By Carol Cole-Frowe
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Recent area droughts got gardeners’ attention.
Using rainwater to its maximum potential — rainwater harvesting — became more of a priority with many homeowners, slowing it down a bit and repurposing it to landscapes or other destinations while still sending it to the watershed.
“It’s something that I wanted to do for a long time,” said Norman homeowner John Rushton, who is having his first 600-gallon rainwater catchment system installed in southwest Norman. “I wanted to be sustainable and off the grid. … Water is kind of the foundation of a garden and a landscape.”
Rushton’s above-ground system was designed by Paul Wellman. He is doing much of the installation himself and plans a second 800-gallon tank.
“It’s great,” said Debbie Smith, environmental manager for the city of Norman. “You can put it wherever you want it and use it when you want to.”
Donated 55-gallon, food-grade rain barrels were popular at past city of Norman giveaways, she said. The city is working on finding grants or more donated food-grade barrels for an upcoming giveaway.
“We don’t have a budget for this,” Smith said. In the city’s first rain barrel giveaway last year, the city had 80 barrels and 450 people showed up to receive them.
“Definitely that’s just one of the many ways people can reduce water consumption or runoff,” Smith said.
In the meantime, many homeowners are creating their own rainwater harvesting or catchment systems, finding sources for barrels ranging from discarded potable-water containers to buying them at a local hardware store.
“Bigger is always going to be better,” Jason Vogel, Oklahoma State University professor and storm water specialist, said about rain barrels. “People are realizing the benefits of rain water catchment even more.”
A 1-inch rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof produces about 621 gallons of water, he said.
Homeowners can send the water into their irrigation system through their gutters, Vogel said, although he recommends having a first flush diverter before the rainwater goes into the system because of leaves and other debris potentially clogging drip systems. It also may be necessary to have a pump installed to make water pressure high enough to make the irrigation system functional.
He said it’s important for an above-ground rainwater catchment tank to be opaque, so algae growth won’t be a problem. Barrels can be painted on the outside to achieve opacity if they are roughed up a little on the outside and painted with plastic-friendly paint, Vogel said.
Below-ground rainwater tanks are more expensive to install but don’t have the same algae issues. They also solve the problem of some homeowners associations banning the above-ground version because of looks.
Some residents are using rainwater to wash clothes or to wash cars. It even can be used as drinking water.
Vogel said the water needs to be treated in some way if it’s to be potable. Some of the primary concerns are animals that have been on the roof like squirrels and birds and dust that accumulates, especially on homes near highways. Rainwater also can pick up small particulates from the roof, depending on the roof’s age.
“(Do) whatever you would do to well water,” he said.
A PVC pipe on the way into the system with a “weep tube” can act as the first flush diverter, catching the first items that come off the roof with runoff then going into rain barrels.
Residents who want to catch rainwater can find instruction and help on fact sheets on Vogel’s website, lid.okstate.edu/rainfall-harvesting.
Food-grade barrels can be found through industries that market food or at area hardware stores like Atwoods, he said. They need to be rinsed multiple times before being used as rain barrels.
“It goes to the same source, it’s just controlled,” Smith said.
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