• “Ask Nate” Feature Continues with Cistern Query

    Nate --

    I just got back from southern Arizona where I saw those tall, 3' wide, metal, spiraled, water "barrels" that I had also seen in slides from Brad Lancaster's presentation (also AZ). Does anyone use those here? If so, do you know who makes them? Should we be worried about freezing at this elevation?

    Thanks so much.

    Christi Newhall


    Thanks for asking, Christi! I’ve never tried the vertical culvert trick, but I’m aware of success stories as well as legendary failures. The basic problem is the seam created at the bottom of the culvert. Cisterns function best if they are made of one seamless material. The majority of successful culvert systems will probably prove to be those that have a plastic bladder inside of them. The problem is that these mega water balloons leach out many more toxins than their more popular hard-plastic relatives.


    You do have to worry about freeze/thaw effects at the bond between culvert and concrete slab. If you bury the thing to reduce these negative effects, you run the risk of a leak that you don’t notice for a long time and then the prospect of having to remove a failed water storage tank. I’ve never had to do this, and I hope I never will. I’ve heard of culvert-style cistern systems lasting a long time underground when a waterproof coating has been liberally slapped along the seam between culvert and  concrete base. Unfortunately, my friend who swore by these tanks is no longer with us, so I can no longer vouch for their longevity.


    My knee-jerk reaction has always been to avoid culverts for water storage. I’m all for innovation, but I’m not into experimenting with thousands of gallons of water in some nice client’s backyard. Unless you are working with a research grant, better to go with proven and tested materials when it comes to storing something as heavy and pervasive as water.


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