Written by: Sherie Caffey, CSU Extension-Pueblo County Horticulture Agent
Spring is here and soon we will be hoping to see “April showers” giving our spring plants a much needed drink. Make the most of those showers by utilizing rainwater harvesting!
Using rainwater for beneficial uses in your landscape is called rainwater harvesting. You can either use passive or active techniques to harvest rainwater in your landscape. Passive harvesting involves the slowing down of rainwater that moves through your landscape allowing it to spread further and sink deeper, which makes it more beneficial to your plants. Active harvesting involves the collection and storage of rainwater to use on your own property at a later time.
To take advantage of passive rainwater harvesting, pay attention to how water moves through your landscape during a rain storm. Direct or extend your downspout to drain on to tree roots or over a shrub. Build berms to stop water, and swales to collect it in one place. Construct an infiltration basin where water can pool and sink slowly into the ground. Add some plants to the basin and you have yourself a rain garden! Use artificial stream beds to slow the water down and allow it to sink in more. Terraces will allow water to flow from one level to the next and soak in to each level as it flows.
Active rainwater harvesting requires more equipment. Most often, rainwater will be collected from impermeable surfaces, such as roofs, driveways, and patios. A rain water harvesting system will typically be made up of gutters, downspouts, a storage device, and some way to distribute the collected water to your landscape (garden hose). By law, the container that you will be using to store your rainwater must have a sealable lid, which reduces evaporation and prevents mosquitoes from breeding in the standing water. Typically, the storage device will be a rain barrel. Elevating the barrel will increase the pressure available to move the water from the barrel, through the hose, and to whichever plants you would like to water. It is not recommended to water edible plants with harvested rain water unless you have some type of filtration or cleaning device on your set up.
According to House Bill 16-1005, single family households, and multifamily households with less than 4 units, can store collected rain water in up to two rain barrels that hold a total of 110 gallons, with no permit necessary. The bill states that rainwater can be collected from rooftop downspouts, and that the captured water must be used on the same property from which it was collected. Collected rainwater can only be used for outdoor purposes, and cannot be used for drinking or any other indoor use. If you would like more information on how to legally and safely collect rain water in Colorado, check out the information on the CSU Extension website at http://extension.colostate.edu/.