03.22.12Alan Harris


Rainwater CollectionRainwater from the downspouts and the courtyard inlets are captured in a cistern below the courtyard and accessed from the well.

For readers in their 50′s you may have noticed many of today’s latest fashions were popular in the 1970′s. Some songs are now on their 3rd or 4th rendition dating back to the 1960′s. Even many popular movies are on their 2nd or 3rd version (Batman, Oceans Eleven, Sherlock Holmes, etc).

Landscape Architects may remember from their school days, cisterns have been in use for thousands of years. In July 2011, I had the pleasure of staying at Badia a Coltibuono  an old Abbey built by the Benedictine monks almost 1000 years ago in what we know now as the Chianti Region in Tuscany. The Abbey is perched high on a hill with a historically limited supply of water.

One of the first stops on our guided tour was the outdoor prayer cloister which doubled as part of the collection point of the monk’s rainwater harvesting system. Their downspouts and inlets were not piped to the street or into a storm drain to reduce erosion, but instead were directed into an underground cistern to actually be used. Before the existence of municipal water systems, cisterns were necessary to sustain communities not located near a creek, river, lake or other natural water source.

The rainwater collection and cistern system worked well for centuries, so what happened? Ingenuity developed a “better” rainwater storage and distribution system in the form of dams and municipal water lines. As a result we lost the simple art of rainwater collection, but this old art form is roaring back to life.

How much water can be collected? For every 1” of rainfall about 560 gallons of water can be captured for every 1000 SF of surface area. That is of course if the collection of rainwater is legal. In a few western states the collection of rainwater is illegal or may be regulated while in other states rainwater has been approved for potable use. However, there are specific considerations about how rainwater should be used based on the amount of filtration. While rainwater is fairly clean, rooftops with antifungal shingles and bird droppings require some consideration prior to potable use or for watering gardens.

So next time someone talks about the novel concept of using a cistern to collect rainwater you can just smile and know that a cistern is really just another recycled idea…like a lot of movies and a lot of songs.

P.S. Hopefully the large shoulder pads, parachute pants and big hair popular in the 1980′s won’t recycle in the 2020′s, but don’t be surprised if they do and remember you read it here before you found it on Pinterest.

If you liked this post, please share it with a friend, leave a comment, check out my previous posts and follow me on Twitter @h20Matters and

Follow Me on Pinterest

You can find more pictures of the Abbey on Facebook.

Posts you may also like

Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our National Sales Operations Support Manager and Regional Sales Leader for our landscape maintenance division.


Refresh Image


  1. Thursday, 9:51 Thom

    Love the title

  2. Thursday, 10:10 Caroline Weilert

    Check out online the Basillica Cistern in Istanbul. I saw it while travelling there many years ago. That will give you some writer inspiration.

  3. Thursday, 10:54 Alan Harris

    @Thom – thanks for the compliment on the title
    @Caroline – I am so jealous! I have only seen this amazing cistern on the web and have it pinned to a one of my boards Maybe one day I will get to see it.

© 2012 ValleyCrest Landscape Companies