Can I drink the water I collect in my rain barrel?
-Ana, Carson City, NV
Rain barrels are fantastic tools for making the most of the free water falling from the sky. Diverting rainwater into a barrel helps manage stormwater run-off, and rainwater especially benefits plants because it’s softer (lacks metals) and doesn’t have the chlorine of treated water.
However, it’s risky to drink water from a rain barrel. Many rain barrels catch the water that rolls off the roof and down a gutter, and in the process, visible and microscopic contaminants can get washed into the barrel. Bird and insect feces, chemicals leeched from roofing, mosquito larvae, and pathogens can render the water unsafe for drinking. The CDC notes that simple water treatments — such as boiling or adding chlorine or iodine — aren’t sufficient to fully disinfect and filter rainwater for human consumption.
As pristine as collected rainwater might look, it’s probably only safe for outdoor uses such as hydrating plants or rinsing off a sidewalk. But even for these uses, you should take steps to protect your rain barrel. Keep it covered and drain it regularly to prevent mosquitos from breeding. A cover will also keep out debris that could clog the valve.