Residential rainwater harvesting: Utilizing Louisiana’s rainwater abundance

Louisiana residents gathering rainwater in their barrels.
Louisiana residents gathering rainwater in their barrels.(Green Light New Orleans)
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:28 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 11:35 AM CDT
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(KALB) - Loren Ryland takes a look at harvesting rainwater throughout Louisiana.

Collecting “Liquid Silk” in central Louisiana

Nearly 15 years ago, Patrick Moore, Cenla’s “Doctor Dirt,” began using rainwater to operate his small organic farm in Alexandria, Louisiana.

A highly resourceful landscape architect, Moore has a knack for transforming unwanted materials into working systems that are designed to work with the flows of nature, rather than against them.

“We found this old piece of gutter on the side of the road and said, ‘Gee, we ought to catch rainwater in here.’ We bought a 350-gallon tank and just rigged this thing up,” Moore said.

Moore connected the 10-foot-long gutter to the eave of the farm’s workshop, routed it into the vertical water tank, and let nature do the rest.

The system catches water runoff from a surface area of about 120 square feet. With an average 60 inches of rain per year in central Louisiana, the 10-foot-long rain collection system provides enough crystal clear, chemical-free water to grow organic fruits and vegetables for his family and friends.

Patrick Moore
Patrick Moore(Loren Ryland)

Moore and his wife, Randalle, no longer rely on the municipal water supply to operate his farm.“Our garden gets nothing but rainwater. We never use a hose, ever,” Moore said.

In addition to the raised garden beds, the Moore’s use the rainwater to grow dozens of plant starts in their ad-hoc nursery, rinse fresh-off-the-vine vegetables and soil-covered farm tools, wash the car, and complete daily household chores.

“You just have the feel the difference of this versus the water out of your sink,” Moore said. “I call it ‘liquid silk.’”

Green Light New Orleans: Creating Rain Barrel Masterpieces

In true “Big Easy” fashion, grassroots organization Green Light New Orleans’s rain barrel program has taken something seemingly ordinary and turned it into works of art.

Rain Barrels
Rain Barrels(Green Light New Orleans)

Dreaming of a more sustainable and resilient New Orleans, Swiss native Andreas Hoffman founded Green Light in 2006 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented destruction.

The organization’s early days focused on providing energy efficient light bulbs to as many New Orleans homes as possible, thereby reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and lowering utility bills.

With a small core team and thousands of volunteers, Green Light has replaced over 600,000 incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs since 2007. From there, Green Light took on even more ambitious projects.

Addressing the widespread need for a sustainable source of fresh food, the team has built and installed over 600 backyard gardens for New Orleans residents to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

In 2015, the group launched its rain barrel program which helps to lower monthly water bills, reduces subsidence (the sinking of soil), lightens the burden on stormwater drains during heavy flooding, and adds vibrant works of art throughout the greater New Orleans region.

Six years later, Green Light and its army of volunteers have installed over 1,300 rain barrels in the greater New Orleans area.

The rain barrels are intended to provide the same caliber of chemical-free water as Patrick Moore’s system in the center of the state. With the collected water, residents can soak their ornamental plants and grow their own food.

Much like the energy efficiency and food access programs, Green Light’s rain barrel project has seen astronomical success, with 600+ waitlisted residents in the queue according to Will Thinnes, the rain barrel program coordinator.

“We were doing a lot of marketing, and then we completely stopped because of overwhelming demand just through word of mouth. It’s neighbors seeing it; it’s people walking down the street. New Orleans is such a strong, tight-knit community where everyone knows their neighbors,” Thinnes said.

Rain barrel artist, Kami Galeana (right) and New Orleans resident, Michael Johnson (left);...
Rain barrel artist, Kami Galeana (right) and New Orleans resident, Michael Johnson (left); (photo courtesy of Green Light New Orleans).(Green Light New Orleans)

Where do the barrels come from? The local Zatarain’s factory, according to Thinnes, allowing Green Light to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

“They start off as 55-gallon plastic barrels that originally contained crawfish boil ingredients or lemon juice and garlic oil,” Thinnes said. “Zatarain’s has been generous enough to donate most of their barrels that would otherwise go to the landfill which also helps to reduce the overall price of our operation.”

To be accessible to residents of all income levels, the rain barrel program operates on a cost-share system. The sliding scale payment structure means that each recipient pays only what he or she can afford, starting at $10 and adding as much as they would like to contribute.

For Green Light’s team, any opportunity to implement low-impact, low-cost green infrastructure is worth its weight in gold.

“It’s small-scale efforts, but it’s part of the collective,” Thinnes said. “It’s focusing on individual homes, but that encourages collective action so that if a whole neighborhood had rain barrels, food gardens, and energy efficient lightbulbs, I think this is the pinnacle of environmental justice and sustainability.”

If you would like to get involved or make a donation to Green Light’s programs, follow this link to get in touch with the bright minds at Green Light New Orleans.

Exploring Possibilities

All around the country, homes and businesses are outfitting their roofs with rainwater catchment systems. Some are even designed to replace the municipal water supply or privately-operated wells altogether.

The rainwater collection movement is gaining momentum particularly in the American west, where the effects from two decades of drought are having a crippling effect, especially in water-intensive agricultural production.

When you start to think about rainwater collection potential in central Louisiana and around the state, the possibilities are astounding.

For example, a 1,500 square foot house in Pineville, Louisiana has the capacity to capture a mindboggling 56,070 gallons of rainwater per year!

Curious about how much rainwater falls on your roof? Click here to access a rainwater collection calculator.

Getting Started: Important Tips for Rainwater Collection

If rainwater collection sounds like something you’d like to try, there are few important considerations before you dive right in:

  1. This YouTube video is for rain barrel beginners, explaining how to set up an affordable rain catchment system for use in your garden. Because of the large quantity of rainfall in Louisiana, it likely makes sense to start with a small-scale catchment system like the examples above. When choosing the length of your gutters to be routed to the downspout, remember, less is more.
  2. Rainwater is usually NOT safe to drink unless it has been filtered and purified properly. For additional information on how to outfit your rainwater collection system to provide potable water, check out this article from the Water Quality and Health Council as well as this publication from the Center for Disease Control.
  3. As with all standing water, poorly designed rain barrels can attract disease-carrying mosquitos, something that Louisianians will know all too well. This article is one of many that provides best practices for keeping those pesky mosquitos out of your rainwater collection system. The two most common methods are installing mesh screens over each opening in the system and regularly cycling through all the water in your barrel to minimize stagnation.

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