Cisterns are most commonly underground water storage tanks, although some are found above grade. They were a standard feature of Midwestern homes, presumably up to the 1920s. Property owners and builders at the time valued rain water as a resource, rather than an engineering problem as we do these days. As with the rain barrels, there is no need to discharge clean rain water, perfectly suitable for non-potable use, through an expensive storm sewer system, only to buy it back later for irrigation.

Our cistern was something we did not need to install; we just had to repair it. The house on 168 Elm Ave., dating back to the turn of the century (1900), was build with a 1200-gallon, masonry cistern next to it. Because it is an underground storage tank, the water is kept at a constant cool temperature year round, which maintains water quality. It also prevents the stored water from freezing and eliminates the need for winterzing.

We had to relieve the cistern of about 12” of muck that collected over the decades at the bottom. The cistern now has filters that keep debris out and is collecting and storing rainwater from the northern half of the roof. This water, which otherwise would have been stormwater runoff, is now available for irrigating the vegetable garden and could potentially be used for toilet flushing and laundry. We use a simple utility pump to access and draw the stored water.

You can download an INFO SHEET for more detailed information on the cistern. You can also browse images of the CISTERN CLEAN UP and REPAIR PROCESS.
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