As I listen to the rain fall on the tin roof, I begin thinking about the just what this rain will provide. Rainwater is our only source for household needs. Water to bathe in. Water for dishes, flushing the toilet, and washing my hands. Water for houseplants and water for garden veggies. (Very soon—water for laundry!) I can feel my connection to Mother Nature’s cycles as I watch the rain pour down. Contemplating these gifts enhances my gratitude for this life-giving resource.
And might I add—a finite resource, at that! One that needs careful conservation among a growing population. When I was in school I became deeply interested in environmental justice. I read, on a global scale, how climate change would devastatingly effect the countries contributing to it the least before really being noticeable to those directly contributing to it. This breaks my heart—one, because we, in developed countries are still engaging in the “is climate change real?” debate, and two, because I cannot stand the idea of my privilege creating such an unjust world. (Perhaps this is why I was studying social work to begin with.) Collecting and utilizing rainwater—even to supplement the use of water—is a great way to become mindful of one’s water use as well as help conserve water in a world of growing need and limited resources.
To lend some perspective on just how imbalanced water usage is, it has been estimated that the average American (take note—that this is one human being) consumes close to 180 gallons of water every day. Whereas, the average African family (group of people) uses only 5 gallons of water a day. This raises many questions in my mind about the convenience of modern technology. Nevertheless, the real issue is to find a solution to the overconsumption of water.
Mindfulness lends a helping hand here. When I began collecting and using rainwater for everything except drinking and cooking, I realized just how thoughtlessly I was using water before. I was clueless as to how much water I had been using—and wasting. I’m often amazed at how blind I am to the gifts around me. I don’t know exactly how much water I’m using now on a daily basis, but I am confident that it is much less.
There are many ways to get started using a rain water supply within your home. Here is how I manage to live off-grid without a well or city water. The rain that falls on my roof is transported into trash barrels along the side of the house via gutters and PVC pipes. After a good rain (or when they are looking like they need it) I put 1-2 tablespoons of bleach into each full trashcan. I don’t like using bleach (at all) but this step helps to ensure bacteria in the water are eliminated prior to filtering. This step also helps keep the mosquito population to a minimum that close to the house throughout the summer months.
Several times a day, I carry the water inside by the bucketful and empty it into a Berkey water filter. The water filters into a container that holds it until it’s needed. A pump sends water to the bathroom for washing hands and flushing the toilet. When I need hot water for a shower or dishes, I put it on the stove for a while to heat up. A pump carries the hot water (placed in separate container) into the bathroom for a shower. The shower head is turned on when I am rinsing myself and needing to get wet, and turned off while lathering up. Any gray water that I collect in the process of any of these tasks then gets used for watering houseplants or taken out to water trees. I have a separate water collection system atop the chicken coop for garden watering.
It may sound like a lot of extra work, but once you begin seeing how much water you save this way it becomes less of a chore. And just because this is the way I’ve chosen to conserve water doesn’t mean your way will look exactly the same. The most important part is that you take the steps to make the most of the water you’ve been given. Maybe you could start collecting rain water just for garden use. Or just for doing the dishes. There are so many benefits to adding just one or two of these practices—both for you, in terms of your water bill, and for the environment. Even the smallest step is still movement in the right direction. And once you start, you may realize you really like the feeling of this practice of Earth stewardship—it can be very addicting, for all the right reasons!