Posted by: juliegirl | April 13, 2009

Water for Free

Front Yard with Water Barrel

I think it’s really interesting to try to make a system work. You think of the big goals, you get down into the smallest details, you determine what your resources are, and then you put things in place that make it work. The things you put in place, the systems, are as fascinating to me as the final product. I find making things work really satisfying, especially when the series of systems are all pulling together. 

Big Goal Number One: 
No More Money to the Sewerage and Water Board.

I hate to be snarky, but the S&WB charged me $440 for water usage post-Katrina from August 2005 to December 2006 when *no one* lived in this house. And when I called them to inquire about it, a very polite lady answered the phone and let me know that all their systems had been down for six months and that she would take a message so someone could call me when they were back on-line. This was in February. Finally, after they shut the water off in March, I just flipping paid the thing so they’d turn the water on for a friend who’d moved in. 

Also Big Goal Number One: 
Conserve Water

Louisiana summers can be brutally hot. It rains almost every day (in a torrential downpour that usually lasts 30 minutes but, if you think you can make a dash to the car in 30 seconds without getting drenched, you’re fooling yourself.) It’s intense, driving rain, and though it usually relieves the heavy humidity, it’s not quite enough to keep your garden alive all through the summer. I usually water early in the morning every day in the summer, and sometimes again at night. After just two days of no rain, your entire garden can dry up so it’s a good idea to be vigilant. 

Which brings me to the Sewerage and Water Board. My water bills in the summer were cruising up to $120 a month. Okay, that includes my tenant’s apartment too, but excessive either way. And since all this great water fell on my yard FOR FREE every day, I thought, why not try to save some of it. 

Large open containers attracted mosquitos (and those guys don’t need any help driving you crazy), and rain chains only watered a couple of small pots and plots. I’d heard about rain barrels but I thought I didn’t stand a chance at installing one with my tiny alleyway, unreachable gutter downspouts, and complete lack of access to 50 gallon barrels. After months of calling around to plastics stores and feed wherehouses, a friend who owns an organic nursery got several plastic barrels to make into rain barrels to sell. 

I could have bought his expertly crafted barrels (made with a custom-welded spout and tightly sealed closures) but instead I bought the barrels plain and hauled them home to drill and seal myself. The end result was, yes, a tad bit leaky, but oh-so-worth it!  

My first rain barrel, not quite securely raised on concrete blocks and uneven pavement

Front  yard barrel with drip irrigation system for potted flowers

I learned how to make a rain barrel here and bought a down-spout attachment here. It turns out the downspout adapter is only great for gutters that measure 2×3 and in New Orleans most of the gutters are 3×5. The downspout attachment fits inside my gutter, but it should really attach on the outside to catch all the water possible. So my rain barrels aren’t that efficient yet–at some point I’ll figure out an adapter piggy back to solve the problem. A 2000 square foot roof like mine should yield 1000 gallons of water every inch of rain. My roof has four gutters, two of which are now rain barreled. Though I’m not harvesting nearly all the water I could, in a hard rain, both 50 gallon barrels fill up, which is 100 gallons more water than I used to have every time it rains. 

Backyard barrel with hose hooked up to downspout

Downspout…slightly flawed



  1. Love seeing your chickens. Had a great time with your Mom & Dad. By the way don’t worry when your Mom kicks the bucket. I’ll come & deliver all the lotions, shampoos, etc. to the shelters.
    Love you,

  2. I love your rain barrel! What an ingenious system that you have devised to keeping costs down, reusing water, and making your spot even more lovely with green, flowers, and living organisms. Now can you send some of the valuable resource our way? We are dying here!

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