Rain Barrels are an excellent way to go green in terms of water conservation and reduction of storm water runoff. However, it’s good to be clear about how to safely maintain your barrel system itself and the water that you’ve collected.
Usage- The first important point is that unless you plan on using a filtration system, your rain barrel water is non-potable, or not safe for drinking. Due to the fact that water has to run over your roof and through your gutters, both of which can collect a variety of less-than-tasty (and unsafe) substances- most notably bacteria from birds and animals. Particularly if you live in an older house, one should be double check that their roofing is not toxic- this can be the case with asbestos tiles or tar roofs.
Suitable Uses Include:
Drinking- Only if purified
Watering one’s lawn and/or garden
As the most common and practical usage of rain barrels is to water one’s lawn and garden- (either storing the water for dry periods or letting it flow directly). However, due to the potential for bacteria or unclean substances, it’s important to use the water appropriately:
Avoid overhead irrigation of edible plants in a garden (or don’t pour over the parts of plants you intend to eat). Setting up a drip or trickle irrigation system is relatively easy with a rain barrel using a soaker/trickle hose and letting gravity do the rest.
Do not use the water from your rain barrel at the time of harvesting your garden, particularly if you’re growing root vegetables.
Furthermore, there are several things you can do to make sure that your water is as clean as possible.
Check and maintain your screen- A broken screen (mesh filter) can allow not only debris into your water supply, but also give insects such as mosquitos a chance to get into the rain barrel.
Have your roof and gutters cleaned regularly- Cleaning your roof and gutters cleaned has a direct impact on the quality of the water in your rain barrel. If uncleaned for a long period, a roof can collect a significant amount of airborne debris and even pollutants. Similarly, if your gutters are clogged, this creates standing water which can be a breeding ground for insects, and allow dead vegetation to collect and rot.
Rain Barrels really are an easy and excellent way to do one’s part for the environment and save on water consumption. Don’t let the above precautions scare you away, but it’s important to be knowledgeable about safe usage of your rain barrel water.