Harvesting rainwater for home gardens has become popular in many sections of the country — particularly in drought-prone areas. But is water collected in rain barrels safe to use and do you save enough money with lower municipal water usage to make them worthwhile?
Rain barrel systems are simple, and relatively cheap to assemble. The barrels, which come in different sizes, hold an average of about 55 gallons of water. The barrel is attached to the bottom section of a home’s downspout with a flexible conduit that feeds directly into the barrel. A piece of mesh screen keeps debris and insects from entering the barrel. A spigot mounted near the bottom of the barrel allows homeowners to attach a hose for watering.
The amount of money saved on water bills is fairly minimal but can be a good alternative in drought-prone areas where conservation efforts are crucial to maintaining an adequate supply of clean drinking water.
The price of rain barrels starts at $70, but can cost significantly more, depending on capacity and the complexity of attached irrigation equipment. Local and state governments and utility companies in drought-prone areas often offer rebates for buying rainwater collection systems. Others sell the equipment to customers at a discount.
Harvested rainwater should be limited to outdoor irrigation. Collected rainwater is not suitable for drinking or bathing — nor is it realistic to irrigate lawns because typical backyard rain barrels simply aren’t large enough. Rain barrel water is best used for ornamental flowerbeds and potted plants. There’s no clear answer on whether harvested rainwater is suitable for vegetable gardens. Some gardeners fear the water is contaminated by bird and other animal droppings. Another concern is water quality being compromised from asphalt roof runoff. To be safe, it’s best to limit rainwater to irrigation of ornamental plants.