09.20.11Alan Harris


Cistern for Rainwater HarvestingHow would you feel if your neighbor had a 1600 gal cistern to harvest rainwater by their front door? Would your HOA allow it? Are we sustainable just in theory or in reality?

Rainwater Harvesting Beyond the Rain Barrel

When 55 gallons are just not enough or when you have more than 8 pots to water, a cistern may be in order. A cistern is a really BIG Water Butt and provides a little more flexibility than just being able to water pots. However, cisterns bring on a whole new set of problems like: aesthetics, neighbor’s opinions and loss of municipal revenues. When placed above ground they can make quite the architectural statement or in the opinion of the neighbors, be quite the eyesore.

Rainwater for Flushing Toilets

Here is a great green idea…let’s use water from the cistern to flush the toilets. Cool idea! Why use water fit for drinking for peeing and what not, but first the general public’s health must be protected. The water must be dyed blue so the public knows not to drink the water. (True story from a “green” grocery store in North Carolina, but who knows maybe they have an issue in the home of NASCAR with people drinking from the toilet).

Whew, now that the public health is safe what about the government’s welfare? Since sewer fees are based on consumption of potable water, the city is missing out on revenues! Solution: submeter the rainwater harvesting cistern to determine the amount of water flushed down the toilet so the city can collect the sewer fee and turn the rainwater clear again. As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Rainwater for Irrigation

For larger sites where rainwater is used for irrigation, a subterranean tank is needed to store 1000′s of gallons of water so the irrigation system can be still be used in time of mild drought. An moderately sized irrigation zone uses approximately 200 – 400 gallons per cycle so an irrigation system with 12 zones sprinkles 2400 – 4800 gallons each day it runs. If the system runs 3 days a week, you can understand how large the tanks need to be to run the irrigation system just for a single week.

Alternatives to Cisterns for Rainwater Harvesting

New to the rainwater harvesting market is an item called a Rainwater Pillow (thanks Twitter @RainwaterPillow). While I have no personal experience with the product it appears to be pretty cool. Instead of using a traditional metal or wood cistern to store water the Rainwater Pillow is a large rubber bladder that can be placed under decks or in crawl spaces. There are several standard sizes available, but they can also be customized. They come complete with a filter and a pump. Again the ROI for rain collection does not make sense except in times of drought. During a drought harvested rainwater is not only free, it’s priceless.

What is your favorite rainwater harvesting solution?

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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 Director of Sales Operations and Regional Sales Leader for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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