Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged

by Suzy Banks with Richard Heinichen

illustrated by Tré Arenz

Published by Tank Town

95 pages, 2006

Buy it online



Saving the World, One Drop at a Time

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen


Many people who live rurally are ready to consider rainwater collection. It's just a question of sliding a barrel under a downspout, isn't it? Think again. The reality can be so daunting that many of us immediately block it from memory. There's plumbing, there's filters, there's the design and material of the roof itself, the roof washer, the pump, the storage tank, the sterilization and -- horrors -- the ongoing maintenance. It can be a scary thought to realize that suddenly you are totally responsible for your own water supply. Along with this, the realization that what we thought might cost a few hundred dollars may add up to over ten thousand is the final straw. Enthusiasm usually then falters then withers.

Anyone who has been to see a rain catchment system will know what I mean. After visiting a demonstration site last summer I was in shock for weeks.

So, not surprisingly, when this small, non-threatening book was published, I picked it up cautiously. It didn't bite; it almost purred in fact. I was heartened, thinking, "If everything we need to know can be contained in this chatty little book, why can't we do this" Published by Tank Town Publishing, it was immediately apparent to me why folks in that area would be interested in rain catchment. The publisher's address is in Dripping Springs. I guess it could be worse: Trickling springs, for example, or even worse, Dry Springs.

The authors of Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged wouldn't mind the banter. They've gone to some trouble to cajole and jolly the reader along so that they think this could be fun. The writing is breezy, funny in places, and affirming without the hype.

There is a minimum rainfall that's needed to fulfill most of our needs, roughly estimated at 50 gallons per person per day, but most January Magazine readers probably live in an area with sufficient precipitation. In the preface Banks writes:

...for anyone who sees an average of 30 inches or more of fairly clean rain annually and who has access to electricity in some form ... this book should see you well on your way to rainwater collection.

According to Banks, the rainwater she collects at her home near Austin, Texas, is now so good that she and her partner are bottling and selling it!

Pictures and illustrations are always good in a book of this type, especially for the mechanically challenged readers mentioned in the title. In aid of this, the late Arenz' drawings are generously laced through the book. Visuals encourage you onward on almost every page, and where there isn't a picture, there's a colorful sidebar with interesting anecdotes, tips or facts.

From the perks of rainwater (think soft water, less wear and tear on your plumbing, less metals and pollutants, no expensive well drilling, no saltwater or septic seepage to worry about) to troubleshooting your system, it covers it all and in the process somehow makes the whole thing seem doable.

Seven chapters cover the process from start to finish. Firstly, the storage tank and the options available are outlined: barrel, stone, concrete, metal, polypropylene or fiberglass, along with the pros and cons of each, their size and their cost.

Other chapters deal with siting the tank, getting the water from roof to tank and from tank to toilet, along the way covering such little items as guttering, leaf guards, strainer baskets, roof washers and post filtering systems. Then there are the pumps, pipes and the decision to go with shallow well jet pumps or multistage centrifugal pumps.

At this point, if you're like me, your eyes are starting to glaze over and your enthusiasm for rain catchment is falling like all that unharvested rain out your window. Let's face it, there is only so much you can do to make polypropylene or post filtering systems sound heart thumping. It's the light and lively tone of the book that will keep you going, badgering you along and really making you think that: Hey! You can do it if they can.

While a quote on the back of the book cover from Real Goods/Gaiam asserts that the book is "funny enough for recreational reading..." I wouldn't go that far. But I do agree with another back cover quote -- this one from Home Power News -- that says, "Once in a while a resource comes along that clarifies the problems, and presents solutions in such a way that you find yourself saying, 'Even I can make this work!' Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged ... did it for me."

And the biggest benefit is left till the end. Think of how proud you're going to be: the envy of all your "green" neighbors. Our summer project is on the drawing board. | March 2006


Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.