5 Awesome, Unusual Ways to Harvest Rainwater

A sculpture in Dresden, Germany, channels rainwater through a series of musical instruments. . macro macrone/YouTube

Californians may be experiencing temporary relief from their epic drought, but that doesn't mean we should forget about the pressing problem of water scarcity. From your average rain barrel to oversized cisterns, there are many conventional ways to capture water from the sky. But there are also some slightly more unusual methods. Here are some of our favorites.

Rainwater-harvesting 'musical' art

At Kunsthofpassage in Dresden, Germany, they've created a really neat looking sculpture that channels rainwater through a series of trumpets, chimes and other supposedly musical instruments. You can see it in action in the video above. (And I say supposedly because, sadly, when this video was taken it wasn't raining!) And in the videos where it is raining it kinda sounds to me like, well, rain. Still, it looks extremely lovely, doesn't it? I'd be interested to know if anyone has a recording of this in full song.

Rainwater-harvesting landscapes

One of the simplest ways to harvest rainwater is simply to maximize how much of it seeps into the ground — and stays there! From ensuring adequate organic matter to mulching heavily, there are plenty of super-simple ways to aid your soil's water retention. But for those wanting to go a little step further, the swale is a pretty cool concept. Essentially a ditch that's dug just off contour, a swale captures rainwater and allows it to slowly seep into the ground — making it available for plants, and also reducing soil erosion from stormwater flowing uncontrolled down hill. The video above from School of Permaculture shows how swales work.

Rainwater harvesting for teeny-tiny apartments

The Raindrop Mini is designed for rainwater harvesting in balcony storm drains. Studio Bas van der Veer

Typically, when we talk about rainwater harvesting at home, we talk about those big water butts or DIY cisterns made out of pickle barrels and the like. But what about folks who live in apartment buildings? As Matt Hickman reported on previously, Dutch designer Bas van der Veer’s Raindrop Mini is specifically designed for balconies of apartment buildings. Consisting of a drainage tube that plugs into balcony storm drains, with an integrated watering can attached, the Raindrop Mini allows urban dwellers to water their (probably few) plants using the water that falls directly from the sky.

Massive underground rainwater tanks

Warren McLaren reported a while back for TreeHugger on an interesting scheme to store millions of gallons or rainwater in Sydney, Australia's abandoned underground tunnels. Not everyone has the benefit of having gigantic underground caverns to store water in, of course, but there are interesting solutions available to create underground tanks in new construction. Check out this modular 30,000 gallon system from Innovative Water Solutions, for example. (The video's title is a little misleading: it's the video, not the installation, that takes 4 minutes.)

Fog harvesting for irrigation

Rain isn't the only form of water that can be harvested from the sky. In Villa Lourdes, Peru, village farmers are reducing their dependence on water-carrying diesel trucks by using large sails to capture condensation from the fog. And these aren't insignificant amounts. Just one panel can capture 200 and 400 liters a day — a pretty good haul for a water-scarce region.

These are just some of the neat ways that innovators and tinkerers are capturing and conserving water. As climate change continues to put pressure on water resources, I fully expect to see more such innovation in the future.