Photo by Rob Peterson

Moving Towards Sustainability, Water: A Resource To Be Managed

“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” – Pete Seeger 

A simplistic approach to sustainability is to be able to meet your own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. Sustainability can be challenging to achieve as it’s all about managing the incoming resources and assuring the waste from one process is used as the input for the next. Anything you can do to develop more self-sufficiency, cut costs, and live closer to nature will begin moving you in the right direction. Start growing your own food, learn to use resources that are locally available, and focus on picking up other valuable skills such as canning or food processing. 

One thing we cannot live without is water. Water is Costa Rica’s most abundant natural resource, yet shortages have forced the nation to manage this resource ever more carefully, especially in drier areas to the North. Around 600 gallons of rainwater can be harvested from about one inch of rain if it falls from a thousand square foot roof. It is a great way to water your vegetable garden, abundant flower beds, and some even use it for showering and drinking. One thing we can agree on that a water collection system adds value to your property.

No matter the size or shape, a rainwater collection tank should ideally have all these common elements:

  • An inlet or downspout to direct the rainwater into the tank, generally on top but covered with a screen.
  • An outlet that allows you to dispense and use the collected rainwater, usually near the bottom. For large tanks, a hose bib that you can connect a hose to is ideal.
  • Made of a non-transparent material that does not allow sunlight through, unless you can completely cover it with a tarp (or paint) to block the sunlight. Sunlight + Water = Algae.
  • Have fine-mesh screens securely in place over all openings to prevent the entry of insects, pests, or debris.

 Other important considerations are:

  • Gravity
  • Cleanliness of your tank
  • Preventing growth of algae

Location for a Rainwater Tank

Easy filling, convenient access, sturdy foundation, and must be level. Remember water is heavy so if you are to lift your tank, be sure it has straps and support to stay in place.

Take advantage of gravity!

The head pressure, which is the weight of the water, pressing down on itself. It creates an automatic function if the tank is high enough. And if there isn’t enough pressure you can always consider using a small pump to help you.


Keeping your rainwater tank clean with screens to prevent the entry of debris in the first place. Place fine-mesh screens at the inlet. In addition to screens on the tank itself, you likely also want to add initial screens to the gutters or downspout to catch leaves, twigs, or other larger material before reaching the tank screen. Ensure that every opening on your tank is equipped with a tight-fitting, completely sealed, fine-mesh insect screens. This includes the inlet area, any overflow outlets, or vents. 

The best way to prevent algae growth in your rainwater tank is to always use an opaque tank that does not allow sunlight in. Rainwater will only stay as clean as the container it is stored in. Rainwater collected from roof runoff can easily be contaminated in a number of ways, so you do need to be cautious about how you use your rainwater. It is safe to use rainwater to irrigate the soil that food crops are growing in. Soil, compost, and worms are excellent at buffering and purifying bacteria and even toxins. But it should be avoided to use directly on leafy greens that may end up straight on your plate from the farm. 

First Flush Diverters

A step beyond screens is to add a “first flush diverter” (aka roof washer) to your rainwater collection system. A first flush diverter is a contraption that redirects the first purge of water coming from the roof during a storm away from the rainwater tank. This essentially washes away and prevents capturing the sediment, dirt, and debris that has accumulated on the roof since the last rain.

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