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Image of two rain barrelsIf you are looking for ways to save on your water bills and ensure that your plants don't suffer in the next drought, consider an old-fashioned technology - rainwater harvesting with rain barrels.

You can buy or make a rain barrel. If you have a lot of plants to care for, consider linking several together to increase your storage capacity. Rain barrels can be purchased at a variety of retail centers or made by using simple materials. If you are a resident of County Water District #1 (Mount Vernon, Scarsdale, White Plains, and Yonkers) you can obtain free rain barrels when making an appointment at the Household Material Recovery Facility. If you have a lot of plants to care for, consider linking several together to increase your storage capacity.

Catching and saving rainwater is nothing new. Generations ago, families saved water in barrels, ponds or cisterns for use in watering plants, washing clothes and even drinking. Such water-saving is still common in many parts of the world.

Using native and other drought-tolerant plants can reduce your garden’s water consumption. Limiting the amount of space devoted to thirsty lawn grass can also reduce water demand. But saving rainwater is also a great way to reduce your need for municipal water supplies.

Rather than channeling rain water through downspouts onto lawns or into storm drains, you can store large amounts of water in a rain barrel. There are manufactured rain barrels on the market, or you can construct your own with large plastic drums or even garbage cans. One of the simplest systems is made up of several barrels connected with pipe; a spigot is attached low on each barrel and an overflow drain on the last barrel in line directs any extra water to a safe location.

Some simple planning will prevent the most common problems with rain-saving.

  • Use a tight-fitting, light-blocking lid to keep children and animals out of the water and stop the development of algae or mosquito breeding.
  • Add a screen to keep leaves and other debris out of the water.
  • Use an overflow device to direct excess water away from your home’s foundation when the tank is full.
  • Monitor the cistern to ensure intakes and overflows aren’t blocked.

Note: Water stored in this system is not potable unless treated, and should not be used as drinking water.

If this all seems like a lot of work for a little water, remember that one inch of rain falling on 1,000 square feet of roof adds up to 623 gallons. That’s enough to keep a lot of plants happy!