As another year of devastating drought stretches out before us here in California, saving our rainwater has never been more crucial. Greywater systems can take many forms, and now learning how to create your own rain barrel system has never been easier.

Greywater Guerilla Laura Allen demonstrates how to create your own water catchment system utilizing several recycled maraschino cherry containers

Last Saturday my husband Peter and I rode our bicycles to Visitacion Valley to take a workshop on rainwater harvesting given by the Greywater Guerrillas, a collaborative group of teachers, designers, builders, and artists who educate and empower people to build sustainable water culture and infrastructure.

After making our way up a few steep hills, we were warmly welcomed with coffee and chai into Greywater Guerilla Tara Hui’s living room; then we all talked a little about our motivations for attending the workshop. In attendance were plumbers and college students, gardeners and civil engineers, all expressing the shared belief that saving our rainwater is the way of the future. We were given a general overview of where our water comes from, shown designs of various recycled water systems, constructed wetlands, swales, as well as how to calculate our water usage needs. After questions and discussion we all shared a delicious lunch, socialized and got ready to go to work building rain barrels.

These recycled maraschino cherry containers are destined to become rain barrels

In addition to chickens and a composting toilet, Tara’s house was already equipped with a number of connected rain barrels, as well as a metal roof for more efficient rainwater collection. During the workshop we learned how to drill and outfit the recycled drums with a few basic fixtures, then connected and integrated the containers into her existing rainwater catchment system.

Andrea, Laura and Tara explain the interconnected rain barrel design and required fittings

There are a number of issues to consider when designing your own rainwater harvesting system, such as proper ventilation, screening out mosquitoes and debris, as well as deciding how much storage capacity you will need. Whenever using recycled containers, make certain that they are food grade quality. You can always start with something simple, like reusing your washwater, and expand upon it in the future. The Greywater Guerillas frequently give affordable rainwater harvesting  and other water related workshops throughout California to help you get started. Upcoming events and classes are being held in Richmond, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Connecting Rain Barrels

By harvesting rainwater, you are not only conserving a vital resource, you also keep excess runoff out of the sewer system, help reduce erosion, flooding and combined sewer overflows, as well as the amount of chemicals needed to treat storm water, and the energy expended transporting water from far away. It  just makes sustainable sense for so many reasons.

In case you don’t have the time or the inclination to learn how to connect your own rain barrel, a few Bay Area plumbing companies, such as Plumbworks, are already experienced with designing, installing and maintaining residential rainwater catchment and greywater systems.

If you are not feeling the rain barrel love to build your own, San Francisco residents can also purchase a discounted fully outfitted 60 gallon rain barrel, compliments of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) Wastewater Enterprise. The SFPUC has begun raising awareness about rainwater harvesting and actively promoting its use. Hopefully many of our other municipalities will follow their progressive lead and begin utilizing this precious resource.