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The Debate

Super Tuesday's over, Romney's dropped out of the race, Hillary and Obama are set to debate here in Texas, and folks are thinking our state may play a significant role in the election of the next President. In spite of all that, a debate of another kind may have more impact on the quality of life we gardeners can expect in the future. It's about the availability of water and the conflict many homeowners feel every time we talk about whether or not to reduce or eliminate turf areas, what kinds of plants to use in our landscapes, and how far we should go with the idea of rainwater harvesting - whether it's going to be buckets, barrels, or bigger.

Like many homeowners, the resale value of our home is always weighed against changes my husband and I might want to make to reduce our water consumption. Our suburban neighborhood attracts families, and families like grass for the kids to play on. The suburban code seems to mandate the requisite patch of green from front door to street. However, there's an ever growing number of those families drawing water from a limited supply. An average of 60% of that water consumption is being used for watering turf, and we jeopardize the quality of our water with the runoff of the fertilizers and pesticides we use to keep them picture perfect. We actually saw our water bill exceed $300 one month that didn't seem out of the ordinary in terms of heat or water usage. So reducing turf areas makes economic and environmental sense.

So, why don't we do it? Is it the expense or the aesthetics? When I bring up rainwater harvesting with friends or at rainwater harvesting seminars, people almost always say they want to do it but ...
Some don't think the tanks will be okay with their neighbors or homeowners' associations, or are afraid it will reduce the value of their home if they decide to sell. Some don't know how and think it's going to mean a choice between cactus gardens and lush green retreats. Some just don't know where to start. After going through rainwater harvesting specialist training through our Master Gardener program, I knew a long list of compelling reasons we should do it, could recite the theory of how to do it, but still hadn't actually done it at my own house.

Last weekend, we initiated change in our patch of the planet with the delivery of a 1600 gallon tank. I know it looks HUGE - but when I told a friend who's installed systems all over the world what size tank we got, he said, "Oh, you got the small one." Later, when he was looking at where we planned to put it, he said it was a great place because there would be room for the second one about 4 feet away. Hmmm, well, one step at a time.

Step One was horrifying our neighbors with the arrival of the big green tank.

Actually, step one for me was going to Menard, Texas, taking the training, and seeing systems of all sizes from a small one to feed a little fish pond to the big one complete with educational gardens at the city library to the single tank for watering an enclosed patch of "backyard" at a goat ranch. My instructor, Billy Kniffen, always invites the classes over to his home to see what he's accomplished on property purchased for a song because it had no water supply. His two story home, shop, pond, and lush gardens are all supplied by rainwater. When it came to actually putting water into a tank in my own yard, though, I froze and realized the enormous gap between theory and practice. That's where having an installation close by for reference really helps. In Austin, you can go to Zilker Gardens and see a couple of different systems that have been installed by the Master Gardeners.
Bud Kane is one of the experienced installers, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all the hand holding he's been willing to do with me. In turn, I'm going to document our installation for you; so consider your hand held. Feel free to ask questions as this goes along.

This is the point of the day we were sure we heard a collective gasp from the neighbors. I'm sure they were worried they'd be looking at that big green tank for a long time.

This is Corinne, the wonderful voice of Triple S Feed. She knows what they carry, what's in stock at the Creedmoor location and the Dripping Springs location, the tank dimensions, what fittings you might want, and sometimes even talks her husband into making a delivery on a Sunday morning.

Once it's unloaded, the easiest way to move it is to roll it. This tank only weighs about 250 pounds, but its shape makes it awkward to move any other way. We removed one panel of the fence (in one piece) and rolled the tank into the back yard. The fence panel goes right back in place. This tank is 6 feet tall and 7 feet in diameter, and will be hidden from view by the fence.

It actually takes more people to decide where it goes than it does to move it around.

Corinne and her husband leave, and we realize we don't know exactly where the water goes into the tank. Yes, it's still sitting on its side. we're leaving it that way for ease in moving it around until all the guttering and PVC pipe are in place. About where the water enters the tank, that's answered next time ...

Be sure to read the comments for reader questions on this post and my responses.


Anonymous said…
Sweet! Once you get it all hooked up, I'd love to come over and see how it works. I've been coveting one of these, though I'm not sure how I'd get it into my yard. Even with fencing removed, it'd be a tight fit.

Is it a galvanized tank? What is its life expectancy before rust sets in? Do you mind my asking what a tank like this costs? Also, will you elevate it somehow?

I look forward to your follow-up.
vbdb said…
This one is polyethelene - fine at this size, but not strong enough when you get to the "large" ones. It's sold as 1550 gallons, holds 1611 gals. when full, and cost $552 at Triple S. A black one of similar size was $560.

At 250 pounds, it can actually be lifted over a fence. We originally thought we might roll it up and over using a ladder and a couple of helpers.

We won't elevate it, but are considering using a small pump to increase distribution pressure when the tank level is low. The water will cause the tank to weigh so much, it's better to have it on the ground in an area that's been leveled.
Unknown said…
I can't wait to follow this story! I have two small water barrels but they really don't eliminate much of my water consumption except for my roses. I find that with the small barrels the problem is that when they are full is usually during rainy time when my plants are doing OK on rain alone. And the pressure sucks.

But now I'm inspired and want to see how you put it all together and what decisions you made.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the info. Great post!
kate said…
This is a great idea - I think we are getting water conscious everywhere in North America now.

Is is possible to bury the tank underground? That's probably a dumb question.
Anonymous said…
I've seen several of these systems installed and think they are great. I've even seen one installation where they use it as drinking water.

Actually I think it could be an asset if you ever sell your home.
vbdb said…
Responding to Kate - yes, tanks can be installed underground. You would probably use a concrete or fiberglass tank, though; and with large ones it's certainly easier if they are done as part of new construction.

To Bill - You bring up a good point. This system is intended for gardening use only. The systems used for potable water in the home are UV filtered and have triple osmosis tanks before it enters the home. Where was the one you saw for drinking water?
Mary Beth said…
What a wonderful post! I've been thinking of adding water harvesting to a house remodeling project so I'm looking forward to your next post! Thanks for sharing.
Diana said…
I'm with Pam - I'd love to come see it. Jeff and I have talked about doing this and we have the space to hide it -- just need to learn more about it, so we'll be following your progress closely! Good luck!
Gina said…
That thing is amazing! Boy it sure puts my small rain barrel to shame! I can't wait to hear more about it!

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