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.

Heat and Water

First, the heat.

Our forecasted high for today is 100F (38C).  It’s going to be hot again tomorrow and Friday before cooling down for the weekend.  I have both the temperament and the complexion for the British Aisles, so this weather puts me out of sorts. Mouse agrees.

Mouse Trying to Cool Off

Mouse Trying to Cool Off

My lettuce looks a bit on the wilted side, but the rest of the garden crops are enjoying the summer.  (Oh wait, it’s still spring…it’s hard to tell anymore).  The pumpkin seedlings are up, the raspberries  are flourishing and the tomatoes are yelling, ‘look ma, I’ve grown!’

sprouting pumpkins

Sprouting Pumpkins

tomatoes and raspberries

Tomatoes and Raspberries Enjoy the heat

Unfortunately we’re in the middle of a terrible drought.  Above-average temperatures further evaporate our low reservoirs. Dry grasses increase fire risk.

Which brings me to water.

I met with Cheri Garza of San Jose Water Company for a household water audit. She really knows her business, and taught me a lot. Outdoors, she inspected the hose bibbs, our irrigation system, the irrigation schedule and the water main.  She tested for leaks and watering efficiency, then measured the square footage of our lawn.  She liked the sidewalk strip conversion (we removed the lawn and capped several sprinkler heads.  She said a lot of water goes to waste in the strip.

Indoors, she checked faucets, showers and toilets in each bathroom, then checked the kitchen faucet, dishwasher and washing machine.

On the plus side, our indoor water usage is efficient.  All the faucets, toilets and showers use 2 gallons per minute or less.  I do minimal hand-washing , which is less efficient than a fully loaded dishwasher and the same for clothes washing.  The down side is that it will be harder to reduce when mandatory rationing sets in.

Outdoors, however, there are many ways to improve our water efficiency.  San Jose Water is offering partial rebates and we qualify for all three.  They allow you one year from the date of the audit to complete the projects.  Originally they rebated seventy-five cents per square foot.  They’ve increased that amount through September to $2 per square foot if you replace water-thirsty lawn with approved native and drought tolerant plantings.

The second rebate offers up to $5 per sprinkler head.  Our sprinklers are only four years old, but the new and  improved Rainbird U-Series uses up to 30% less water.

The third rebate went into effect in January and applies to a graywater system.  Water savings amounts to 17 gallons per person, per day, or on average 14,565 gallons per household per year. I need to do my research on this, but on the surface, I love it.  You divert graywater from your washing machine and use it to water non-edible landscaping.

graywater system

Water Wise Group graywater/greywater system

Here are a few general tips for water savings outdoors:

  • Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water landscaping.
  • Water in the morning, to reduce evaporation
  • In California, turn off your irrigation system completely in December until mid-March.
  • Water your lawn for three to seven minutes, three to four days a week.
  • Go Native! Attract birds and beneficial insects and at the same time conserve water

To save water indoors:

  • Shower for ten minutes or less
  • Don’t flush at night
  • Run full loads of dishes and laundry
  • Replace out of date toilets with 1.28 gpf

It’s a lot of information to digest, but I’m excited at the possibilities.

If you have more tips, please share them in the comments below.