Cambiazo