WALNUT CREEK — An intricate labyrinth of white plastic pipes hug Judy Adler’s home, starting at the gutters and disappearing underground.
Only in the backyard does their destination, and Adler’s newest obsession, come into view — three 3,000 gallon tanks.
All together the 8-foot-high green tanks hold more than 37 tons of water. And all of it came from the sky, flowing off Adler’s roof.
This summer, irrigating her half-acre of land won’t depend on Sierra snowmelt; it will all come from her rainwater tanks.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Adler said. “The idea of capturing rainwater is a 10,000-year-old philosophy.”
In December, Adler built the rain-harvesting irrigation system with the help of a contractor. A lifelong nature lover, she has turned her land next to Walnut Heights Elementary School into a nature wildlife habit rather than a classic backyard.
Her vegetables, fruits and natural ponds use lots of water, so in the summer her water bills jump to more than $300 a month, from $40 in the winter. “I was buying treated water and then un-treating it so I could have a (natural) pond — what’s wrong with this picture?” Adler said.
The water that comes off the roof is phenomenal and not full of pesticides or other toxic chemicals, she said. A major added benefit: “It’s free.”
From December to January, Adler stored more than 11,000 gallons of water in the backyard tanks and smaller ones on the side of her house. She estimates her roof could capture 22,000 gallons of water if she had the space to store it.
Because this is her first season using the system for watering, she doesn’t know if it will get her through the summer.
Adler spent more than $6,000 on the system but it wasn’t something she planned.
In the winter, she noticed holes in her gutters. When she put out buckets to collect the drips, she thought the pure water could be the best thing for her plants.
So with the help of Rain Harvesting Systems in Fremont, Adler installed the system, which includes a gutter sealer that keeps out debris and spigots around the yard fed by the tanks.
Neighbors and friends helped her place the 400-pound tanks. “It was a barn raising; this was a community effort,” Adler said.
Bill Lasell, Rain Harvesting’s general manager, said the systems are becoming more popular but are cost prohibitive, ranging from $8,000 to $15,000.
“Nine out of 10 customers, although excited about rain-harvest systems, realize they will likely never make their money back,” he said.
Adler saved on her system by buying her own tanks and installing them with the help of neighbors.
Lasell’s advice: Conserve water first.
Interest in such systems is growing, said Paola Bouley, conservation director for the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, which has joined with the Marin Municipal Water District in a program, “10,000 Rain Gardens Project.” It aims to educate residents about rainwater harvesting.
Bouley says some agencies are starting to offer incentives and discounts. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission discounts rainwater barrels for its customers, Santa Rosa has a rain-harvesting rebate and Los Angeles installed 600 home and business rain-collection systems after 3,000 people applied. Although Adler hopes that one day rainwater systems will be more common in Contra Costa County, for now she smiles when she hears the forecast for rain.
“As an individual, I know I am making a difference.”