Their eyes go wide. Their jaws even drop a bit, sometimes.
“Really?” they say every time.
We live off rain catchment.
It’s not that big a deal.
When we turn on the kitchen sink, water comes out, just like for anyone. Only ours is rainwater. We have enough for washing the dishes, doing laundry, and having gardens and guests.
And no, we have not resorted to dustbaths. We shower with rainwater. It’s quite luxurious as our neighbors with wells put up with water that smells like rotten eggs and haul in filtered drinking water from the city. Our water is tasty, clean, and local.
How do we do it?
Living off rainwater means having a big enough roof to catch a bunch when it rains. It means having big enough tanks to catch enough to last us through the dry months.
We re-use all of our water in the gardens and greenhouse. We built our greywater systems to drain automatically into planted beds. We only use certain soaps and detergents that we know won’t harm the plants. And we have sculpted our land to harvest seasonal floodwater that runs down the hillsides.
The big secret to living off rainwater?
Treating this precious resource as the special thing that it is. You know how special it is when you have none.
We keep track of how much we have, and how much we use. Having our main storage cistern outside our front door makes it easy. We installed a tank gauge that through the use of two pulleys, a float, and a weight, it dangles a marker on the outside of the cistern right where the water level is inside. That way, even though the tank is opaque, we can tell at a glance how much water we have. Sometimes we track our water use by putting dated stickers where the gauge hangs. This way we can easily calculate how much water we are using per day and per person.
Just like we track our expenses to live within our financial budget, living off rainwater means that we have to live within our water means. Do you ever take money out of your account and throw it in the trash can? We don’t either, and we don’t turn on the faucet without using the water before it goes down the drain.
It’s not hard to get. But for people who don’t have the infrastructure that we do, where we can easily track how much we have and how much we use, it can be more of a challenge to feel the water that comes out of the tap as valuable or sacred.
Australia is dry. And has been dealing with drought in a serious way for some time now.
In Brisbane, water use was reduced by 60% during drought. Some of this was due to hardwired structural changes –things like low flush toilets – and the rest was due to changes in behavior.
After the drought, behavior didn’t revert back too much. Water use leveled at 50% of what it had been before the drought.
We experienced this too at our little homestead. We have an outdoor kitchen where the sink drains into buckets. Before the buckets overflow we hand-water the nearby trees. That extra step has shown us how much one does naturally conserve when there is an immediate physical incentive/feedback.
And when we moved into our newly built house with plumbing instead of a bucket system, our water use increased. Just because we were one step removed in the system.
Systems drive behavior. We feel for people who rely on larger governmental systems to conserve and protect this resource for their area. Folks seem to be waiting for leadership that is just not showing up.
We can track and conserve on a household scale. That’s manageable.
Most people don’t seem to realize that they can do that too. Folks in the city may not have the same at-a-glance system for tracking water. But most dwellings have a meter that they can learn to read and track.
Where’s your water app?
Written by Amanda and Andy Bramble