Harvesting rainwater helps your garden stay lush in the dry season. Some use this water on vegetable gardens, to wash food, or to drink. When you depend on the quality of your rainwater, you need to ensure that what’s coming out of that barrel is safe to use. What kinds of water quality concerns do you need to look for when you’re harvesting rainwater?
What’s in your water? You may not expect chemicals to be present in your drinking water, but depending on where you live and how you store your water, they will certainly be present. One source of chemicals is offsite contamination. For example, if you live in an agricultural area, the rain you receive may mix with pesticides that go onto the crops if there is large-scale spraying. If you live in an urban area, your concerns are likely with the contaminants in the air, including traffic and industrial emissions.
Onsite chemicals are also a factor in your rainwater quality. These chemicals come from the places that your water flows before it reaches the barrel. For example, roofing that’s old and leaching chemicals or flaking bits of roofing material can flow into your rain barrel. You can add a first flush diverter that will allow you to divert the first water that goes onto your roof after a long dry period. The pipes that you move water in and the tank materials that you store your water in also contribute to the chemical load in the water.
Debris that moves from your roof into the rain barrel can be a problem for your water quality. Depending on the rainwater harvesting system that you use, you may or may not have areas that catch a lot of this debris before it enters rainwater storage. If birds and other animals nest in your gutters or if there is the possibility that birds’ eggs and other animal material could get washed down from your gutters into your rain barrel, there are additional concerns about contamination.
Sediment can also collect at the bottom of a rain barrel, and while it may not be dangerous, it can impact the taste of the rainwater. To avoid adding debris to your rainwater tank, ensure that your gutters have gutter installation that incorporates gutter covers and that your tank has filters for debris. If you decide to have your rainwater tested for this sort of contamination, an E. coli test is the key test for fecal contamination.
Testing Your Rainwater
If you’re concerned about rainwater quality because you’re using that water on food plants, how can you test your rainwater? There are a few different options to pursue. You can look for an electronic test meter that will allow you to test your water yourself. When you’re concerned about serious contamination, it’s helpful to send your rainwater samples to a lab as well. If you’re sending samples to a lab, what do you need to look for? Test for pH, conductivity, turbidity, total suspended solids (TSS), total coliform (TC), fecal coliform (FC), nitrate, nitrite, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and metals to see whether your water is clean and what it contains.
As you work to create water systems that work for your home, contact Harry Helmet. We’ll work with you to create a gutter installation that helps you collect clean, clear water and divert it without concerns about your roof integrity. Contact us today.