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DroughtPro: Simple Rain Harvesting for Under $20

Now that storms have begun moving into drought-plagued California, it’s time to think about making use of that water. You don’t need fancy rain barrels or cisterns. Just a simple flexible rain gutter extension to send the runoff from your roof to the spot in your yard that needs it.

Written by Matt Weiser Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
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Winter is here, and that means it’s time to make the most of every storm.

There are plenty of ways to do this, from installing rain barrels to building a cistern to transforming your yard into a rain garden. But those take time and money.

Here’s a much easier idea: Simply redirect the flow from rain gutters to strategic locations in your yard. All you need is some flexible plastic drainpipe, available from most home-improvement stores. You can get 25ft (7.5m) of this corrugated black plastic pipe (often called Flex-Drain or Corex Pipe) for as little as $17.

Simply fit one end on the outlet of a roof-gutter downspout, then route the other end to a location in your yard where you have well-drained soils or particularly thirsty plants – like a redwood tree, for example, or a garden bed or grove of shrubs. A lawn or grassy area is another good choice.

This way, instead of all that roof runoff gushing into your driveway or the storm drain, it will restore soil moisture in your yard. This will restore deep-soil moisture to help stressed plants after four years of drought. It will also help keep pollutants from washing into local creeks and rivers.

This water is actually better for your yard than municipal water that comes out of your garden hose, which can contain fluoride, minerals, chlorine and other harmful chemicals. Rainwater, on the other hand, is naturally “soft” and can help restore the mineral balance in garden beds and landscaped areas.

A couple more tips:

  • Choose the downspout that serves the largest roof area, to capture the most rain.
  • Be sure to drain the water away from your home, so as not to flood subfloor areas or compromise the foundation.
  • If the flow is forceful coming out of the hose, you might want to position the outlet over a pile of gravel or a pile of rocks to prevent soil erosion.
  • Of course, don’t try to fight gravity. Direct the drainpipe to an area that is lower than the downspout outlet, so the water will flow easily on its own and not pool up in the drainpipe.

If your rain gutter joins directly to a pipe that runs underground, this is likely a direct connection to a municipal storm drain or street gutter. So you may have to cut off the downspout with a hacksaw to connect your own flexible pipe to this kind of downspout. The Mid-America Regional Council offers directions on handling this.

Worried about part of your yard becoming flooded with this technique? If that happens, just move the drain hose to a different part of your yard. You can also split the flow into two directions by using a “Y” connector, so you can spread the water over a larger area.

This technique is so effective, some cities – like Santa Monica – even offer small rebates to help water customers pay for the flexible drainpipe. The city of San Diego offers additional tips in its own rainwater harvesting guide.

DroughtPro is a regular feature that focuses on unusual or advanced water-saving techniques. To offer a suggestion, contact WaterDeeply managing editor Matt Weiser at matt@newsdeeply.org.

Top image: A simple downspout extension like this can put rainwater to good use in your yard instead of sending it into the street or storm drain.

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