Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is a simple method by which rainfall is collected for future usage. The collected rainwater may be stored, utilised in different ways or directly used for recharge purposes. With depleting groundwater levels and fluctuating climate conditions, RWH can go a long way to help mitigate these effects. Capturing the rainwater can help recharge local aquifers, reduce urban flooding and most importantly ensure water availability in water-scarce zones. Though the term seems to have picked up greater visibility in the last few years, it was, and is even today, a traditional practice followed in rural India. Some ancient rainwater harvesting methods followed in India include madakas, ahar pynes, surangas, taankas and many more.
This water conservation method can be easily practiced in individual homes, apartments, parks, offices and temples too, across the world. Farmers have recharged their dry borewells, created water banks in drought areas, greened their farms, increased sustainability of their water resources and even created a river. Technical know how for the rooftop RWH with direct storage can be availed for better implementation. RWH An effective method in water scarce times, it is also an easily doable practice. Practical advice is available in books written by Indukanth Ragade & Shree Padre, talks by Anupam Mishra
Methods of Rainwater Harvesting
There are many ways in which rainwater can be harvested. Some of these methods are very effective and can aid in the collection of a lot of water even for commercial activities while others are only suitable for harvesting water meant for domestic use. Every system has its merits and demerits. These are the common methods of rainwater harvesting:
- Surface Water Collection Systems: Surface water is simply water that accumulates on the ground’s surface. When rainwater falls on the surface of the earth, it usually flows down slopes as it moves towards a point of depression where the moving water can collect. Surface water collection systems enable the collection of ground surface rainwater before it flows to other locations. Examples of such systems include rivers, ponds, and wells. Drainage pipes can be used to direct water into these systems. Water can then be fetched from these sources and then used for other purposes.
- Rooftop system: These can also be used to harvest rainwater. They can be used to direct rainwater that falls on the roof of a building into containers or tanks. These tanks are usually elevated so that when the tap is opened, water flows at a high pressure. This method of rainwater harvesting is good because the accumulated water is mostly clean and usually requires no further treatment to make it fit for human use.
- Dams: These are barriers that are designed to trap water. Rainwater can accumulate directly in them or drainage systems can be created to direct water into them. Water collected in dams is mostly used for irrigation purposes or treated and then distributed for domestic use. They can also be used to harvest a lot of water because of the way in which they are modeled. Unlike ponds, measures are put in place to reduce the amount of water draining into the ground.
- Underground Tanks: These are also ideal for collecting rainwater. They are constructed by digging into the ground and creating a space which is then cemented to reduce water infiltration. The top is also sealed and water is obtained through pipes directed into the tank. To get water out, pumps are used. Underground tanks are wonderful for harvesting rainwater because the rate of evaporation is reduced since they are located underground where sunlight does not really penetrate.
- Rainsaucer: Sometimes one can decide to collect rainwater directly as it falls from the sky by using a rain-saucer. These look like upside down umbrellas or big funnels. Some are usually attached to a pipe so that the collected water is directed elsewhere. Some people also do a little improvisation by placing the collecting container underground with only the rain-saucer above the ground. It is a simple method yet effective.
6. Water Collection Reservoirs: Water collected through this method is not really clean and may be contaminated. However, it can still be used for crop irrigation. such rainwater is harvested from roads and pavements.
- Barrage: A barrage is a dam that has several openings which can be closed or opened to control the quantity of water that passes through it. It is usually large and can be used to collect a lot of water.
Slopes: Rainwater tends to collect at the bottom of slopes when it flows on the ground. When it rains heavily, water levels can rise to the hill top. This is a simple and natural way to harvest rainwater.
Trenches: This is another great way to harvest rainwater for irrigation. When it rains, the water is directed to the farm using trenches. It is one of the traditional methods of rainwater harvesting that is still very much in use today.
- Rain Barrels: These are also used for rainwater harvesting. They are specifically designed for this purpose and can be purchased from retail stores. Rain barrels are used for harvesting rainwater that falls on rooftops.
Advantages of Rainwater Harvesting
1. Water For Domestic Use: Rainwater harvesting is beneficial because it provides a source of water for domestic use. The collected water can be used for house cleaning purposes, washing laundry and for cooking. When treated, rainwater is good for drinking. It is an easy way of obtaining water for use in the home.
- Water For Industrial Use: Industries can also harvest rainwater for use in some of their processes. Rainwater meant for industrial use is normally harvested in large scale. Such companies can construct their own dams or have underground tanks to store rainwater.
Supplementary Water Source: Many areas experience water shortages during summer due to lack of rain and as a result of the high rate of evaporation. It can be difficult to get a reliable source of water during these periods. Those who sell water may also increase their prices because of the high demand and short supply. Harvesting rainwater is therefore seen as a way of preparing for the sunny days when water is scarce.
Cost Effective: We basically harvest rainwater for free because it is naturally occurring. If you store enough water during the rainy season, you may never have to pay for water services again because you’ll have enough supply to last you through the summer. This saves you money by cutting down your monthly expenditure on water bills.
Reliable Flow of Harvested Water: Even though harvesting of rainwater depends on rainfall, once stored, the supply of the available quantity is guaranteed. You can have an uninterrupted flow of water from the place of storage as long as the amount harvested has not been exhausted. The same cannot be said when you depend on an outside source to supply your water. There is also the benefit of locational-suitability because the source of water is in your place of stay.
Mitigates/Reduces The Impacts of Floods: Harvesting rainwater plays a key role in mitigating or reducing the impacts of floods. When rainwater is directed to farms through trenches or collected in dams, its movement is controlled. This prevents the accumulation of water in one area, something that often causes flooding. Rivers can also overflow and cause flooding in the adjacent areas. The negative impacts of floods are too many and costly. Harvesting rainwater is, therefore, an effective way of reducing the impacts of this natural disaster.
Building and Construction: Collected rainwater can be used for building and construction. The process of building a house requires a lot of water. Harvesting rainwater would thus avail water for this activity.
Helps In Preventing Water Pollution: Rainwater flowing on the ground surface can carry with it a lot of impurities and toxic substances. When it drains into water bodies, it pollutes them because of these impurities. Harvesting rainwater, therefore, prevents pollution of water bodies.
Irrigation: Rainwater is good for farming because once harvested, it can be used for irrigation especially during the summer. One can, therefore, have a thriving farm and realize a bumper harvest.
Saves Potable Water: Instead of using clean and treated water for other purposes such as washing and in the toilet, rainwater can be used. This saves potable water which would then be used for drinking and cooking only.
Pre-filtration to remove impurities would make the harvested water safer.
The harvested rainwater can also be boiled to kill any germs before drinking it.
Rainwater should be collected in containers that do not give out toxins when exposed to sunlight.
Set up the collection points before it starts raining because you can fall ill when you run around in the rain.
Disadvantages of Harvesting Rainwater
1. Additional Expenditure: Treating rainwater to make it fit for human consumption will see you incurring additional expenses. This would not happen when you use water supplied to you by the local council because it’s already treated.
Huge Efforts and Resources Required: Constructing a dam or an underground tank is no mean fete. Before you begin harvesting rainwater, you’ll have spent a considerable amount of resources. There are other cheap means but then you’ll not collect a reasonable amount of water.
Dependent On Rainfall: You can’t harvest rainwater when it does not rain. This process is therefore solely dependent on the availability of rain which can sometimes be very unreliable. What then happens when the dry spell is prolonged and you don’t have an alternative source of water?
Limited Storage: Even if it rains for three months straight, you cannot harvest all that water even if you wanted to. This is because there is limited storage to keep the rainwater.
Risk of Contamination: If not preserved with care, rainwater can be contaminated. This can cause several health problems especially when the water is used without first being treated. Waterborne diseases are so many and treating them is very costly.
Cleaning and Maintenance: The storage facilities have to be occasionally cleaned and maintained. Cleaning an underground water tank is not easy and maintaining a dam is very expensive. This makes the thought of harvesting rainwater unattractive.
Dual Cost: You’ll incur expenses twice because of paying your normal water bills and installing and maintaining the rainwater harvesting system. This will set you back financially in a way.
Roof Tops That Contain Chemicals: Some rooftops contain chemicals and impurities that mix with the rainwater. When consumed, this water can affect human health by causing illnesses and other health conditions.
Acidic Rain: Due to pollution, sometimes the rain that falls is acidic. Harvesting this type of rainwater is dangerous because of the chemicals contained. Using acidic rain for irrigation can also cause the death of crops because it erodes the quality of soil and creates conditions that are not conducive for plant germination. When the soil has a high pH, plants do not grow properly.
Lack of Water for Wildlife: Wild animals get their drinking water from natural sources such as seasonal streams and rivers. They also use them for cooling in the hot weather. Harvesting rainwater reduces the amount of water that flows into these streams and rivers. This affects the ecosystem because some animals are likely to die due to the harsh conditions.