While our homestead is not strictly permaculture based, we use the principles of permaculture whenever we're thinking about making improvements.
The second principle in permaculture is "Catch and Store Energy". Water is energy. Water is absolutely necessary for a homestead to thrive. So one of the first projects we did was to build a water harvesting system from our home roof. We started by observing where water comes from, how and where it collects, and how it flows around our property. We did this at different times of the year and watched for the dry spots or wet bogs.
Whenever we think about water, the goal is always to keep it high or divert it intentionally. If water can stay high, then gravity can do the work. If water is stored low, then you need mechanical means to push it to where you need it. If you can't keep it high, then the next step is to divert it to where you can use it. For example, on our first chicken coop, the roof drained into a drinking tub for the chickens.
We also routed the water to the high end of a strip of plantings around the coop, so the water from the roof would keep the planted area moist and take the water away from the chicken run.
Think of everything that collects water as an opportunity to harvest and use that energy.
So our first task was to set up a system that could harvest and store water and improve drainage to more useful areas. We have 5 gutters and 4 have been reworked, with one still remaining to be addressed.
The primary gutter has the two tote system I'll describe below for a total of 500 gallons.
Two gutters have one tote each, storing 250 gallons each for watering about a 25' perimeter and water for chickens and dogs.
One gutter gets minimal water and waters two cherry trees and various shrubs next to the home.
We added each tote in stages over the course of a year.
Gutter Rainwater Harvesting System
Once you've figured out where you can start storing water from, you have to decide how. There are very many really good DIY systems (here, here, here). We decided to go with 250gallon stacked totes for a few reasons.
Pros of totes: Stores a lot more water than blue barrels for the space it takes. Because we go four months without rain, more storage is better. If you live in a place where you get occasional rains throughout the year, you could make a smaller system and rely on refilling it with rainwater periodically.
Cons of totes: It's very heavy (4200lbs when full) so needs solid ground. It can also be 'ugly' to look at, and depending on space, may not fit where you need it to.
The photo above shows the plumbing fittings we used. We made a first flush since we have lots of pine needs that get on the roof. I'm in favor of it, thought there are some that are not.
After using it here we did it on the other downspouts as well. Really happy with how clean the water is. We also use a metal filter in the gutter, which helps with the large debris.
A few things we like about our system that others did not have.
Fill through the outlet. The totes fill through the spout, so we did not have to make any modifications to the totes. No cutting through the side, or retrofitting the lids. Less cutting, means less places for failures to happen over time. Also, if we want to use the totes for something else in the future, we can. And there's no way for bugs/mosquitoes to get in.
We spray painted the totes and piping a lavender color, which is less of an eye sore and hopefully helps with degradation of the plastic.
3" Piping. Used larger piping because we get heavy rains, and a smaller pipe would take longer to fill the totes, potentially pushing water to the overflow. Bigger pipe, faster fill during downpours.
Minimal glue. We glued a few parts, but most of the system is not glued (just some of the small parts), so we can clean it and take it apart it needed.
3/4" Ball valve. This brass valve gets good flow, the hose doesn't kink or bend because this is horizontal, and opens fully for better flow than a typical hose bib.
A fill line. Using a strip of tape, we covered the tote before painting it. After painting, pull the tape off and you can see how full each tote is at any time.
Using the water
We use the water differently in the summer versus the winter. The winter we collect water and divert it with a long hose throughout other parts of the garden. We overwater the garden beds, any areas that we're planning to dig into, any typically dry areas get extra water beyond the rain. In the spring we start to store the water. In summer we use this water mostly for our 5 totes which water the raised beds. We also use it for the in ground garden, if there's any left.
This two tote system has been incredibly useful in better utilizing water. Because we don't have a flat stable area around the other downspouts those only have a single tote, but with the same first flush systems. In reality the water gets used very quickly and we wish we could store a lot more. Until then, thank the universe for the public water system!
Let me know if you have any questions below, happy to provide advice if you're thinking of setting up your own.