Potential impacts of using public chlorinated or fluoridated water for gardening?

pinecarr
By pinecarr on Sun, Jul 19, 2015 - 10:44am

Ever since I started gardening (~2009; go figure!:), I've gotten to know my neighbors better.  My next-door neighbor started gardening soon after I started, and we've had a friendly banter going since then about how our various attempts at growing this or that are going.  (And yes, it has definitely strengthened my bonds with my neighbors; when you are inside, you aren't interacting!).

And it turned out another neighbor down the street grew up on a farm, and has a wealth of knowledge and experience about gardening.  She also has a big heart, having helped a local town start a community garden in the past to grow vegetables to help lower income folks needing food from the food back.  And now she donates much of the produce from her garden to the food bank.

This morning, my former-farmer neighbor eagerly showed me how her backdoor garden is doing. It was beautiful!!  Where all but my beans, peas and lettuce are struggling to grow, her garden is absolutely lush!  The cherry tomatoes have several small tomatoes popping out.  Her squash and pumpkin plants are outright exuberant in the number of huge orange flowers they are producing.  Corn, peas and beans are also thriving.  The difference between the "eh!" performance of my garden, and the resplendent growth from her garden -just 2 doors down!- is marked.  So I wondered "what could make such a difference?"

There are 2 main factors I can think of.  For one thing, my neighbor used to have chickens in that area, so the soil is probably very rich from their droppings in that area.  So I am sure that has a lot to do with it.

But the other factor that got my interest when I asked her that question, was her strong response: "I only use rainwater on my garden".  Her belief is that the chlorine in the public water that we get out of the tap stunts the growth of plants grown in the garden.  She then pointed to a big (50 gallon?) tub that she has under her rainspout, to collect rainwater.  We are not talking anything fancy here, no expensive rainwater collection system.  My neighbor is not financially well off.  This was just something functional that she thinks she bought at the Tractor Supply store that works.  Rain dumps into the big tub, and she dips her bucket in the tub to get rainwater for her garden, which is nearby.  She explained to me, "That's why you see all the old-timers with buckets around their gardens."

Well duh!!!  I can't believe I never thought about the fact that our public drinking water is chlorinated, and that every time I dutifully fill a couple of 5 gallon buckets from the outdoor tap, and wheelbarrow them to the adjacent lot where I have my garden, that I am dumping (some amount of) chlorine on both my plants and soil!

So now my interest was piqued.  After doing a quick search online, I came up with this article, "Is city water bad for vegetable gardens and soil?", at http://www.veggiegardener.com/watering-vegetable-garden-city-water/

It is widely known that cities add chlorine and fluoride to the public drinking water for sanitation reasons.

While this is essential for keeping the water supply safe and healthy for us to drink it isn’t so safe for our vegetables.

Chlorine and chloramine are thought to be harmful to beneficial microbes living in the soil and fluoride really doesn’t help our plants much either.

...[snip]...

This can be especially bad when using city water for brewing compost tea or worm tea. The whole point of brewing these organic teas is to condition the soil and add beneficial microbes.

If the chemicals in the city water are killing those microbes you have just made the tea somewhat ineffective.

Don’t go into a panic about using city water, it won’t kill your vegetable garden. All plants need water to be able to take up nutrients and survive, and using city water is better than using nothing.

In my opinion, plants seemed to have lush growth, deeper colors, and produce better when watered with rain water over city water. The vegetable garden always seems to look better after a slow drizzly day of rain.

Some gardeners say they see no difference in using captured rain water and using solely city water, so it all lies within the beholder.

Interestingly, the article goes on to propose a couple of solutions.  One is to use a rain barrel to capture rainwater.  Another long-term investment is to dig a well.  But one I found interesting if your water source is chlorinated water, is to let it stand a day or 2 in open pails, which allows the chlorine to evaporate:

A quick and easy solution is allowing the city water to sit for a period before using it in the vegetable garden. Chlorine and fluoride will evaporate when left sitting for at least a day.

Allow City Water To Sit for 24 Hours So Chlorine EvaporatesFill up a few five gallon buckets and let them sit overnight then use the water the following day to water your vegetables. The chlorine will evaporate leaving you with fresh, chlorine-free water.

Try to avoid leaving the water-filled buckets out for too long if you have problems with mosquitos in your area.

Water that is left standing for too long can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Covering the buckets is not recommended because this inhibits the evaporation of the chemicals.

Another gardening post I found asks only for the results of formal studies on the topic.  An answering post, "Does watering with chlorinated city water have any ill effects on a vegetable garden?", seems to downplay the affects of chorine, but cautions re the impact of fluoride in some public water [note that post is 9 years old].  See  https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=1006051635009

Fluoride, which is often added to municipal water supplies to reduce tooth decay, does have an adverse effect on many commonly grown houseplants. Fluoridated water causes sensitive plants like palms, dracaenas, spider plants and others to have brown, dead leaf tips and edges. Scientific tests done in Florida, where houseplants are grown commercially, suggest that even fluoride naturally present in some ground water can damage highly sensitive plants. Fluoride will not go off as a gas even if the water is allowed to stand overnight.

Note that this post has a difference of opinion from the first article re getting rid of the fluoride in water, saying that fluoride will not evaporate if the water is left to stand overnight...

So I am curious: do any of you have thoughts, experience or knowledge on the impacts of chlorinated or fluoridated water on garden plants and soil?  I am really curious about whether this may be one of the factors impacting the health and growth of my garden plants and soil.  On top of needing more chicken manure!

7 Comments

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
Good topic,. pinecarr

I used nothing but chlorinated water back up in NY. It was all we had. And I have to say it killed the powdery mildew on things like pumpkins in our high-humidity area. It worked just fine. Yields were good, and we did not have bad soil because of it, but then we used aged chicken manure (had to sit for a year) and compost made from leaves and grass clippings and sand. Earthworms galore. Beneficials were found in that garden, despite the chlorine: toads, garter snakes, predatory wasps, pollinating butterflies and bees basically ran amok back in my NY garden! But city water was cheap.

When I moved to SC, the water was incredibly expensive so we dug a well. It was also overly chlorinated and we would let it sit for a day before drinking it - the stuff does evaporate out of the water (we had to do that with water to replenish a fish tank in NY, or else). Anyhow, here our garden is watered with well water. The main thing is water in this hot climate or in the cooler one up north.

I would not even live in a community that was adding fluoride to the water. But that's just me.

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Posts: 2237
Thanks for the response, Wendy!

It really was helpful to me, as my growing conditions now are similar to yours before you moved.  Maybe I  just need to work on the basics regarding nurturing my soil more: compost and chicken manure for my garden!

Also, I have an uneasy feeling my public water may be fluoridated... Is there a health risk you know about associated with having fluoridated drinking water? 

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Posts: 105
Rain water!

Great post Pinecarr!

We live in an area where our well water comes from limestone, the first few years we gardened we had a heck of a time with our seed starts, even though there was no chlorine in the water,  they just did not do well. We kept changing growing media with the same results.....until we changed to rain water. Our well water has a very high ph and high dissolved solids and seems to inhibit growth until we get our summer rains. We catch rain runoff from our house and workshop and it runs into an under ground cistern, we have a small pond pump inside it so we can start a siphon and then it runs down hill into two 5,000 gallon storage tanks, the cistern will start its own siphon if it gets full enough.

All of our seed starts get 100% rainwater, most of our garden gets spring water (the same high ph and dissolved solids) and most of the rainwater we catch goes into our two high tunnels for irrigation. This is the first year that we have had the high tunnels irrigated this way, so far the results are fabulous.

I really like that we can water our one acre garden without any moving parts, no pumps to replace, no electricity, no solar panels to worry about. In the worst case scenario we can still eat pretty well for a long time.

A great subject Pinecarr, thanks for getting it started.

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Posts: 2237
Sweet rainwater set-up, robshelper!

Wow!  What a sweet rainwater set-up, robshelper!   I want one like that when I grow up!:)

This weekend I spent some dedicated time trying to decide on a rain barrel to buy and try out, to improve my water resiliency.  But after a few hours looking on-line at the various ones you can buy,  I got frustrated because I couldn't find one that fit the bill.  Even so, thank-goodness for all the on-line customer reviews, which taught me a lot of things to watch out for, like:

- A single spigot that is too low to fit a bucket under (you need to raise the rain barrel up high enough to accommodate a bucket, if you want to use it like that);

- A single spigot that is high enough to accommodate a bucket, but then doesn't let you empty the water below that level out of the barrel;

- Tops that don't come off, so you can never clean the inside of the barrel;

- Plastic barrels that split at the seams after a year or two;

- Plastic spigots that are cheaply made and break easily;

- Barrels that are butt-ugly

- etc.

The thing that is turning out to be a big stickler for me is that almost all rain barrels you can buy require that your rain gutters have downspouts.  You need the downspout to insert a diverter into (which usually comes with the rain barrel), which then diverts the water from the downspout directly into the rain barrel.  Unfortunately, my rain gutters don't have downspouts.  So now I'm trying to figure out if I need to spend the time and money to get downspouts installed (or attempt it myself) just to enable the use of rain barrels.

I thought about my former-farmer neighbor's simple solution -a big black plastic tub- but I am hoping to come up with a solution that is more aesthetically pleasing.

Then I got the idea of using a whiskey barrel for a rain barrel.  They are rustic but attractive-looking.  And sure enough, others had thought of that idea, and there are some REALLY nice pre-made ones out there.  Some have pretty (and functional) red hand-pumps on top, others have a chain you can connect to the roof's gutter to guide the water down, so you don't need a downspout (which would solve my problem).  I was excited until I saw the prices: $325, $399 and up (and some charge S&H on top of that).  Sigh!  But here are some links if you want to check them out: http://reelbarrels.com/?slug=product_info.php&products_id=35 and  https://www.google.com/search?q=whiskey+barrel+rain+barrel++chain&biw=1102&bih=473&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0CB0QsARqFQoTCOiS2qjJgccCFZcTkgodSzoMvg .

I also thought of just buying the empty barrels themselves, but those aren't cheap either; ~$120 just for the barrel.

So I am still trying to figure out what will work with me rain barrel wise.  I like the pre-made whiskey barrel ones, but do I really want to drop ~$900-1,000 for 2 of them?  Especially when there are plenty of other demands on limited funds.  In the meantime (so I wouldn't feel totally unproductive!) I went with a cheap immediate solution: I bought a half-way decent looking cheap but heavy plastic "urn" from the local home and garden franchise.  I bought screen to cut-out to cover the to filter leaves etc from the gutter.  I wanted to make some kind of framework to attach the screen to, and to put over the top of the "urn".  I happened to see a plastic door molding that I can bend into a circle shape, and am going to give that a shot.  I'll let you know if it works.

If anyone has any ideas on a good rain barrel or rain collection approach for my situation (no downspouts), I'd be interested to hear them!

Now you know why I so admire your rainwater collection system, robshelper!

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 105
You are ahead of me Pinecarr!

I did not take time to put in screens and filters, a roof washer and diverter would be nice!

We live in a fire prone area and we do not have trees near the house, should not be getting vegetation on our roofs and all of our roofing is steel. We do have a lot of dust and we get some collection of it in our cistern, not much after 3 years and it seems to act like a nice settling chamber so far. We use it for irrigation only at this point, that might change if the stuff hits the fan and we can not replace pumps! We have a pre-filter inline for our green house irrigation and so far the water is pretty darned clean.

Esthetics on a budget, we do the same dance. Everything would be so much more fun with unlimited funds!

Thank you so much for your kind words.

Thetallestmanonearth's picture
Thetallestmanonearth
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Posts: 320
re wiskey barrel

Not sure if this is true of all whiskey barrels, but I got a small ~1 gallon version to age white whiskey as a gift a few years back.  When I first got it the wood was dry and water ran right out between the staves.  You have to soak them submerged in water for a full 24 hours to get the wood to swell and become water tight.  Might be a challenge if the barrel is your largest available water vessel to submerge it for that long.  Might also be a non-issue depending on the design, but it's something to think about. 

I'm planning to focus some energy on water management for our property over the next year.  We share a well with our neighbor and during the hottest times we sometimes overrun the well and run out briefly while the well refreshes it's tanks.  I'd like to install a deep pond with swales and also start capturing rain water off the roof for the animals and the gardens. 

We have long overdue plans to install a hand pump sand-point well as a emergency fall back option.  They cost about $300 and can be installed with a tough afternoon of labor.  This video shows all the parts required.  He is going to dig a hole and back fill it, but you can also pound the pipe in with a fence post driver which is what I plan to do.  In areas with zoning limits on this sort of thing, you could always drive the point and then cap it a few inches off the ground for use in emergencies.  Obviously check for utilities in the area first, but aside from a couple of hours of noise when you're putting it in, no one would be the wiser.  Your neighbors would probably appreciate it if municipal water ever quit flowing.

Then I got the idea of using a whiskey barrel for a rain barrel.  They are rustic but attractive-looking.  And sure enough, others had thought of that idea, and there are some REALLY nice pre-made ones out there.  - See more at: http://www.peakprosperity.com/comment/182912#comment-182912
pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2237
Re Whiskey barrel

Thetallestmanonearth said:

Not sure if this is true of all whiskey barrels, but I got a small ~1 gallon version to age white whiskey as a gift a few years back.  When I first got it the wood was dry and water ran right out between the staves.  You have to soak them submerged in water for a full 24 hours to get the wood to swell and become water tight.  Might be a challenge if the barrel is your largest available water vessel to submerge it for that long.  Might also be a non-issue depending on the design, but it's something to think about.

   Thanks for the info on whiskey barrels, TTMOE!  One of the "whiskey rain barrel" sites I was checking out discussed something about that -needing the barrel to be wet to seal or some such thing- and made me wonder about that.  But as soon as I saw the price tag (too expensive) it became a moot point and I didn't dig further.  But it did make me wonder if there may be some quirks one would need to deal with in using a wooden barrel.

   Thanks also for the info on the hand pump sand point well as an emergency fall back option.  That's a new one to me, and sounds like something worth checking into.

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