Outdoors Neighbor Kevin Sutherland inspects Kampe’s rain-collection system
Photo by Christopher Nyerges

Saving a rainy day

Looking forward to cloudy skies with water conservationist Carol Kampe

By Christopher Nyerges 12/31/2009

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I  was driving up a beautiful Pasadena street, one lined with tall deodar trees that had an almost rural feel to it. I was admiring the beautiful houses and the well-kept gardens and trees when I noticed them — rain barrels, a onetime common sight that seem totally out of place in today’s world.

I pulled over to get a better look at the down-spout of the southwest corner of the house feeding a large plastic barrel, the type used to import pickles into the United States. The entire lid could be unscrewed to gain access to the water. The top had been modified with a screen to remove debris that came down from the roof. A spigot was added to the bottom so one could easily use the collected rain water.

After briefly looking things over, I met homeowner Carol Kampe, who was working in her yard and happily gave me a tour of her rain collection system.

It turned out that Kampe had set up 10 rain-collecting plastic barrels under the roofs of the house and garage. Two were 65 gallons apiece. The other eight were 60 gallons each. Once collected, the water is used for outdoor purposes only — watering fruit trees and other plants in the yard.

“Generally, I have enough rain water in my barrels to last me until August,” says Kampe. This means that she is able to rely on the rain for watering her yard for approximately two-thirds of the year. She estimates that she saves perhaps $300 a month.

“But I don’t do this for economic reasons,” Kampe adds. “I do it because we live in a desert here in Southern California. Water will become more critical as time goes on. So it is just a shame to waste all this good rain.”

Kampe has taken a common-sense approach to her rain harvesting, something that is easy to do and is both ecologically and economically sound. She was living in her home just a few years before buying her first seven rain-collecting barrels, purchased for about $100 each from a company that modifies pickle barrels into rain-collectors. The company also provides hoses so that the barrels can be connected, with overflow of one barrel filling others.

Rain barrels are not light. With water weighing a little more than eight pounds a gallon, a 60-gallon barrel full of rain water weighs in the neighborhood of 480 pounds. So when planning a rain collecting system such as this one, one has to recognize that the full barrel is not going to be moved. However, other barrels can be connected to the barrel so that the overflow can be collected in a spot away from the house.

When not siphoning off excess water, Kampe is able to simply unscrew the lid of her rain barrels and scoop out water as needed for individual plants.

Kampe laughed at all the current popular talk about “living green,” as if it were something new. “We were doing all this back in the 1970s,” she says, describing how people recycled and collected rain back then.

In addition to saving water, Kampe has her home fitted with compact fluorescent lights, which last about five times longer than conventional incandescent bulbs and use about one-quarter of the energy. She also has light tubes, which direct sunlight into the house, meaning she doesn’t need to use electricity for lighting during the day.

Though she considered a photo-voltaic solar electricity and solar water heating systems, the alignment of her house and abundance of nearby trees made such systems less than ideal.

Emphasizing the need to save and conserve water in place that is really a desert with an ever-increasing population, Kampe echoes Santayana, pointing out that “anyone who doesn’t read history is doomed to repeat it.”

Christopher Nyerges is a field guide, editor of Wilderness Way magazine and author of “Self-Sufficient Home” and other books. He can be reached at P.O. Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA, 90041, or ChristopherNyerges.com.

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Fiskars has developed an awesome downspout diverter that can be used with any rain barrel! I also got their Connector Kit to chain my rain barrels together. www.rain-barrel.com

posted by gardengirl on 12/31/09 @ 01:52 p.m.

Living in the desert has also prompted us to not let all that great rain water go to waste. We purchased our recycled rain barrels from Aquabarrel (www.aquabarrel.com).

posted by greatgardener8 on 1/01/10 @ 08:24 a.m.
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