By: Kathryn McKenzie
Californians’ prayers for rain must have worked, with the current month already one of the wettest Decembers on record — and it’s not even over yet.
All this precipitation is not only nourishing existing plants and trees, it’s also happily being collected by those folks who have installed rainwater catchment systems at their homes. One Seaside couple is already reaping the benefits, with more than 4,000 gallons collected in three storage tanks in their yard.
Although you wouldn’t know it on first glance, Don Basseri and Mary Pat O’Rourke have a catchment system that diverts water from their rooftop to several large water storage tanks in their smallish yard, with the tanks cleverly hidden by wooden enclosures that Basseri built as attractive camouflage.
“Yes, our tanks are full,” after the past few storms, said Basseri, who uses the water during the summer for his backyard vegetable garden and other landscaping.
But it’s not just the current rain that is sparking interest among other homeowners for water storage — it’s the whole long, arid year.
“We’ve actually had people inquiring (about rainwater harvesting) since last year,” said Greg Szymanski, manager of the Watsonville store of Scotts Valley Sprinkler & Pipe Supply, which carries a variety of products for storing, pumping and diverting water. Not only are homeowners inquiring about rain barrels, but also larger storage tanks, he said.
Homeowners are definitely taking notice of larger tank setups, said Szymanski, especially in the rural Watsonville area.
“People out here have a lot more land and they can put in a much bigger tank,” he said.
Lynch notes that another factor in the renewed interest is that the price of water storage tanks and other equipment has dropped, and kits that bundle basics together are becoming widely available.
In addition, he said, “It makes sense to buy tanks locally. You could pay as much as $500 to have a tank shipped.”
Lynch said he used to estimate his projects at about $2 per gallon of storage, but that has also fallen to about $1.50 a gallon, so that a 4,900-gallon-plus water storage project would cost around $8,000.
At the same time, the technology has also improved, he said: “The pumps are getting much smarter.”
Contractors and homeowners have also found ways to disguise the tanks, always a challenge to integrate into urban and surburban backyards because of their size and shape. Basseri’s solution was to build wooden facades to hide his three 1,500-gallon tanks.
In addition, new products are constantly coming out which make water storage more practical and more attractive. Bushman USA rainwater tanks, which are carried by Scotts Valley Sprinkler & Pipe Supply, has new slim-line tanks which are easier to hide next to a house or behind shrubbery, unlike the traditional round tanks.
Another option now for homeowners are flexible water tanks, which can hold up to 5,000 gallons, and can be moved easily for storage when unfilled. These come as round “onion tanks” or retangular “pillow tanks,” and have a low, wide profile when full that makes them easier to hide in basements, crawl spaces and underneath decks.
Another factor that may be contributing to current interest is the passage of the California Rainwater Recapture Act in 2012, which eased requirements for rainwater storage systems.
The bill made it legal to capture and capture rainwater harvested from rooftops, and also to do so without applying for a permit from the State Water Resources Control Board.
In fact, said Lynch, the only permits that might be required in putting in a water storage system are an electrical permit — if electricity is needed for a pump, say — and if a backflow device is installed, something that Lynch said doesn’t have to be done if an airgap is used.
Nikos Lynch, a landscape contractor and owner of Terrabella Landscaping in Santa Cruz who specializes in rainwater catchment systems, agrees that the dry part of 2014 was what seemed to motivate residents even more than the current drought-busting rains.
“People are seeing that they have the opportunity to collect a lot of water,” he said.
What they underestimate, though, is how quickly storage space can be overwhelmed.
Said Lynch, “A lot of people have installed 50-gallon rain barrels, and they’ll fill up in an hour or so” — and that cache, once summer comes around, won’t last very long once watering begins in earnest.