Recycling the Rain

2019 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Columnists Editions March

by Christopher Nyerges

During the recent rains, my neighbor, Carol Kampe, collected enough water to irrigate her fruit trees and other plants clear through August. She estimates the savings on her water bill to be about $300 a month.

“But I don’t do this for economic reasons,” says Kampe. “I do it because we live in a desert here in Southern California. Water will become more critical as time goes on. So, it is just a shame to waste all this good rain.”

Kampe is setting an example that everyone can learn from. She collects rainwater in ten large barrels (60 to 65 gallons each) from the bottom of downspouts around her home and from runoff from the roof of her house and garage.

The tops of the barrels have been modified with screens to remove debris that comes down from the roof. The lid of each barrel can be screwed on to protect against mosquitoes and screwed off to gain access to the water.

Spigots added to the bottoms of the barrels make it easy to use the collected rain water. In addition, the barrels are connected to each other with hoses so that overflow from one fills the others. This is important because a full barrel of water, at about 480 pounds, is not easily moved around.

Collecting rainwater is an ancient idea that needs to be revived. When it rains as it has so far this year, many people are lulled into a false sense of security that turning on the faucet will always provide all the water anyone could possibly need and want. But there is no such guarantee. We need to remain mindful that we live in a coastal desert plain and most of the water for Los Angeles comes from far away. We should have long ago learned to adapt our ways to a land with little water. Instead, we have built wasteful lifestyles around the presumption of water-on-demand.

Rain barrels, like Kampe’s, are an antidote to wastefulness. And in Kampe’s case, she is not only reusing the water that falls from the sky. The barrels she uses, which she bought for about $100 each, are from a company that modifies pickle barrels into rain barrels.
Christopher Nyerges, the author of “Guide to Wild Food,” can be reached at