Chapter 15, of Five Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management, is about the water supply. M.G. starts by talking about his experiences with a variety of cisterns that he'd lived with over the years, and in one paragraph, he encapsulates all the mistakes one can make with putting in a cistern to harvest rain:
"At various times I have lived in houses where the primitive rain barrel furnished family needs and reared mosquitoes; where the shallow cistern provoked profanity every winter because holes had to be chopped in the ice and from which the water had to be lifted by a "sweep", "the old oaken bucket," or hauled, hand over hand, by rope and pail; a "chain-pump"; where a deep, unprotected cistern was built without provision for drainage and had to be cleaned of noisom sludge, dead toads, mice and other gruesome ingredients every summer; where there was a "filter cistern" which could not be cleaned (!) because of inaccessibility; where an attic tank filled direct from the roof collected leaves, soot, dirt and bird droppings; and where, in several houses, the water had to be pumped by hand either to a tank in the garret or a pressure tank in the cellar."
I have read a number of blogs where the authors planned to use a cistern to harvest rainwater, and this paragraph brought these folks to mind. I've also seen some neat instructables from those who have actually made working rain collection systems. Here are a couple of links to some manuals about creating rainwater catchment systems:
The Texas Manual of Rainwater Harvesting
Rainwater Harvesting Systems for Montana
Harvesting Rainwater for Landscape Use, University of Arizona
Rainwater Harvesting, Practical Action Organization
This interesting page details one family's experiences with using rain barrels:
And here's another page from a fellow building a custom tank in his father's garden:
In fact, visit Instructables and do a search for rain barrels. There are lots of ideas for those that are handy. In conclusion, there are some books that come highly recommended for those that are looking to build a water supply system based on rainwater:
Art Ludwig has also written some great books on re-use of "greywater":
This particular blog entry also points out some of the pitfalls of gathering rain from a roof:
Blogs and Blooms
Here on my island, we've been complaining about how much rain we've had over the holidays. Ironic really, as we will undoubtedly suffer a shortage of rain in July, and August. We so rarely have freezing weather, it seems positively wasteful to watch the water that got away flowing off into the little swale behind the house.