Chris Baron with his two 300-gallon containers
Chris Baron purchased a home on Mt. Helix in 2007. The house sat on a half-acre of land, so he would have a rather large canvas to work with when it came to landscaping. He had some native plants early on and eventually bought some fruit trees. He wanted to plant more trees, but watering was expensive. To make matters worse, the state was in the midst of the 2012-2017 drought. In order to increase his orchard, he would have to think creatively. With the help of a friend who had some experience, he stepped into the soggy realm of rainwater collection.
Chris Baron at his friend's house. 1320-gallon containers.
“My friend and I decided we wanted to learn all that we could because we realized that if it rains one inch, you can have enough water to fill thousands of gallons off your own roof. We decided we wanted to plant a lot of fruit trees, and rainwater’s best. So, we thought, how can we maximize that process? We started planting. I think I have 35 fruit trees on my property, and my friend’s probably got like 70 or 80. Everything from avocado to stone fruit to apple trees. We got rid of all the green lawns and started putting in all these fruit trees. We thought, ‘We gotta think of a better way to water these things because there’s just no water falling from the sky.’ ”
The method they ended up using is a harvesting the rainwater that lands on the rooftop during storms. You position barrels or containers (even a trash can works) to capture the water exiting your rain gutters before it escapes into the drainage system. And the amount of the water that does escape is surprisingly massive. For example, a 1500-square-foot rooftop can yield over 1400 gallons of collected rainwater from a storm that drops 1.5 inches of rain. The trick often becomes having enough containers to capture everything. Baron’s system has water flowing from his gutters into two 300-gallon containers, along with two dedicated 65-gallon rainwater barrels, and even some random 40-gallon trashcans.
Even a 40-gallon trashcan helps.
“When it rains, we put anything out that we can to collect water. Garbage pails…anything. Any excess we just collect, and any run-off we try to direct into the mulch—so it goes into the plants before it makes it to the street,” he said.
Baron stressed that the mulching was nearly as important of a factor in getting the most out of the rainwater as the rooftop collection is. “You need a lot of mulch to grow trees because that prolongs the life of the water. The more mulch you use, the better,” he said. Since he lives on the side of hill, Baron has built some terraces for his new trees. The key is to allow the flat surface of the mulched land to capture more of the rainwater.
Baron bought five 65-gallon barrels and two 300-gallon containers from San Diego Drums and Totes, a Lemon Grove store that specializes in rainwater collection gear. His overall investment was less than $1000 since he took advantage of both city and state rebates associated with rainwater harvesting. His friend opted for three 1320-gallon containers that store the bulk of his water. As this extremely wet rainy season nears its end, Baron estimates that his friend has gone through all his captured water two or three times and has been able to utilize about 12,000 gallons of captured rainwater. As for his own rig, Baron said that he has likely harvested about 3000 gallons and is now sitting on 900 gallons that he will begin using once the rains completely end, and the inevitable long dry-spell of summer begins.
Looking towards the future, Baron is hoping to up his game by the time the start of next winter. Time constraints are his arch-nemesis. He is an English professor at San Diego City College who is raising three kids and writing books).
“I want to get two more of those [300 gallon] tanks, or one bigger one,” he said. “I’m just looking at better ways to be efficient. That’s my goal. Just some more water usage. More water tanks. More mulch. I’m gonna add a terrace. I think it all works together.”
Baron told me that his initial investment into the world of rainwater harvesting was paid off within two years. In a region where water seems so often in short supply, it’s surprising that more people aren’t hopping on this bandwagon. Baron feels the numbers are increasing as the masses learn how simple the process is.
“I took my friend to the store and she was like, ‘Oh, you just get a barrel and you put it under the rain gutter.’ It’s so basic. Just think about when you were a little kid and you would just fill stuff up. I think people get too intimidated to act, but once they realize it’s very straight-forward, they’re like ‘Ohhhh.’”