April has been a good month for finishing projects: first the fence, and now, a rainwater catchment system off the chicken pen!
Capturing rain is a no brainer. Regardless of your climate, it is an easy way to be a steward to the environment. If you are unfamiliar with rain catchment, you can read about the benefits here, or check out Brad Landcaster’s work. In California, where we have a (in theory) wet season and a dry season, it allows us to spread the rainfall out a little bit longer, and delaying the need to use municipal or well water. However, this active method of capturing and storing water some planning and infrastructure to make it happen. Installing a rain catchment system been a project on the want list for a very long time. When we built the hen house and run during the first year, we left enough space between the structures and the fence with the intention of locating a system there. Finally, its done!
I chose to put in a Blue Barrel System because I wanted an easy to install system that I knew would work- I didn’t want to have to figure out what parts were needed and how to piece something together myself. Plus, I’m supporting a local Sonoma County business, and my friend, Jesse, who founded Blue Barrel Systems. I met Jesse in the fellowship program of the Leadership Institute for Ecology & Economy, and our fellows project was to analyze the policy surrounding existing rainwater harvesting codes in Sonoma County, and provided recommendations for amending or implementing legislation for making harvesting easy and legal.
Using these 55-gallon drums that would normally be destined for the waste stream, you join as many barrels as you want together, by daisy-chaining them with simple plumbing. All the barrels fill and empty as one, and are filled via a diverter on an existing downspout, so you don’t have to worry about creating an overflow pipe. You’re responsible for the 3/4″ schedule 40 PVC and the cinder blocks that make the foundation, but Blue Barrel Systems coordinates the pickup of the barrels, and then ships you all the plumbing, tools and parts needed to install them yourselves.
The first step to getting the system is to order online. The website is super easy to use, and you simply select how many barrels you want. Each barrel needs a 2×2′ space, and I could fit 15 in the space behind the chicken coop. I already had two barrels, originally from Kendall Jackson, that I traded eggs for with a neighbor, so I only ordered 13 barrels but plumbing for 15. Then, you get an email with a location of the barrels. Mine were located in Healdsburg, and were previously used for hot sauce. Then, a few days later, I got a box with detailed instructions, all the plumbing parts, tape, and glue!
Next step was to create a level pad for the barrels to sit on. I used scrap 2×4 to build a box, and then filled that with broken up tile that was saved from the kitchen remodel, and topped with pea gravel. Each barrel sits on 2 cinder blocks, which are centered on 2′.
Then, I followed the step-by-step instructions! It took me a couple of days, working on mornings before I had to go into work. None of it was outside of my physical capability, which was awesome because I could work on it by myself and not have to wait for Matt. It is recommended to glue all the main plumbing chain together, but I had a hard time keeping everything aligned, so I decided to connect the piping and barrels one by one. That worked great for me, and I was able to hook up all the barrels with no problem. I choose to locate the spigot on the garden side of the barrel chain, but I had a hard time committing to that, so instead of following the instructions and joining the last barrel with an elbow fitting, I extended the pipe and capped it. That way, if I want to move the spigot to the other end, I’ll just cut the cap off. I also accidentally pushed the rubber seal that was supposed to hold the inlet hose INTO the barrel, so I either need to get a new one, or unhook the barrel and fish it out.
The final step to completing my system was having the post inspection by the city for their rain harvesting rebate. Some places don’t allow rain harvesting, but thankfully, I don’t live in one of those places. It is highly encouraged in Sonoma County, and Santa Rosa will give you back $0.25 for every gallon of capacity you can harvest. Two very nice women came out this morning from the Water Use Efficiency Department and took note of how many gallons I set up, had me sign a form, and let me know I’d be getting a check for $206. For more information about the City of Santa Rosa’s rebate programs, look here. Even though I’m in county, because I’m on city water, I’m eligible for their rebates.
My roof catchment area is 200 square feet. In one inch of rain, that will yield about 125 gallons. My barrel system is 825 gallons, so I’ll need about 6 and half inches of rain to fill it. Based on the past winters, it seems that is about our new winter average. When they are full, I’ll get a small pump to pressurize the system and run through drip to my fruit trees. If you want to find out how many gallons you can collect off your roof, follow this simple equation: catchment area x inches x 0.623 = gallons harvested. (ex: 200 square feet of roof x 1 inch of rain x 0.623 = 124.6 gallons)
I spent $612.00 for my 15 barrel system, but I already had 2 barrels and all of the tools (except the bung wrench- which I had to borrow from Jesse). If you put in a system, make sure to buy one with your kit, you can’t find them locally. I didn’t price out how much it would have been for me to buy the barrels and all the parts on my own, but not having to take a billion trips to the hardware store was priceless, so I consider it a well worth it purchase. With my rebate factored in, I paid about $0.50 for a gallon of capacity, by far the least expensive option when it comes to buying tanks.
I poured water down the gutter to make sure everything worked, and found out that my gutter isn’t level, so it didn’t drain as well as it should have, and I think I need a larger downspout. The diverter is designed for a rectangular 2×3″ or 4×3″ pipe, but I have a 2″ round one, which didn’t seem to give enough gap between the pipe and the diverter inlet. I’ll be fixing those things soon, but otherwise, I’m just waiting for it to rain!