Magazine article Sunset

Here Come the Cisterns Again

Magazine article Sunset

Here Come the Cisterns Again

Article excerpt

Here come the cisterns again Before modern methods of piping water into homes existed, cisterns--large tanks or reservoirs for storing water--were common sights in households from ancient Egypt to gold rush California. Around the turn of the century, most country homes in the United States still used cisterns to provide water.

With the development of piped-in water in major cities in the mid-1800s, water used skyrocketed from 3 gallons of water per person per day to 40 to 60 gallons. Now, the average home uses 150 to 200 gallons per person per day. With increasing demands on community water systems, escalating water costs, and possible contamination of water from industrial waste, captured rainfall offers a usable source of high-quality water.

Cisterns come in all sizes and shapes, from simple rain barrels to elaborate underground systems that collect, filter, and store water. From California to New Mexico, gardeners collect hundres to thousands of gallons annually by using the innovative techniques shown on these five pages.

Use captured rainfall

to green your garden One of the first areas to suffer or to be e targeted for conservation in times of drought is the garden. Dpending on its size and the plants' water demands, 45 to 70 percent of household water consumption is for the landscape. Many cites in the arid West already have some conservation measures in effect. By collecting rainfall, gardeners can keep their landscapes green without incurring high water bills or surpassing community limits set by water districts.

Cisterns can also protect investments in expensive landscaping against temporary expensive landscaping against temporary droughts, and provide an emergency supply of water. Although studies show that Western rainfall has increased in acidity in recent years, rainwater is not a danger to home gardens. Many Southwestern gardens have the opposite problem--tap water with such a high mineral content that it may burn some plants.

With additional plumbing and adequate storage space, the collected water can also be used for laundry and toilets. But unless you test its quality and purify it, don't consume capture rainfall.

Anyone with a roof can capture rainfall

The amount of annual rainfall and the sixe of the catchment surface--roofs, driveways, patios--determine how much water can be collected yearly. The roof of a modest-size house in an area with moderate rainfall (18 inches annually--the average amount received by much of the central California coast) can collect about 12,000 gallons of water a year.

Simple calculations and graphs can help you figure how much water you can collect and how much is needed by a household (for a list of helpful references, see page 260). However, most houses don't have enough space to store more than a few thousand gallons of water. In the future, neighborhood systems may turn out to be a cost-efficient source of high-quality water.

Parts of a system

Underground and aboveground cisterns use the same methods to catch and channel water to the collection area. Beyond this point, the systems differ in the way they filter and store it. Aboveground cisterns are easier and less expensive to install since the tank isn't buried and the filter is just a simple piece of screen set in the gutter system. On the other hand, underground cisterns are generally considered more permanent.

The catchment surface. This can be a roof, driveway, patio, or road. Before a rainy period, they must be cleaned of leaves and debris to prevent the system from clogging. …

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