Collect Water from the Roof? How? Where?

My neighbor, Robinson, has been collecting water only from the roof of his garage for the last two years. He has given me a very big challenge, and at the same time, the challenge brings a heartache. I know I should do what he has done. But what part of my garden has to make way for the rain collection system?

Do I really have to do this to 1) be safe in an emergency or 2) to rely less on fragile water services and more on myself? Do I really have to rip out that beautiful Japanese maple? Those Roses? The clematis climbing up that downspout?

I’ll show you the problem. Here is my backyard, in winter, behind the garage. Not much room left, eh?

That’s Icarus, by metal sculptor, John Richen, hanging on the garage. I think his unwarranted bravado about the sun is akin to my wish to ignore the future of water in our world.

And here, below, a photo of the most likely downspout for us to use collecting water from the house. Smack in the middle of social life. The grand kids love to play with that farm pump.

The third photo, below, is the collection tank behind the garage of my neighbor. As you can see, he has foregone a good bit of potential plant life to make water collection viable for the rest of his yard.

400 gal tank and 55 gal barrel IMG_3784(1)

And there lies the heartache for a plant lover who also wants to be more self-reliant when it comes to water. Where shall we put the tank, and what plants shall we do away with?

Robinson has two types of collection barrels. One passively collects 55 gallons of water as the rains come. The other is a 400 gallon tank that fills from the garage gutters.

The 400 gallon tank was a gift from a friend. Robinson had a concrete pad poured for the weight of the water he expected. And because the mechanicals on the tank are somewhat below the level of the bottom of the tank, he had to raise the tank on four piers of bricks and wood. (See photo of bottom of tank.)

Robinson had some fence post four by fours and some two by fours. He had caulking glue, so applied that to the bricks to help hold them still on the concrete pad while he worked the tank into place. Next he stacked the wood evenly on top of the bricks. When he was satisfied that all was going to sit level, Robinson placed the tank on top. I believe this was a group effort, maybe some after party happening, but I didn’t ask Robinson how he levitated his tank into place. And I should.

The fifty-five gallon tank sits next to the 400 gallon tank and collects some overflow but also fills naturally with rain.

Robinson has put filtering screen over both tanks (and another 55 gallon tank that he has in front of his house). He was warned by his neighborhood hardware dealer to steer clear of galvanized screening because it can add toxins to the water. Galvanization is a zinc coating on steel or iron screening.

As you can see from the photo above, Robinson used his original garage gutters, taking them apart and redirecting both of them toward the 400 gallon tank.

Double hose bib under tank IMG_3786

Double hose bib

Robinson uses his water to care for his vegetable garden and his collection of blueberry bushes. He has rigged it with a double hose bib, two openings at the bottom. One opening leads to a hose which acts as his back-flow release, or can be used to hand water pots. That hose hangs on a decorative shepherd’s crook about 5 feet above the bottom of the tank. The potential siphon is available whenever he lowers the hose. This makes emptying to clean easier.

The second hose opening leads to the small pipes that water his vegetable garden. Robinson cut a trench under the concrete walkways in order to take water to every part of his garden. Now, the only thing he needs in his garden is a little more sun.

He guesses that a year’s worth of Portland rain will fill his big tank 6 times over. And that’s from just the garage roof – approximately a 20’ by 10’ building.

Imagine what could be happening if we each collected water from our house roofs.

Robinson says, “I’d like to add an aqueduct from the house gutters to this tank, but I might not be able to build it up to the neighbors’ aesthetic expectations.”

True. The bar set by the Romans is high.

So, he’s hoping soon to buy another 400 gallon tank and shuffle water from the house gutters into it. The location of his second big tank is yet to be decided. Some plants will have to go. Or at least move.

Which brings us back to my problem, and I suspect it will be a problem for most garden lovers. What space can I use? What do I have to give up to do what I know I should do? There is a farm pump and barrel with water plants right next to the most important house downspout. And then there is the exuberant growth that happens by summer in back of our garage as in this photo to the right.

All is difficult to give up to barrels. But water is needed. More and more, we should collect it. Where would you put a collection system?

Send me your thoughts.

Next time, the costs and the cleaning and maintenance processes will be explored. And, if you send ideas and photos, we’ll see what you have done or plan to do to collect water.

I’m sure a tank soon will go somewhere in our yard. My poor beautiful roses…

Icarus, who hangs on our garage, is already crying.