Somewhere in Mad Max’s shattered world, lives the lonely king of an empty city. After the rare rains, he rides out in an improvised water tanker. He knows where the puddles are, and using scavenged fuel from the abandoned cars, he cruises boulevards and alleys, siphoning the puddles dry. Scavenged water irrigates his gardens. Someday he’ll have sucked the cars dry, or the condensation of too many seasons will have ruined the gas. Until then, he’ll convert the fossils of fossil fuels into water, into food, into his flesh.
I woke at five twenty-one to the welcome sound of rain. I listened gratefully to the storm’s background fricative, a billion raindrops crashing against roof, pavement, and sun-packed turf. Wrapped in that lisping din, water from a downspout gurgled into the tank. It’s been weeks since the last rain, and long weeks before that to another. I’m an industrialized kind of guy, and this is the first year when I have paid attention to where my water comes from.
In May of 2008, with two or three neighbors having installed rain barrels, I realized that for twenty-five dollars more and some tinkering, I could install one of those tanks that are designed to fit on the beds of farm pickups, and go from seventy-five to two hundred ten gallons. I built a cradle from four-by-sixes that our house’s previous owner left behind, and cobbled together a hose-cock with a little help from the plumbing staff at Mill’s Fleet Farm.
It drains about 225 square feet of sky, or between a fifth and a quarter of our total footprint. (There’s more roof than this, at an angle between horizontal and verrtical, but the rain is going to treat it like it was flat and smaller.)
Last night we got between a quarter and a half inch of rain, and collected about 120 gallons. If I’d figured out how to drain the whole roof, it would have been five hundred forty gallons.
The entire site is a little more complicated, but if you imagine a roof over everything, house, shed, garage, driveway, yard, and you collect the runoff from that, we get five thousand gallons. Ten thousand gallons per inch of rain.
I think about the energy that city water represents, the wear and tear on the storm-sewer system and lakes, and the possibility of watering bans during droughts. Two hundred gallons doesn't go that far, either. A full tank helps but doesn't come close to watering twenty to thirty fruit or nut trees, bushes, and vines, plus the raised beds and asparagus. I balked at putting a ton of water high enough to flow everywhere in the yard. I seek better ways to harvest rainfall.