Is a Rain Barrel a Rainwater Harvesting System?
You can not call a rain barrel a rainwater harvesting system because it is missing important components for filtration. Rain barrels have been around for many years and are still seen on farms and homes that are environmentally conscious. A rain barrel can be either open ended or have a more advanced downspout connector installed in it to capture water directly. To be considered a rainwater harvesting system a rain barrel would need debris removal and filtration to get rainwater ready for consumption.
Even though some people still drink water collected in rain barrels it is not considered safe by those who understand the subject. Rain collected from rooftops is often contaminated with bird droppings, mold and other debris that stagnate standing water. The only way to make collected rainwater safe for consumption is to boil it but this should only be done for emergency use and not as a permanent solution.
You often see old rain barrels or trash cans with the cap removed under an area where rooftop runoff is plentiful. This open ended rain barrel is a mosquito incubating chamber (mosquitoes lay eggs in the standing water) and is unsafe to your family’s health. To modernize a rain barrel you must make sure it is fully enclosed. An old open ended rain barrel can be covered with cheese cloth or outdoor window screen to keep mosquitoes out but the water will not be safe for consumption without filtration.
Rain barrels should be used to collect water for your garden and house plants only. If you put the water through reverse osmosis after debris removal it is still not technically a rainwater harvesting system. It is important that you be careful of what you drink, people have become very sick from consuming polluted water. It is also important to make sure that you are not breading mosquitoes to protect yourself and your neighbors from the dreaded West Nile virus.
I encourage people to separate the meaning of rain barrel and rainwater harvesting system to help promote the importance of rainwater filtration and health. If you want to drink rainwater, educate yourself on all the components that make up a complete rainwater harvesting system and only use rain barrels for your garden. Add first flush, coarse debris removal, UV sterilization and reverse osmosis to rain barrel collected water and yes, I would consider it a safe.
Rain barrels are great for educational purposes, they help build an awareness of our environment. For those who enjoy home and garden plants rain barrels can also help conserve water and lower our water bills.
Interested in a traditional rain barrel? (click image below)