(Illustration of the hydrologic cycle by Tre` Arenz, taken from Rainwater Collection For the Mechanically Challenged.)
Very few things in life are 100% positive, cisterns included. Way back when I first started writing about our homestead, I vowed to be upfront with the good, the bad & the ugly. Here's what Fred and I have compiled: the pros and cons of catching your rainwater in a cistern.
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1. Independence from public water supply.
We are 100% on our own, which means that we control what's added---or not added---to our water. When you turn on a faucet in our home, you are not greeted with the smell of chlorinated water.
After installation (which is comparable to drilling a well), monthly cost to filter the water is minimal.
3. Ability to avoid polluted groundwater.
This one is big for me. Pennsylvania is currently going through the growing pains with drilling and fracking our Marcellus Shale layer. There isn't much legislation in place to govern the drilling companies and mandate responsibility to the citizens of our state regarding the cleanliness of our drinking water. And while contamination from fracking fluids isn't terribly common, groundwater is a tricky thing to keep track of, impossible to control. I'm able to avoid having to wonder if my water is contaminated, simply because my water doesn't come from the ground.
4. Soft water
In terms of hardness/softness, rainwater is on the softer side. In addition, we're able to avoid common well problems such as iron or sulfur.
I have access to water, even if the power were to be out for quite a bit of time. Even if I needed to collect it by hand from the tank and boil it on the stove in an emergency situation, I would still have access to water. (As an aside, since we have a waterless toilet, we can still use our bathroom even if the power is out.)
Initial cost, depending where you live and what pieces of the system you need to purchase, can be the same as the cost for drilling a well. In our case, we spent $7,675.00.
No two ways about it, you need to be responsible individual if you want to harvest rain as your only supply of water. Each job is small, but needs to be done if the system is to run properly. Filters need to be changed monthly. Gutters must be cleaned out, so excess gunk doesn't try to wash into the tanks. pH needs to be monitored. The roof washer must be emptied out in preparation for the next rainstorm. You need to keep the weather forecast in mind---if it looks like the weekend holds the largest storm for the fall, you had better be at home to open and close the roof washer, to catch every precious drop of water.
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There you have it---the ups and downs as we see it. As with everything, there was a bit of a learning curve, but we are very pleased with our rainwater collection system. Our cisterns have been a fantastic investment in a system that will work well for many years to come.