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Rain Water Harvesting Or the History of the Rainwater Barrel

While the history of the barrel dates back to Babylon and Roman times and the rain barrel should follow that, the history of rainwater harvesting would most likely date back to the very first appearance of “the man”. It is highly likely that the “caveman” collected rainwater for future use. Exactly how he did this is something we’ll probably never know for sure, but we can theorize and theories are always fuel for the creative mind. Most likely they used animal skins to catch water, but who knows for sure.

Before the advent of the wooden barrel, there was the “clay barrel” or urn. The earliest uses of these containers may have been for wine and oils, but most likely they would have been used to collect rainwater, as in India in the 3rd century BC it is not not only makes mention of rainwater harvesting, but there is also a note that “community members who did not participate in water management activities were punished.”*I n I have no idea what that punishment was but I’d bet it was more severe than the fine could be faced in Southern California for violating water conservation rules.

In Ethiopia, there are records of rainwater harvesting use as early as 560 BC, but the earliest recorded use of rainwater harvesting predates thousands of years. In southern Mesopotamia there is evidence of water harvesting dating back to 4500 BC. The barrel wasn’t used in the Roman Empire until around AD 300, although it was used by the Gauls for a few hundred years, so you can see that the barrel of Rainwater was lagging behind in the evolution of rainwater harvesting. The exact date when wooden barrels were first used to catch rainwater is unknown, but one would assume that it wasn’t long after barrels became commonly used.

When we think of drums we think of the cylindrical container, but it also became a unit of measurement in the English system and although it varied over time it was generally between 31 and 42 gallons. Barrels were the preferred shipping container for about 2000 years before the advent of metal drums and cardboard containers. Barrels were used to ship everything from gold coins and nails to fine wines and whiskey. Since they were so common and able to retain liquids, they became ideal for capturing rainwater. If you see an old Western you will often see a barrel of rainwater in the background that was probably left over from something that was shipped much like old cardboard boxes are today.

With advances in technology today, most “rain barrels” are made of plastic and come in all sizes and shapes, from the traditional barrel to shapes resembling a child’s building block. The most non-traditional of these is an Australian innovation called Rainwater HOG, which was invented by Sally Dominguez, an Australian inventor and architect. It has a unique look very different from a traditional barrel shape. It is shaped like a “Gumby” or a green domino. Most of the others are shaped like barrels or tanks but, being plastic, there’s been a bit of creativity in their look. I only mention the “HOG” because of its unusual name and the fact that it was actually designed for looks and function by an architect.

Today in Southern California there is a water shortage, despite the fact that there appears to have been rain. The reason is that the rain went down the storm drains and into the ocean and very little stayed behind. Using rainwater harvesting would help in many ways. While you probably don’t want to drink rainwater for a variety of reasons, from roof contaminants to being washed out of the air in the LA area, but there are many uses for water, from watering your lawn at the car wash where a rainwater harvesting system would be just what the doctor ordered. If you own a golf course, you might have “green” greens, if you’ll excuse the bad mood. The fact is, saving rainwater for future use was good for Southern Mesopotamians and it’s still a good idea for Southern Californians.

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