The good people of India have been harvesting rainwater for over 4000 years. Maybe it’s time we Americans took a few lessons from them.
The rainfall in many parts of India is feast or famine. For many months of the year, barely any rainfalls. Then the monsoon season comes and all it does is rain for months. Some parts of India get 90% of their yearly rainfall during the monsoon season. The people of India long ago started putting a huge container on the roof to catch rainwater so they could use it throughout the dry period.
The biggest benefits of rainwater harvesting, in this case, are obvious – people need water to live through dry periods. Plus, having the container on the roof allows the home to be gravity fed. The containers fill up during the rainy season and for the rest of the year people just turn on the tap and the water flows downhill to them.
Municipal Water Systems
The benefits of Americans choosing to harvest rainwater are different. These benefits of rainwater harvesting include reducing the harm that municipal water systems cause to our environment.
Municipal water systems in America have to treat the water before it can be piped out to us. We all know what happened when Flint, Michigan, neglected to properly take lead out of the water. So it’s clear that the water has to be treated for our safety. One of the hidden benefits of rainwater harvesting is that municipal water systems can treat a lower volume of water.
When a municipal water system treats water, there is wastewater leftover that contains the removed contaminants. The wastewater is discharged into the nearest river or other body of water. Scientists report that this wastewater contains drugs, heavy metals, pesticides, and components of soaps.
So, clearly one of the benefits of rainwater harvesting is cleaner rivers when municipal water systems discharge less wastewater. Another way that rainwater harvesting helps the environment is because rainwater can be used to water the garden, refill swimming pools, power wash cars and houses, and more. This way chemically treated municipal water will not be used and fewer pollutants will go into the environment.
In many places in the United States, especially along the coastlines, flash floods are a real concern. More benefits of rainwater harvesting happen when these floods can be prevented. The more people who are collecting rainwater, the less rainwater will be available to cause flooding in low-lying areas.
The benefits of rainwater harvesting also affect a homeowner’s budget. The more rainwater that a homeowner can harvest and use, the lower their water bill will be. Most cities bill water and sewage together on one bill. The sewage charge is based on water usage, so it’s obvious how rainwater harvesting can decrease a homeowner’s water bills.
The economic benefits extend to the municipality as well. When cities have less demand for residential water services, they can postpone building more water treatment infrastructure and save the city money.
The benefits of rainwater harvesting extend to the homeowner’s yard and garden. The grass would much prefer to be watered with water that does not contain chlorine. When a homeowner is trying very hard to be an organic gardener, it doesn’t make sense to water the garden with municipal water that may contain unknown pollutants.
The harvested rainwater is also better at washing the salts out of the soil. Although salts are a natural part of the soil, they can build up over time. If the homeowner’s garden is not well-drained, the salts will build up. The benefits of rainwater harvesting include improving vegetables by washing excess salts out of the soil. With salty soil, the plants can’t absorb soil moisture properly.
When a plot of land is used for many years as a garden, the plants themselves leave behind some dissolved salts each year. These tend to accumulate and cause salty soil.
Something people in cold climates might not think about – if the garden is close to a road that is regularly treated when it snows, this is another way the garden can become too salty. The garden will definitely do better using harvested rainwater.