The Cambrian

Pacing through the Pines: Harvesting Cambria’s rare rainwater

Sharkey Warrick checks the rainwater level in one of the 5,000 gallon tanks on his Buckley Drive property. Warrick has several tanks that hold 21,500 gallons of rainwater he harvests from his rooftops each rainy season.
Sharkey Warrick checks the rainwater level in one of the 5,000 gallon tanks on his Buckley Drive property. Warrick has several tanks that hold 21,500 gallons of rainwater he harvests from his rooftops each rainy season.

Editor’s note: John FitzRandolph’s Pacing through the Pines column returns to the Cambrian and will appear the first week of the month.

Wearing monsoon- appropriate rain gear I held tight to my umbrella as powerful wind gusts and a heavy downpour hammered me, and a wild torrent of rainwater hurtled along the gutter and over the curb on Skye Street in Cambria.

I was drenched — we were all soaked to the skin — by Mother Nature’s near non-stop storms during the waterlogged winter of 2010-2011.

The deluge that January day sent wild rivers of rainwater roaring down every sloping street in Cambria to their immediate destinations, drain grates and on out to the Pacific Ocean.

The last time I looked the ocean didn’t need any water.

But Cambria does urgently need water. And while citizens in this forested village have taken sides during the last few years on a range of possible solutions to the critical water shortage, untold millions of gallons of rain-

rushed unimpeded to sea.

Notwithstanding the critical need for households to capture precipitation for irrigating gardens, yards, lawns, trees, indoor and outdoor plants, a scant few make the effort.

A quick look at the Cambria Community Services District water conservation materials ( “Know Your Water – Keeping Tabs and Taking Action”) reveals no information on rainwater catchments.

“We don’t get calls for that information very often,” a receptionist responded when a columnist phoned CCSD inquiring about rainwater harvesting in Cambria.

Kitty-corner across from our Skye Street property, Dennis and Shelly White don’t use CCSD drinking water to nourish their trees, their lawns, or the myriad outdoor potted plants that brighten up their property.

The Whites have a pair of 4,500 tanks, one 800-gallon tank, a 150- gallon tank and other containers for collection. Rain hits the White’s roof, collects in the gutters and splashes through the downspouts to flexible pipes that send the water into opaque polyethylene storage tanks.

Storage tanks in Cambria fill quickly because 1 inch of rain falling on a 1,000-square-foot rooftop yields 600 gallons of water. That same small rooftop yields roughly 11,236 gallons of rainwater during a winter in which 20 inches of rain fell.

Captured rainwater is not potable, but it saves resources and money, it offers the potential to help fight a fire, and it can be purified for drinking as well.

The home of Sharkey and Nancy Warrick on Buckley Drive is an example of a well-thought-out rainwater storage system. Even in a season of light rain, the Warricks’ storage tanks — with a 21,5000 gallon capacity, including four 5,000-gallon tanks above the house — fill up quickly.

Sharkey, a retired electrical engineer, took time away from his current woodshop project — building the frames for 60 scarecrows for the Cambria Historical Society’s popular October festival — to show this columnist his harvesting system.

The Warricks need just 1 inch of rain falling on their 8,000-square foot rooftops to yield 5,000 gallons of rainwater, filling one of their big tanks.

“The primary purpose is irrigation,” Sharkey explains. “But we could have an earthquake in which our aquifers fail or CCSD’s pumps could fail. Or if we had a fire — and we’re up here in Leimert Estates, with lots of trees — I could hook up a pump and augment what Cal Fire is doing.

“My grandmother in New Mexico had no running water, only a cistern that would catch rainwater, so we’ve always been very sensitive to water,” Sharkey explains. He figures the water in his tanks will keep his one and three-quarters acre property well irrigated through September.

Rainwater har vesting systems needn’t be as substantial as the Warricks’ tanks, and they aren’t necessarily expensive. A green, 120- gallon polyethylene barrel (36 inches in diameter, 31 inches high) with hose assemblies to connect to the downspout off the roof is perfectly adequate for a modest-sized household with a small back yard, a few trees and plants. The cost is around $190 at Loomis Tank Centers (Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande).

Should we realistically expect heavy rainfall next winter season? That’s possible, though not assured. But should a program be launched to help households harvest future rainfall for a smarter, common sense, conservation-minded Cambria? Absolutely.

Ideas and further suggestions are welcomed; send them to me at

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John Fitz-Randolph’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john