Should I Install a Rainwater Collection System?

Written by Ellen Goff
Updated September 15, 2015
Outdoor barn and rain barrel
Rain barrels can be an effective conservation resource. (Photo by Doug McSchooler)

Get ideas on how to guard against the next drought in the Southeast, plus ways you can combat rising utility costs.

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Water Advocacy Resources

Check out your local water advocacy organization for the latest on conditions in your area:

Charlotte: Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, catawbariverkeeper.org

Atlanta: Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, chattahoochee.org

Tampa: Tampa Bay Estuary Program, tbep.org

Recent droughts in the Southeastern states have spurred water conservation measures in many forms. Rain barrels and rain gardens are popular choices for folks throughout the Carolinas, the Atlanta region and Florida's west coast.

Some people think of it as insurance against the next drought and rising utility costs. As a water quality advocate and educator in the Catawba River basin, I know how the stress from growing residential and commercial developments is impacting the water quality and quantity in both Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. State water disputes are escalating in North and South Carolina and among Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

For now, the drought is over. So does it make financial sense to install rainwater collection systems when there's enough rainfall? A lot depends on the size of your landscape, the roof's square-footage and your outside watering needs.

Here are some pros and cons to help you sort out the answer:

Collecting rainwater for watering the landscape saves money. If you're on a municipal water system, you'll save the cost of six months' worth of outdoor watering, which can equal half your water bill in the summer.

In fact, many areas are adopting graduated usage rates where those who use more water pay at a higher rate than those who use less. Your savings might be greater than you think.

Yes, but ... there's the initial rain barrels cost, ranging from $55 to $120 each or more depending on size and aesthetics. And, if you're part of a homeowners association, you'll need to check the regulations on attaching an outdoor apparatus such as rain barrels.

Then consider this ... Explore some possible solutions for your home. Municipal stormwater departments and county extensions offer rain barrels plus workshops on how to use them.

In Tampa, the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program has info on rain barrels. In the Atlanta area, Robert Evans, owner of highly rated Property Creations, is an EPA-certified WaterSense irrigation professional and well acquainted with many types of water conservation, from rain barrels to underground tanks.

Collecting rainwater helps the environment by decreasing stormwater runoff. Pollution from stormwater threatens our lakes, steams and rivers. When rain from every rooftop and paved surface in the community enters the storm drainage system, capacity is often overwhelmed, causing runoff.

Yes, but ... perhaps you're just not that into the environment and you have no use for barrels next to your home. Besides, all your stormwater goes where it belongs.

Then consider this ... Drinking water for Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa and other Southeastern cities comes from surface water — a lake, river or bay — that receives stormwater discharges as well as runoff. As stormwater runs off pavement, it drags with it pollutants, such as pesticides, fertilizers, oil and other contaminants.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She's passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

Have you considered installing a rainwater collection system? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below. 

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted March 9, 2010. 

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