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Saving his bonsai collection by storing rainwater.

High-quality rainwater captured in tanks from roof runoff once saved horticultural consultant Barrie Coate's priceless collection of 86 bonsai, and dozens of other container and garden plants, from certain death. And rainwater now provides him a continuing source of fire protection and a hedge against drought. Living in the Santa Cruz Mountains miles from a major city, Mr. Coate gets his household water from a well on his property. Though it was deemed safe for drinking when he purchased the property several years ago, the water nevertheless contains contaminants that could harm plants. The first sign that something was seriously wrong was when more sensitive bonsai such as Japanese maples developed severe leaf burn after several irrigations. Chemical analysis of the water determined the presence of high amounts of sodium bicarbonate-a compound that's relatively harmless to humans but downright deadly to the roots and foliage of acid-loving and container plants. Mr. Coate had already been considering installing a rainwater-collection system, because he'd been concerned about having an extra supply of water for fire protection and also wanted a backup source in case his well failed during an extended drought. When he discovered that the cost of purifying the well water was prohibitive (sodium bicarbonate can't be filtered out; the water must be de-ionized), the rainwater collection system became a necessity. Three tanks, no waiting- 5,555 gallons of rainwater capacity An engineering friend calculated that Mr. Coate could reap 1,010 gallons of water per inch of rainfall-even if he collected from only a third of his roof. In a normal winter, that could mean 20,200 gallons-more than is practical to store. Mr. Coate used three tanks-all acquired at minimal or no cost. He paid nothing for a 5,000-gallon fiberglass tank from an electronics firm, but $380 to move it to his house; he had a 500-gallon polyethylene fertilizer tank left over from the nursery he once owned; and a friend had given him a 55-gallon polyethylene tank. Installed last March after the heaviest winter rains were over, the system was filled to overflowing after just a few good spring showers. Not wanting the system to be visible to people approaching the house, Mr. Coate positioned the 500- and 5,000-gallon tanks on the far side of his property, where they are mostly concealed by the buildings and nearby plants. The 55-gallon tank had to be located close to the front door, since it collects water from a nearby rain gutter. To get the container out of sight, he buried it and disguised the lid with plywood-backed slate and gravel (see the photograph on page 134). The entire system is interconnected with PVC irrigation pipe and automatic sump pumps. When rainwater, including runoff from the garage roof, fills the 55-gallon tank, a 1/4-horsepower pump moves water to the 500-gallon tank; for long-term storage, a 1/3-horsepower pump moves water to the 5,000-gallon tank. The bonsai are watered by an automatic drip-irrigation system fed by the 500-gallon tank. When depleted, the tank is refilled by pumping water from the longterm storage tank. Water also is distributed from the 500-gallon tank through a gravity-fed hose. The PVC pipe and three pumps cost Mr. Coate about $550. You can buy 55- to 500-gallon tanks ($95 to $450) from a tank supplier (for a source, look in the yellow pages under Tanks).
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset Water Watch 1991
Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Words:562
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