Saving the Rain for a Hot Summer Day

San Jose summers are hot and dry. Even without the drought, rainfall plunges by April and remains mostly dry through September. When we’re not in a drought, we average 15 inches (38 cm) of rain a year, half of the US average.

13.5 inches (34 cm) of that rain falls between November and April. The following six months averages a *total* of an inch and a half or about four centimeters.

When you hear me squeal with delight at the end of this short video, you’ll understand why. We’re back to doing what our ancestors did: saving rain water.

A local company called Rainsavers installed a rain catchment system along the side of our house. The tanks are just around the corner from my vegetable garden.

Lot sizes are small in Silicon Valley, so big tanks aren’t feasible. We looked into gray water systems, but they have  limitations. Further, they are largely promoted for watering a lawn which we no longer have, or other non-edible plants. A friend showed me her patio cisterns, and described how they worked. The pair of cisterns keep her vegetable garden watered all summer. In the end we opted for Bushman Slimline tanks. They have a small footprint so worked well in our narrow side-yard. They connected three tanks, allowing us to collect and store 390 gallons (1,476 liters) of rainwater.

rainsavers collage

Rain Catchment System: view approaching side-yard, vines camouflage tanks, tanks installed along side of house, Brad from Rainsavers

Nearly two years after my water audit, and several stops and starts later, Rainsavers installed our new system. Within two weeks, we had a series of storms. One good soaking filled all three tanks to capacity.

The other cool thing about these tanks is the overflow. Most rainwater becomes run-off, further jeopardizing our diminishing ground water. Any overflow from these tanks helps replenish the county aquifers instead.

Here’s the timeline for reducing our outdoor water usage:

June, 2013: Removed lawn in sidewalk strip, replaced with gravel and raised planting bed

May, 2014: San Jose Water Company Audit

December, 2014: Sheet mulch half of the lawn in the back garden

May, 2015: The Fairy Garden Goes Native

Summer, 2015: We stop watering the lawn

November, 2015: The last of the lawn is history. California natives move in.

February, 2016: Rain water catchment system installed.

37 thoughts on “Saving the Rain for a Hot Summer Day

  1. Amazing setup! I’m so glad we put in our gutters and two 150-gallon barrels in the fall. Let it rain! I. Surprised your rainfall amount is similar to my hometown which is 11 inches.


    • Thanks, Leilani. It’s great to hear you have barrels as well. Have you blogged about them and I missed it?

      Gosh, 11 inches sounds like our drought conditions. Did I read somewhere today that you’re heading home soon for some Momma time? Enjoy!


  2. Gosh, the timing is impeccable Alys – units in and water from the sky arrives soon after. Somebody up there loves you 🙂 What a fabulous option for your small land parcel and tucked away at the side so neatly. I’d be in there sqeeing with you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pauline, I was so worried that we would miss the rain entirely. What a thrill to find those tanks full within a few days. The water is soft, too. I filled the bird bath with it one day and was amazed by that. I’m not sure why it makes me so happy, but it does. Thanks for squeeing along with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You are certainly doing your part to cooperate with what nature gives you! I’ve never spent any real time in a place as dry as San Jose so it’s hard to relate but I can see that your water tanks are like having money in the bank!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kerry, that’s an interesting way to put it: money in the bank. It’s a precious commodity, and I suspect as time goes on, we’ll find more and more ways to use what falls from the sky. My son attends a university that is big on sustainability. They have water bottle refill stations all over campus to encourage students to bring there own canteen and fill accordingly. The entire landscape is watered with reclaimed water, especially marked with purple pipes. It’s inspiring.


  4. These are brilliant and quite unobtrusive! I had two barrels at the lake house that would fill very quickly too. They weren’t nearly as attractive as these though and I had to watch the levels to ensure they didn’t overflow next to the house. You’re smart to have professionals do the job. No hassles of moving downspouts etc. As Pauline mentioned, the timing is awesome! Full already, WOW. How long will 390 gallons last for watering?

    You’ve done every thing so well. An investment in your home and the environment. It’s pretty easy to see who in your neighbourhood doesn’t try at all. Or perhaps all the lawns have disappeared since I last was in town? It’s to be 7c on Saturday for the first day of spring here. I hope we get some rain this May and June. Last year the rains came in July.

    Congratulations for being such a great advocate for the environment, Mother Nature would thank you xo ❤


    • You were ahead of your time, Boomdee. I should have guessed that you would have these in place. Another blogger who lives in an area that freezes in the winter mentioned that they had to drain them before the cold weather set in . Was that also true for you? I imagine you got your share of summer showers at the lake as well, but I think it would kill me to have to drain my tanks. The drops seem so precious. I’m such a goof.

      The installer said the water would last half the summer, but we talked about different tanks, so I’ll have to see how it goes this year. Mike is going to help me set up a drip system so we can maximize the water. It will be a good experiment.

      Every house on our street still has lawn. And with all this rain, things are looking green. But with rationing still in place, it will be interesting to see what comes of it this summer. I am seeing several native landscapes in San Jose, but they’re standouts (exceptions) and not the rule. I hope we see more.

      Thanks for always being my cheerleader.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, half the summer! That’d be fantastic. I remember last year, you scooped the water from your bath. So dedicated but maybe time consuming. I had this small pump I’d use sometimes. You can buy them very inexpensively. If you have a wee hose you could pop a small pump into a full tub. We used ours to empty the hot tub years ago. It’s really sunny today but cool. I’m heading out today to try and find a long straight tree branch in the river valley. I wanted to hang a spring banner from a branch at Urban. Just another day at the office, LOL. mwaaaaaa ❤ K


  5. I have not seen those before but they look like a great option. And I agree with Pauline. Someone up there really loves you to provide the rain at just the right time. You’ve done a lot to be conservative. I still have more to do but would very much like to find a way to hide rain barrels here. We get no rain in the summer when we really need it. Most let the lawns die back except where I live. They don’t allow dead lawn. I’m lucky not to have any now. Those are so unobtrusive. I’ll look into it.


    • Marlene, I know many homeowner’s associations are quite strict about the upkeep of properties. On the one hand, you benefit from homes looking nice, but to insist on watering lawns in a drought does seem a bit absurd. We saw that in the news here too: condo owners were told to keep the grass green while the State is telling us to conserve.

      I hope you can find a way to install some water tanks as well. Now that they are coming back into popularity, I’m seeing a huge selection of options. I especially like how simple they were to install.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I took out my grass for that reason but plants still need water. Your company doesn’t serve this area but there are other companies I can look at. Research is required as well as a bit of cash. 😦 I’ll come up with it though. 🙂 I’m so happy you found those though.

        Liked by 1 person

        • What I like about the rain barrel systems, is that you can go large or small and then add on to them. I’ve heard, though have not yet verified, that new construction in this area is now required to install systems to return rainwater to the ground. No more run-off. It makes good sense. I’ve learned so much in these past two years about water use and conservation.

          Not everyone cares about a garden though. When we were shopping for our home 20 years ago, we looked at many with paved back yards. They were so depressing, too. Nothing growing at all, and can you imagine how hot they would be in the summer with all that concrete and no greenery?

          My dad built our garden in Canada from scratch. They bought a manufactured home that was moved to the lot with a basement built before hand. It was nothing but dirt. He hauled rocks and brick, built a small brook for all the snow melt, planted trees and flowers and vegetables in the short Ontario summer. I have such wonderful memories of that garden. Is it any wonder I fell in love with gardening?

          In what seemed like a brilliant idea at he time, we had all our Super 8 copied to video, then tossed the original. Now video is obsolete, but the content has been over-dubbed with awful music and it can’t be edited. It’s water under the bridge now, but I wish I had the recording of his garden.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Memories. It’s wonderful you have so many good memories. My father-in-law had a basement dug under his manufactured home. In Missouri they are helpful in a tornado. But he didn’t build things by hand. Had it all done. Your dad sounds like a remarkable man and I’m sorry you lost him so early. That pain never goes away. I am not surprised at all you love gardening, I am surprised you have such a small lot to do it in. Maybe one day there can be more dirt and less house. 🙂 I wouldn’t want a concrete yard either. I hated the rock we put in after it was done because it stayed too wet all summer in Arizona to get the grass cut. I knew nothing back then about how to turn it around. The internet has been such a blessing that many just don’t realize.


  6. I’m curious as to how rainwater does or doesn’t replenish groundwater. Hope I’m not putting you on the spot in asking for info, Alys.

    Are your containers connected to down pipes so that they can fill up with run-off from roofs?


  7. Seems odd that you have storm drains, considering how little rain you’ve had in recent years. But your new system sounds really convenient – a bit like my neighbour’s, although hers isn’t connected to a down spout. And the tube directing water to the ground is actually pointing into my garden. I tried moving it but that doesn’t work. Besides, it would mean water going all over her path at the moment as she hasn’t got any grow bags, which were there last summer.

    Thanks for the link, anyway. I’ll take a look now.


  8. Pingback: Pumpkins in July? – Gardening Nirvana

  9. Pingback: The End of the Lawn: Our Garden One Year Later – Gardening Nirvana

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