Off Grid Living – How to Collect Rainwater and How to Access Water From a Stream

Very simple way to collect rain water.
Very simple way to collect rainwater.

Granted, most of my off grid projects are quite rudimentary, lacking sophistication in both appearance and efficiency. However, sometimes the simple ways are the best overall, because simple requires little financial input and simple means that it can be done without assistance and in a short time.

At the moment, I have two 200 l containers which I purchased for 15 NZD each. These food-grade tanks are being used to collect and store rainwater, which I use as drinking water. Rainwater tastes much cleaner and crisper than any water coming from a tab and I haven’t had any problems with its quality. As you can see in the above image, I put a wire mesh over one tank, thus stopping contamination from pollen and mosquitoes. I doubt either of them would render the quality of the water much, but without the mesh the water will – especially during the warmer periods – boast many mosquito larvae.

During autumn and winter there is enough rain to keep the tanks always entirely full, therefore I do not bother with any spouting. Last summer was very dry, apparently one of the driest for 50 years on the main land, and I had to install a gutter. When it rains – by this I mean rain and not showers – for 2-3 hours, I’d estimate that with this set-up I collect about 10 l. With the gutter I’d collect probably more than 30 l.

I believe that keeping the tank open and in the sun maintains a higher quality than keeping it in the shade. One of the easiest and cost-effective ways to purify water intended for drinking is to keep it in transparent containers and leave it in the sun for a few hours. The UV-spectrum of sunlight will kill most potential bacteria, it will have more or less the same effect as boiling.

There is no need to do this with rainwater, but you can collect water from a stream, run it through a series of filters, like soil, sand, a t-shirt etc. This will separate all non-soluble parts, the UV-light can then be used to take care of potential bacteria. It is, however, very important to note that such a method is not suitable for water which is contaminated with lets say dissolved heavy metal salts or with chemical by-products of farming.

Gravity fed access to stream water.
Gravity fed access to stream water.

I’ve got a water catchment in the north-facing hills of my property, which funnels surface water and creates the source of a stream. This stream is permanent and although the pools got a bit low this summer, where we experienced no rain for about 8 weeks, it never stopped flowing. As you can see in the above image, I’ve got two alcathene pipes mounted into a plastic bottle each, which are scored on the walls. The small holes reduce the amount of sand which could potentially get into the piping and it definitely stops organisms like fresh water crayfish to get into the pipe.

Two of the hoses in that picture are mine, three neighbouring properties source their water from the same pool. The quality of the water should be actually very good, since the source of this stream is on my property and nothing is being done here to potentially contaminate it.

I have another water catchment on the south eastern side which is very rugged and untouched. For me it is interesting to note how many residents in Tryphena fill up their tanks with water which comes through the catchment up in my hills. As you can imagine, the stream increases in flow as it winds its way down to the ocean and meets up with other streams in the hills.

A few more details about my access to water from the stream. The alcathene hoses stretch a bit more than 100 m each until they reach my dwelling and I’d estimate a height difference of 15-20 m. One of the hoses comes directly into the dwelling and is mounted to the sink, the other one has a T-intersection and goes to the shower and then with yet another intersection to my two vege gardens. I am not using any tanks to store the water.

I have sourced some 40 m of alcathene hose – I think it has a diameter of 16 mm – which I will use to extend my current set-up. The rationale being to leave the current rock pool for my neighbours and access the highest available rock pool privately. Things are fine at the moment and I certainly don’t have any issues with providing people living in my vicinity with free water, but I’m sure that my water requirements will eventually change and that the summers will get drier. Accessing the highest available pool for myself and leaving all run off to my neighbours is a fair trade off.

Another picture of the pool.
Another picture of the pool.
Black alcathene hose has many advantages.
Black alcathene hose has many advantages.

The black alcathene hose endures the sun light without cracking and I use some 50 m of this for my solar shower. Well, this is yet another simple way to make use of the thermal energy of the sun. I simply bung the end off and put the hose in the sun. During the summer the water heats up in the hose quickly. I’d say it takes 30 minutes to reach 40 deg. Cel. It will be warm enough for a shower in the winter, providing some hours of unobstructed sunlight.

I have learned that all properties have their up and downsides. Recently, I visited a friend who has a place right by the water on the south side of Great Barrier Island. Obviously, it is a dream being able to fish right at your doorstep, but since this property is south-facing, it hardly gets any sun in winter. So there is a trade off right there.

I have come to the conclusion that there are things more important than a picturesque setting when it comes to a house-site. North-facing should be a priority (this is of course for places on the southern hemisphere). More sunlight equals to more access to photo-voltaics and thermal power. It means that the house site will be drier and warmer, it also means that you can grow more produce.

Access to water should even be a higher priority. In an ideal scenario the property has its own access to fresh water, meaning that you do not have to rely on rain or other property owners.

I should mention that if you run out of water here on Great Barrier Island – believe me last summer many residential sections didn’t have any for weeks – you can’t call anyone to come over with a water truck to fill your tanks up.


4 thoughts on “Off Grid Living – How to Collect Rainwater and How to Access Water From a Stream”

  1. It does amaze me you have managed without a storage tank or the guttering. Personally I would have the guttering rigged up and occasionally empty and wash out one of your barrels. The guttering would fill it up more quickly and supply more flow into the barrel and therefore cleaner water. But then I am a white man, with a white man’s concern for freshness and a white man’s fear of disease! In reality, and despite the colour of the inside of those barrels the water was fine xxxxx

    1. I’ve actually emptied and cleaned one of the barrels and ‘installed’ that mesh, so no more mosquito larvae and pollen. As I expected, there was only some dirt in the bottom of the barrel which made the water appear dirty, but it was obviously good. Yupp, white man and their white man’s diseases and concerns, it is good that you said it, because as you know me, I would never make such statements…

      Did we listen here to NOFX, a punk band? I think so, well, now that you’re back home, see if you can download some of their music. There is an epic album called
      ‘Kill All The White Men’, a great song by the way. Again this is just a reference, not a statement from me for you trouble makers out there.

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