open-source rainwater catchment methods and kits

portland, oregon
When we search the universe for life, we search for water.
If ever there was a basic human right, the very source of life is surely first on the list. It is the very measure of common sense that clean water is indespensible to human existence. We can count on one hand the number of days we will survive without it. Societies have risen and fallen on the proximity and availability of this axis resource. Some measure of water is necessary to produce nearly everything. However, as our population grows, weather changes, and industry threatens, water scarcity has become a concern of rich and poor alike.

Ninety-seven percent of the world's water is salt water. The remaining 3% found in rivers and groundwater has become so fundamentally compromised that less than one half of one percent is "fresh and available" (Brad Lancaster, "Harvesting Rainwater"). The blue Gold report estimates that by 2025 our demand for fresh water will be 56% more than is currently available (SRC: International Forum on Globalization). The era of water scarcity and commodification is upon us.
Continued below...


We all intuitively know the hydrological cycle provides us with our fresh water supply. Water evaporates off large water bodies (leaving the salt behind), it forms clouds which float over the land, and rain/snow/ice falls—hydrating the land and replenishing groundwater aquifers. While surface and groundwater are secondary sources in the hydrological cycle, they have become accepted as more convenient, predictable, and thus profitable, making them central to the marketability of modern water management systems. Because of growing surface water pollution from big hydro-energy (in the form of dams) and industrial dumping, we have come to rely on excessive groundwater pumping, to the tune of 79.6 billion gallons per day in the US (or 29,054,000,000,000 gallons annually). That's right, 29 trillion gallons (SRC: Natl. Groundwater Assoc.). Our aquifers now provide drinking water for over half of the US population (SRC: US Geological Survey). Guess what happens next? Our lakes and rivers SINK back into the ground to replace the water table. Duh, of course. When there isn't enough total water to balance and the hard, dry land can no longer easily absorb the rains, the ground literally begins to collapse in on itself and wash away, choking rivers and streams. While some of this pumped water is reabsorbed (or recharged) into the ground from uses such as agriculture, increasingly it is being abused elsewhere as well, such as for filling plastic bottles, shipping them out of the watershed, and selling them back to us at 5 times the cost of gasoline per ounce.

Contain Rain started from a concern about how people think of water, regardless of their region. While it may seem water here is plentiful, considering the amount of rain in the Cascadia Bioregion, there exists a false common-sense assumption that all our 37" of rain per annum in Portland simply fills our aquifers back up each year. Not so. Much of that rain does not soak into the ground, but runs off impermeable surfaces, into the rivers, and out to the sea. An even smaller amount penetrates deep into the ground. Portland's aquifer (the Puget-Williamette Trough aquifer), among many others in our volcanic basalt region, have the unfortunate qualities of high well yields (that is, you can pump between 2000-8000 gallons per minute in the valleys) and long recharge times. Currently for agricultural use, we are pumping what they call "fossil water" (water that is +20,000 years old). There's a reason the water is that old. The aquifer relies heavily on slow-sinking snow-melt to replenish groundwater. (Hint: The Sandy Glacier on Mt Hood has shrunk to almost half its size since 1907.) Can you imagine the Willamette Valley Desert? Aquifer drawdown or overdrafting and the pumping of fossil water also increases the total amount of water in the hydrosphere, and may be responsible for up to one quarter of the Earth's total sea level rise since the beginning of the 20th century (SRC: Global depletion of groundwater resources, University of Utrecht, 2010).

The Chinese symbol for water
alternately means "power".
Water has become a commodity—recently. The 1992 UN conference in Dublin (The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development: Principal N0.4) stated, for the first time, that water should be considered an "economic good". The last ten years have seen the creation of more than a dozen publicly traded water indexes, that deal only with water, openly traded on the stock market. We are really buying and selling water now? The four largest water-based corporations are all in the top 100 largest companies in the world. The water giant Suez has over 400,000 employees in their water division, and a recorded 18.5 billion in sales for 2010. It's hard to imagine, but there's a chance that one day every single drop of water in the world will be privately owned and controlled. ...Though don't even think about telling people they cannot collect rainwater; Bechtel Corporation already tried that in Bolivia.

The irony of paying for water when an average of 35,000 gallons of pure, fresh water (more than we could ever use) falls on our roofs annually, is not lost on us. While most companies dealing with this precious resource are focused on profits, transforming it into a heavily marketed, proprietary-processed product (e.g. filtering it, desalinizing it, bottling it etc.), we are focused on providing open-source, non-corporate catchment/use methods, kits, and plans to our community for the purpose of increasing not only our awareness of the importance of water conservation and independence, but our options as well. Much of our currently offered solutions are confined to the garden, and while water-mindedness may begin here, that is certainly not where it ends.

As we stare woefully out the window during the Portland winter, how about we be thankful the demand for water here has not yet reached a market value; let's think about our aquifers being replenished and how to properly save and sink this resource into the future; and not least of all about our own uses of water, how we take them for granted when there are so many who must drink from polluted rivers and let their houses burn because they are not afforded (or cannot afford!) this basic right. We are luckier than most, let us not revel, but rise to offer examples in solidarity with the many who go without. Start a water project. Help our community set the world standard for water sufficiency, and show that we make no assumptions about our water.

We are always open to questions, comments, suggestions, and concerns. As we develop this online resource, help us spread the word around to our neighbors. Think about water. Don't take it for granted. Don't waste it. As our water bills reach for the sky, let's consider it... let's seek water independence!