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For Rain Barrel Users, Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Water?

Dick Peterson
Rainwater harvesters are loving Austin’s wet weather. This residential rainwater collection system uses tanks from Austin-based Poly-Mart.";

Austin's recent rains have caused a fair amount of trouble. But some folks made out like bandits during the recent deluge.

Many urban rain collectors watched recent downpours overwhelm their rain barrels and cisterns. It raises a question: Can too much rain be a bad thing, even for rainwater harvesters?

Most rain harvesters say: Nope.

Karen Collins, who collects rain at her home in Austin and on farmland north of Liberty Hill, is optimistic about the surge in rain. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “My tanks are completely full. I am in great shape. There are times in the summer when I don’t have any rainwater.”

Collins estimates that she now has enough water to care for her 400-foot vegetable garden through next spring. Otherwise she would be dependent on services from Austin Water.

While Collins sees the barrel as half full (and then some), some harvesters see a lost opportunity.

“My clients are going to larger and larger tanks, or multiple tanks, because we are beginning to think there is no such thing as overflow,” says Dick Peterson, a water harvesting consultant and former coordinator with Austin Energy’s Green Building program. “Overflow just means you don’t have enough storage capacity.”

Peterson explains that this trend is partially influenced by actual and predicted changes in rainfall patterns. “Climatologists … are coming up with a hypothesis that even though we’re going to be in an extended period of drought in Central Texas, it’s likely we’re going to have that drought interrupted with hurricane-induced rain.”

Rainwater collection may be a necessity, especially for farm-owners like Collins. At her Liberty Hill farm, Collins has the ability to collect 103,000 gallons of water. It’s the main water source for the farm’s agricultural and indoor plumbing needs. Just to maintain a herd of 40 cattle, Collins uses 200 to 400 gallons of water per day.

The farm is currently supplemented by well water, but it may not be a reliable source in the future. “We watch the big subdivisions going in out there and we see those big water towers going up,” Collins says. “They are drilling into the same aquifer that we are drilling in to, and we don’t think that the aquifer is going to support the kind of water withdrawals that are coming. We think we’ve seen the handwriting, we hope we are reading it correctly in our efforts to do something about it.”

Austinites interested in conserving water can learn more at Austin Water and access information about rebates available to rainwater harvesters. 

Carrie Powell is a news intern covering stories for the KUT News blog. Originally hailing from Ohio, Carrie entered the world of public radio through WGTE FM 91 in Toledo. Having recently concluded a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA, Carrie is interested in news, community, and storytelling.
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