View Full Version : Rain water drinkable.
05-20-2001, 02:26 AM
I've just purchased a house which has an old cistern in the basement. I've had a fellow come and take a look at it, it's just fine, will hold 1500 gallons of water. All I need is a eavestrough guy and a pressure pump and an overflow pump. All up: about $1200 (Can).
We're considering it. We're going to live in this house a long time, I expect. I will have plenty of gardens, maybe even a spa one day, and most certainly a fountain. Additionally, I will do a lot of laundry as my bedridden mother-in-law will be moving in with us.
So we got to thinking about what to hook up to it and what to leave on city water. (We do not now drink the city water, we drink bottled water, 18L jugs, delivered, from an artesan well in Quebec. We have been doing this for years.)
As I'm unsure how far 1500 gallons will go or what pace I'm actually using it at currently. So I'm thinking of initially hooking up the garden faucet and the washing machine.
So we've been chatting this up with our friends, who seem split between thinking it's a great idea and thinking we're nuts.It has also started a heated debate about whether or not we should consider drinking this water.
We are NOT going to drink this water. But the SO has taken the position that it is drinkable and he's worse than a dog with a bone.
I keep trying to interject that we aren't going to drink it, but it matters not, the debate rages on.
So I'm putting it to the teeming millions. What do you know about it? Got an opinion? Let's hear it!
I don't see any reason why the SO and his hammerheaded friends should have all the fun. Besides I just love it when I get to deliver the straight dope to them.
05-20-2001, 05:30 AM
Well, yeah, it's drinkable in that it's not toxic. But it may have some unpleasantries in it. If you plan on drinking it, be sure to filter it first (Brita, anyone?). As it is... it may be a good thing to have in case of emergencies.
05-20-2001, 08:39 AM
Rain water can be some of the most pure water found. On the other hand, it can also be as deadly and corosive as commercial acid.
It all depends on the originating area of the rain water and clouds. I don't know your location so I cannot talk with any knowledge in regard to the levels of toxins in your rain water. My suggestion would be to check with your local extension agent. They keep track of that sort of thing.
I will add that it is naturally "soft" water so it can be very good for both lawns and laundry.
Rainwater is generally safe to drink but is NOT as safe as the city water that you eschew. The main potential problems from rainwater collected in a cistern are contamination from the collection and holding system and contamination from animals. What is your roof made of? What are the gutters made of? What is the cistern itself made of? For example, a metal roof or metal gutters with lead-based solder could expose you to more lead that you'd like. As for animals, I am aware of at least one outbreak of diarrhea caused by the poop of birds infected with camplylobacter getting into an open water storage tank. I suppose there is a potential for other animals crawling and pooping on your roof to expose you to other infections as well.
05-20-2001, 09:41 AM
Sure, drink all the rain water you want. It might be acid, taste nasty, leave rust stains in your clothes, etc. but if you have it tested and it's free from bugs, it probably won't kill you.
But what about the cistern? If you have a concrete cistern which holds 1500 gallons of water it undoubtably holds billions of nasties. The nooks and crannies in a concrete cistern are a wonderful breeding ground for all manner of evil micro-beasts. Would you drink water out of your toilet tank? it's probably cleaner than what's in your cistern, unless it's a really remarkable cistern. Also, in old farmhouses, it was common practice to use lead plumbing to route rainwater to cisterns. Matter of fact, maybe you should take a sample from the toilet tank and from the cistern in to be tested. See which one is cleaner. You'll probably be surprised.
Do yourself a favor. if you have kids, fill the cistern with gravel and thus avoid finding one drowned in it. if you don't have kids, use the cistern to water your lawn.
Bear in mind that I'm germ phobic as hell, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Test the water, anyway.
05-20-2001, 09:45 AM
You would want to get a drinking water test kit to make sure its safe. Water is cheap, the risk one takes isn't worth the price.
05-20-2001, 12:17 PM
They still use cisterns to meet household water needs down in the Florida keys. Apparently they work quite well iff you maintain them properly. You might find a "how to" book by searching under "water management in southern florida" or similar.
05-20-2001, 01:25 PM
Rainwater itself is the cleanest water you're ever likely to find, safer than most city water, and far safer than water from an Artesian well. However, there may be any number of contaminants from the collection and storage systems. Even so, it should be fine for anything other than drinking "raw" (i.e., unboiled).
As for the economic question, the capacity of the cistern won't matter as much as the rainfall rate in your area. Take your average yearly rainfall and multiply it by the collecting area, and you'll have the volume of water per year that this will get you (you'll probably have to convert units).
05-20-2001, 03:12 PM
Whether the water came from rain or from anywhere else does not matter. As the owner of a boat with water tanks I can tell you water sitting around in tanks has a great propensity to grow nasty critters which will make you sick. I know it first hand. If you maintain the tank properly (with periodic disinfections etc) then you should be OK. If the tank is not maintained at all then I would not use the water even to shower or wash clothes as it can take a bad smell. I am sure you can easily find information on how to properly maintain a tank of water. Generally adding some bleach once in a while keeps things in good shape. Unfortunately the tanks of my boat are aluminum and I cannot do this.
05-20-2001, 04:42 PM
Right. Don't use any water for anything that's been sitting around. That's why water humidifiers have to be cleaned daily. That's how the first recorded instance of Legionairre's Disease began.
Chronos, what's wrong with artesian water? We had two wells from an artesian spring here in Charleston, and everybody would draw water from them. They actually weren't wells, but taps were hooked to the spring in two different locations. Unfortunately, both taps are now dry.
05-20-2001, 05:04 PM
Chronos, what's wrong with artesian water? [/B]artesian aquifers are typically shallow and vulnerable to surface contamination
05-20-2001, 07:41 PM
I thought they were pretty deep, at least deep enough not to be subject to surface contamination. Charlestonians were drinking from the artesian aquifer here for hundreds of years before it went dry. No health agency objected.
05-20-2001, 11:53 PM
Most artesian wells are safe, and if you have doubts, then you can have the water tested. At the very least, though, you're almost guaranteed to have various mineral "contaminants" such as iron or calcium, which won't hurt you but might make the water taste funny, and you can end up with any sort of pollutant or infectious agent that ever gets poured onto the ground. If your neighbor dumps used motor oil in his yard, for instance, or your septic tank leaks, well, that stuff has to go somewhere, and some can end up in the aquifer.
Rainwater, meanwhile, is distilled, which will eliminate almost all contaminants, and there's no septic tanks in the clouds.
Again, though, the purity of rainwater itself doesn't mean much unless you're drinking it by standing out in a thunderstorm with your mouth open. As others have pointed out, the collection system and cistern can get pretty nasty, if given the opportunity.
While you are testing the water from your cistern, also test the city water and your favorite bottled water. According to recent tests you might be surprised and save yourself some money. If you have children also remember that bottled water does not contain Floride (unless you are afraid of a communist conspiracy).
Water, water everywhere and I don't know what to drink!
05-21-2001, 09:05 AM
For your numerous views. They have been helpful to me.
I drink artesian well water because I like the taste. I have extensive test results on this water, I had it checked before I started drinking it. I don't like the city water because it smells bad and imparts flavour to the things I add it to. My French Canadian grandmother was a wonderful cook, but it wasn't until I stopped using city water that I could replicate her meals. I am not fond of filtering systems, I much prefer to just start with clean water to drink, rather than try to turn dirty water into cleaner water. Just my opinion.
I will have the cistern thoroughly cleaned before filling, I promise. I have done some research on this, and it's not all that difficult, although it's going to be a messy undertaking.
I really like the idea of testing the city water and then the cistern water, I think I'll do that, thanks.
I know the rain water will be good for my gardens. And I'm pretty confident that city water will become much more expensive in the coming decades.
Once I began considering using it for one thing, well, I started thinking, I could use it for the dishwasher, the shower, etc. Well, I think now, I'll just get it hooked to the garden hose, and to the washing machine (I have heavy usage!), and consider the others for later.
05-21-2001, 10:54 AM
"Rainwater, meanwhile, is distilled, which will eliminate almost all contaminants, and there's no
septic tanks in the clouds."
Oh, come on, don't tell me you forgot about Acid Rain.
It's in Canada:
It's in the UK:
(As the name suggests, acid rain is just rain which is acidic. The rain becomes acidic because of gases which dissolve in the rain
water to form various acids)
Its probably global but Im not gonna post links to every country in the world.
05-21-2001, 12:58 PM
No, handy, I didn't forget about acid rain... That's why I said "almost". Remember, though, that the primary component of acid rain is hydroxic acid. It's not like we're talking about something that'll eat your skin away, and aside from corrosion, acids pose no risk to humans. Remember: Your stomach already contains a pretty high concentration of the strongest acid known.
05-21-2001, 01:19 PM
BTW, Charleston's water supply is from the Edisto River. However, before it ran dry, many of us would seek water from the two artesian taps because the water tasted better. Charleston water doesn't taste bad, unlike some city water which has a sulphur taste. Artesian water is just better tasting.
05-21-2001, 06:02 PM
Rain water will most likely have a different taste than you are used to, though it depends on the chemical composition of what you're drinking now. It will have almost no hardness to it; some references recommend a minumum level of CaCO3 for "good" taste. It will be more acidic generally than ground water, and more prone to pH and other chemical swings (if you store it long-term) as it has little buffering capacity being partly distilled. I say partly distilled in that it started that way, but as it fell it was strained through the atmoshpere in essentially a spray form and what ever gases/pollution was in it for thousands of feet of drop. The biggest contamination happens when it hits the roof or whatever collection surface/system you'd have. Pretty hard to keep insects, birds, bacteria, and other vermin or their by-products from having any contact with your water, as well as things in the material it's self (though we can make systems that are safe). Unless you live where it rains all the time, you'll probly have to store it, which as others have mentioned, must be done properly. I'd say for a do-it-yourself project, just use rainwater for things other than drinking. If you get professionals to do the design and work, you'll probly be safe.
05-22-2001, 09:38 AM
Here are some people who made their own drinking water system for $150.00:
& another one:
"In 1998 we received approval from the city of Portland to use this water for all household use.
This system, which cost less than $1,500, consists of the following components:"
& yet more:
"There is a common misconception among the villagers in Bangladesh that rainwater is pure. Since rain form by
condensation of evaporated water (like a distillation process), it seems reasonable that rainwater would be of
good quality. A myth about the purity of rainwater prevails even among many educated people. In fact, many
quack doctors (I have seen one in our own village when I was a little boy) in Bangladesh use rainwater to
substitute distilled water used in injections medicine in human body. Now that arsenic contamination of
groundwater in Bangladesh poses serious threat to health, more and more people are turning to surface water
Just drop 'drinking rainwater' into a search engine, youll be reading for days.
05-22-2001, 05:37 PM
My grandparents lived 14 miles from the nearest "town" in southern Oregon. Their household water came from a spring not too far uphill. It fed into a large corrugated tank and went right into the house. It tasted good, they lived there for 30+ years before they died, and they never had any trouble with it. For irrigation (basically, just a large lawn and a good-sized flower garden) they pumped water from the creek.
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