how to collect ALOT of rainwater?? : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Hi, DH and I are moving even further out in the Alaskan bush. We will be pretty close to the Bering Sea and the village we are moving to has no running water. SOOO....we are looking at alot of garbage cans to collect rain water. This is our first experience collecting H20 and are wonding is there is anything else we can do to collect enough to ensure we get through the dry season. because of our location, we cannot get a giant tank up here so that idea is out. anyone have any suggestions? also, is rainwater that has been stored for some time safe to drink or should we distill it for cysts, parasites, etc? thanks everyone :0)

-- Najia (, May 07, 2002


I would recomend somehow treating or purifying the water before you drink it. Giardia (sp?) is really nasty and so are pther bugs that live in the water. You could so something as simple as just adding iodine tablets to it--that's what we do when we go camping--but I'm not sure if that's a good long term solution. Have you asked what others in the area do with/for their water? Hope things go well at your new home.

-- Erika (, May 07, 2002.

According to the EPA ( ) the average person uses 100gal water/day. Figure they over inflated government facts and figure and figure a bit less for someone really trying to save, so 30-40gal/day. You can live on 2 gal/day in a survival situation. Depending on how frugal you are with water your going to need 60-90 gal/day for you and your DH. Cutting out the shows and really tying to save your going to need maybe 50gal/day. So 1 trash can per day. You really really need to look at a BIG burriable tank. How cold is the alaskan bush?

You will need to purify the water. Have some rain water tested, make sure its safe.

-- Gary (, May 07, 2002.

Naija, Alot will depend on how much the material costs, and machinery availabliltiy and access to your place. And how much you can do yourselves. 1) Since you cannot get a large water tank up, can you get a few of the 1400 (or smaller) gallon tanks up there? They are about 8' tall, 5' in diameter. If you can do this you can store more water than in garbage cans. Then you rigg up gutter systems to fill the tanks and bleed the over fill into the other tanks. Hook these up on series. 2) If that is not an option, you might consider digging out a hole in the ground and pouring cement to make a cistern like box. 3) or you can get a series of large new septic tanks (will not have any waste matter when new and do the above and set these tanks in the ground with the gutter system. Might be cheaper rto pour your own though. 4) create a pond system, if your ground is not clay, then you can fill with betonite or put in liners to hold the water. 5) buy alot of 55 gal plastic food barrels.

You can set up a box filled with sand to be a filter before you add the water to your tanks. Will not filter bacterial matter, but will filter physical matter. You will need submersible pump/s to bring the water to your house. If you can set up the tanks slightly staggered (one highter than the other) and pump from the bottom most tank, the others will empty into that tank by gravity and will aid in keeping the costs down. No I do not have this in operation, it is a design that I have worked out when we where considering a different property. You can pump the water into a tank near the house and chlorinate what you want to use from there or you can get an ultraviolet filter, or get the filter tanks and only use that for cooking and drinking. All you need to do is look at what you have and go from there. Hope that tis wil help in the suggestion department. Regards

-- jonathan (, May 07, 2002.

Those EPA figures quoted are probably figuring in flush toilets, which might make you think about using a composting toilet instead.

Also, look at how you wear clothes--can you eke out an extra wear or two before washing them (might want to hang away from the closet to "air out").

I think chlorine bleach can also be used to purify water as well.

I think in the Tightwad Gazette there was a story about someone using several old hot water tanks for water storage. If you have enough property that may be an option.

-- GT (, May 07, 2002.

Having just moved from AK and having lived without running water, it will depend if you have a lake, a pond, or a stream nearby. Also set up rainbarrels at each corner of your cabin. When it freezes, bring rainbarrel inside, everytime you go outside bring in snow and let it slowly melt. Be sure you have a metal barrel. Are you using a barrel stove. I would call the nearest health dept. and ask what to use to keep it safe for human consumption. Keep a kettle of water on your stove or a water canner for hot water use. In the summer you can use a solar shower. Since you will be in a village perhaps some of the elders can advise you. Will you have living quarters for teaching or are you literally flying out into the bush and will have to be totally self sufficient. As you already know, you will need to plan early for supplies.....planes are limited in the lbs they can carry. Don't forget a satellite phone unless you will be in the village with phone service. GG

-- GG (, May 07, 2002.

The house we will be living has electricity and an oil furnace. We don't have flush toilets ( but will have an incinerator toilet. All of our showers/laundry will be done at the school. The water is just for our drinking/cooking/cleaning.

It gets pretty cold up here...(well below zero for several months) so I don't think digging is much of an option. I am probably showing my ignorance but why metal and not plastic barrels for h20? It would seem to me the metal would rust and be more difficult to clean/move around than a plastic one. Elders usually have the younger men in their house go to a nearby river and chop/haul ice. The river is pretty contaminated from folks dumping honeybuckets in it...I don't think the water would be very sanitary. With almost no cars our air pollution count is very low...I figure rain water is our best bet.

-- Najia (, May 07, 2002.

I am living in the woods in an Airstream trailer with no electricity or other "amenities." I brought in a very old mobile home, 10x30, and had the roof Kool-sealed and gutters set around it which fed into a big 300-gallon water storage tank I bought at a farm supply store and set on concrete blocks. This tank was stolen, so I replaced it with five bright blue apple juice barrels with spigots I had installed. As suggested in another response, the barrels are set lower than each other (on concrete blocks on a hill) so the excess water can go from one to the next. I never thought about using the bottom one first! Get good ideas on here!

I also have two of these recycled barrels hooked up to a roof water catchmet system on my chicken house.

In the past Virginia winter we had, these barrels hardly froze up. On the really cold days I brought in hotwater from a friends house for my animals. Obviously, your conditions in Alaska are going to be different! But I would think using the food grade recycled barrels would be a lot better than using trash cans, metal or plastic.

Could you set up a series of your barrels and put a little shed over them and keep it above freezing with a small wood stove or keroscene (spelling?) heater? That's what I am thinking about doing for next winter. There are cisterns which are cast of concrete and can be brought in and set in a hole dug by a back-hoe which are available down here, but they aren't in my budget and maybe not in yours!

-- Elzabeth (, May 07, 2002.

=== how to collect ALOT of rainwater?? ===

Live some place where it rains a lot! I don't!

-- ~Rogo (, May 07, 2002.

Hi, Can you dig below the perma frost level to store, below it and use a sump pump? Could you do this above your place and use gravity feed? You could probably make a concrete shape and layer in a plastic liner, from a dough boy pool, the water would be ok for washing etc. Needs to be treated. lacyj

-- lacyj (, May 07, 2002.

Idiodine tablets are NOT the way to purify water for long term drinkability. Fine for campouts, but they are not ever to be used for more than a year consecutively. My recomendation for purification: plain old bleach and an eye dropper. Purify each tank to be used like a couple days before you use it, or the bleach will vapor off. The food grade 60 gallon drums (even if the water freezes, they wont burst) would be my personal choice. If you are boating in, float em in on a stringer. If you are flying in, stackable trash cans might be better (much less space!). 50 gallons a day for 2 people is way way over kill. I dont use 1/2 thet much here in the house. In the van, when I and my then GF lived in it, we uses about 4 to five gallons total per day.. we were in Arizona nad the local water was not to be drunk- pretty gross, so we bought all our potable water.

What are you going to be using for roofing? Just as a question, is 5 v tin used up there, or not?

Gutters linked to the storage system from all your buildings sounds like THE way to go.

-- Kevin in NC (, May 07, 2002.

All the suggestions above are good. Without seeing your actual sitiation its hard to know what size of water catchment tank(s) are feasible to transport however I'd give serious thot to recycled plastic tanks I've seen.

They're 250 gallons, sometimes free and others times cheap ($25). They're made of translucent polyethelyne, have a 10"(?) screw-on top and a valve on the bottom. They're usually encased with a heavy wire vasket. Approx dimensions 4'x4'x4'. Guestimated empty weight, less than 200 pounds. I've seen them at cheese factories, paper mills, conrete companies. I've got a hunch many of them were not used for anything toxic or icky so a thorough washing at a car wash would be a good place to start cleaning. After a thorough rinse I think you'd be good to go in most cases. I'd suggest painting them with a dark paint to absorb heat and keep them thawed outa while longer. The absence of light will also inhibit the growth of algae.

-- john (, May 07, 2002.

Wow, I didn't know you live in Alaska! I would love to hear more about your life there, and your place.

There's a really good book called "Rainwater Catchment for the Mechanically Challenged" (not that I think you are :) ), by Suzy Hanks with Richard Heinichen. It has lots of pictures and diagrams, and good, practical information.

I, too want to catch rainwater, and I've been thinking about a design for a couple of years now. Using a basic formula, I figured out how much water our household uses in a year for cooking, drinking, and showers. The basic rule of thumb is to then double that amount. You might have years when there is less rain, you might have additional household members, you have to account for guests - all kinds of factors. Then I figured out how much roof space we would need to catch that much water, using the annual rainfall as a guide.

In my Permaculture class, I learned that underground is the best place to store water, or under a roof would be a second choice. In both cases, the sun does not hit the storage tank. The sun on the tank causes algae and other organisms to grow.

I have decided to use an underground cistern, made by digging a hole and lining it with ferro cement, which you can apply by hand, and don't need to build forms to apply it. It's much less expensive than pouring concrete. I've also heard of people using new, unused septic tanks. One man in a Los Angeles suburb supplied his entire family's water supply, including water for the garden and landscape, with rainwater catchment. He had big storage tanks above ground, under a roof.

Our cistern would be located uphill from the house, and the water would be gravity fed to the house. Instead of building one huge cistern, I am thinking of two smaller ones.

We bought a Berkfield filter and put it on our kitchen tap to filter our well water. What about using one of those to purify your rain water? We thought about ozonation, and reverse osmosis - both of which are very good ways to purify water, but it is expensive and involves a system that costs time and money for maintenance, replacement parts and filters, etc. Plus, a system of this type needs energy of some kind to run it (electricity). The Berkfield is much simpler and less expensive to maintain, even with replacement filters being kind of expensive.

With the cisterns, I figure they will be worth the initial cost, because they will last a long time, and be fairly easy to maintain, and will provide us with clean water.

-- Christine in California (, May 08, 2002.

You are school teachers at a remote location in Alaska. There MUST have been other teachers before you with the same problem. Ask them, or the school authorities, how they solved the problem.

-- Joe (, May 08, 2002.

Najia, I think ferro cement would be the best way to store water, you can dig down to permafrost then mound up around the tank to completely bury it. Do a search on ferro cement, there are lots of designs and plenty of info on how to do it. If hauling in cement (not concrete) is out of the question, then you could buy a pond liner and dig down to permafrost then mound around it. If you build a shelter over it you shouldn't have problems with contamination from birds, animals and children. I would run the rain water thru a sand filter or at least a fiberfill filter before it goes into the cistern. BTW, if you are only cooking and drinking, why not just haul a couple of gallons a day from the school? My daughter and I have managed just fine on 2 gallons a day, and that included baths. kim

-- kim in CO (, May 08, 2002.

Christine, you really seem to understand the issue. :) I'm curious why you would prefer 2 smaller cisterns. One larger one would be a lot more cost effective, or could store more water for the same money?

I have a cistern for the barn, gravity feeds to the cattle, now gets water from the deep well. (Used to store all drinking/livestock/toilet water from a shallow windmill well.) In addition the house has a cistern in the basement to supply soft water for washing - collected from the house roof. (We have very hard water here from the ground. Very.)

One will need to treat water coming from a roof collection system before drinking. Bird poop alone is reason enough, plus storage tends to grow other 'things' in the water.

I would find 55 gal drums to be too difficult to fill & too much hassle to rotate through, but to each their own. The best is a cistern of some type dug into the ground - works well in Minnesota, but Alaska presents it's own challenges. Don't you need to store for months at a time up there? Here in Minnesota don't get any liquid from November to May, I would think you have a very short collection period up there. And rain comes fast in a short time, how do you plumb the 55 tanks together to accept rapid water input?

Also be very careful of recycled (used) tanks if you plan to _drink_ the water - a few parts per billion of bad stuff can linger on in those barrels for years & years.

None of this would be even remotely legal here in Minnesota - they don't really even allow shallow wells any more, all living quarters have to be deep - or plumbed to city water to get a house permit.


-- paul (, May 08, 2002.

Joe...most are single people who can get buy on 2 gallons a day. They are clueless for the most part about gathering large amounts.

Kim....because the water is needed for 5 people not two and because hauling buckets of water 1/2 mile in subzero weather isnt alot of fun.

I like the idea of the stacked barrels. i dont think they will allow me to do anything permanent like pouring cement.

Thanks everyone!! :)

-- Najia (, May 08, 2002.

Please do more research before digging down to perma frost level. One of the reasons there are concerns about the Alaska pipeline is that the footings will conduct summer warmth down to the permafrost, causing it to thaw and then the surface turns into a quagmire. Your tank might sink beyound recovery. Ask the Armed Forces how their stations cope.

-- Deborah Hardy (, May 08, 2002.

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