In recorded history, the use of rainwater collection can be traced as far back as ancient times some 3,000 years ago (850 BC).
In the days of the Roman Empire, atrium fed rainwater collection cisterns were common place and to this day an important part of history.
With the advancement of technology, time proven methods gave way to centralized systems of water collection, with pipes and collective communal systems.
The picture at right is a Roman domestic atrium from Pompeii, with an impluvium at the center.
Rainwater collection is any method that brings and unites into a body or unit of fallen rainwater in an organized fashion. On primitive scales (coconuts, shells, large leaves, etc were used) this usually meant an excavated cistern of some kind that was carved out of solid rock.
In today’s modern world we have the ability to use plastic as a collection source. Typically 55 gallon plastic food grade barrels (barrels that had a food grade liquid substance in them) are used for water collection and storage.
These types of containers are very economical and affordable as well as extremely durable and weather hardy.
There are two main reasons why people use cisterns; either for the sake of survival in a place where the only usable water is rainwater, or for ecological awareness. People either need a cistern, or want a cistern because they are concerned about how they can store and consume rain water. That is where the plastic rain barrels come into play. A rainwater basin needs to offer enough capacity to collect enough useable water from a catchment surface. The catchment area is the area the space on the roof that water hits. This includes the overhang and the gutters. The gutters organize the flow of water caught by the roof, and direct it into a downspout, where it is filtered and then finally stored in a barrel, or any type of collection unit. All of these elements make up the rainwater catchment system: area, gutters, downspout and reservoir. It’s a very simple process and any household can implement one with a little bit of common sense and elbow grease. You can then start making use of your own roof or roofs.
You, the owner, on the other hand are being “green” by using this recycled plastic product and keeping them out of our landfills while utilizing free rain water. It is a win-win situation for both you and Mother Nature!
Rain barrels are exceptional tools for not only excess cistern water, but if connected together can catch enough rainwater to filter for use at campgrounds, cabins and other weekend getaways and can also become a wonderful element to add to your backyard, sheds or barn. There is no reason for you not to be proud of your rainwater harvesting tank!
Not all rainwater catchment systems are from roofs on top of houses or buildings, some are surface water catchment systems for fields or farms to improve irrigation. But essentially all catchment systems need these four elements: area, slope, drain and storage. Area gives the water a place to land. Slope gives it gravitational pull, so that it can pick up speed and momentum, thereby flowing toward the drain. Drain channels the rainwater in an organized fashion so that it can actually form a consistent body. Storage is the final resting place for the flowing bodies of water that come from the drain.
Stored water can then be used for any variety of daily needs, baths, dishes, plants, animals, drinking (when clean enough).
As long as water is not a problem, people don’t really seem to care where it comes from or even how it gets in the house, just as long as it is there and useful. This mentality of forgetting as a whole is what must be fought, as it is through the past that we learn to make a better and brighter future.
In nature, mountains, land, and the sea, are all forms of collecting and storing rainwater, but in urban dwellings, the roof, the gutters and a barrel can do the same job, for a family.
On farms they can capture water from the barn roof or just an enormous cistern. All systems revolve around the concept of efficiency. Especially household rainwater catchments, as they must be carefully calculated in order to be more useful, that is more efficient (water lost is water unused). Water is a gift to us, to all creatures on the earth. We must learn to use it efficiently and responsibly if we want to see a more sustainable future for those who will inherit this earth.
Clean rainwater collection throughout human history has taught us time and time again how this is possible, and also the dangers of doing it wrong. In antiquity, systems were but underground cashes ditches, wells, and cisterns.
If the history of rainwater collection tells us anything of value, it is that filtration is the most important key in any harvesting system.