Fresh water reserves are dwindling while demand is increasing. Drinking water is scarce and the problem, once isolated to third world countries or large deserts, is now happening right in our own backyards. Residents of North America and Europe are already facing watering restrictions and municipalities are scrambling to find new ways to supply increasing populations with potable water. To make matters worse farmers tap the aquifer to water their crops which in turn causes wells to dry up and sinkholes big enough to swallow whole apartment buildings.
Other than conserving water it is often difficult to see how we, as individuals, can help protects the planet's fresh water reserves. One such step is to learn about water resources to water plants and gardens and to catch the free fresh water falling from the sky using rain barrels. Fresh water captured and stored this way reduces run-off and can be used for weeks or months to water your plants depending on your watering needs.
What are your watering options?
Many areas offer four types of water to water your plants: Tap water(also called potable water), well water, reclaimed water and rain.
- Tap water comes from natural springs and rivers and is not an unlimited resource. The source of fresh water on earth is precipitation from the atmosphere, hence water levels of rivers and springs depend on rain and snowfall. While global warming has caused sever weather with devastating floods, very often this water is wasted by allowing it to run off into the sea. Over the past 20 years almost every city in the US has had some type of water restrictions in place. It’s the new normal affecting tap water availability.
- Well water tables are dependent on the amount of rain received in the region. Light showers will not affect well water levels. Surprisingly heavy rains typically will not affect the water table either because there is a greater chance for the rain to run off unused, in contrast to steady rain that allows the water to soak into the ground. It’s common for wells to run dry, especially when they are used on farms for extended periods of time. Public wells are regulated by the EPA, private wells are not. Watering with well water can be hazardous. Untested well water can contain bacteria, viruses and other contaminants. The occurrence of sinkholes has been linked to wells, in particular wells with heavy water usage.
- Reclaimed water is waste water from households, schools, offices, hospitals, commercial and industrial facilities that has been disinfected and treated to remove certain impurities and pathogens. Reclaimed water contains salt; water with salt is not the best solution for all plants. Reclaimed water typically does not carry a smell. If it does, it smells like chlorine, which is used in the process of reclaiming waste water for non-potable (non drinking water) use. Not every county in the country offers reclaimed water options, so this option might not be available to you.
- Rain is by far the best source of water to water gardens and plants. The problem with rain is that there is either not enough or there is too much rain in a very short period of time causing it to run off rather than to soak into the ground. Rain water contains no salt, is relatively clean and it’s free. Collecting rain water to water plants and gardens reduces the amount of tab water consumed.
How can the rain be harnessed and reused for watering purposes?
Rain barrels are one of the best ways to capture rain runoff from roofs, which is the easiest option for most homeowners. Rainwater captured this way during the rainy season can be used at anytime. Using a rain barrel has several benefits: it's easy, it saves time and money, it provides plants with exactly the water they need, and it protects the environment.
Rain barrels come in different sizes, colors and shapes. Instead of buying a barrel you can recycle a 50 gallon drum with only minimal modifications, simply connect a spigot and protect the opening with a screen to keep the debris and mosquitoes’ out of the collected water. Picking a location is important. The typical rain barrel holds 50 gallons of water, a gallon of water weights just over 8 pounds, therefore a filled 50 gallon barrel will weigh over 400 lbs. Of course, barrels can be purchased with a spigot and screen attached.
Collecting rain water is easy. Simply connect your house's gutter system with a flexible down spout to the barrel and you are good to go. All there’s left to do is turn on the barrel's spigot and start watering, saving water and the environment one gallon at a time.