In many rural areas, municipal water service is not available. In such cases, it is necessary for a home owner to use an alternate water supply. Where there is no body of water or well on the property, many homes rely on the use of a cistern. A cistern is a large holding tank of water. It is filled periodically by a water supply company, or by rainfall.

CONSTRUCTION: Cisterns can be constructed of concrete, concrete block or brick. They are commonly buried beneath the ground, and have a life expectancy of approximately 20 years. Prefabricated cisterns made of steel fiber glass or concrete are also available, and can last beyond 20 years. Wooden cisterns constructed of redwood, hardwood, or bald cypress can be utilized above the ground. The tank must be constructed so that there is no risk of contamination from outside sources. There must be a screened inlet and outlet. The sanitation manhole cover should overlap by 2″,  a  curb that stands at least  4″ above the reservoir top. No cistern should be coated on the inside with asphalt or any other substance that could contaminate the water. Municipal authorities should be notified regarding construction requirements or permits needed before installing a private water storage facility.

CAPACITY AND COST: A standard preformed, concrete cistern with  a  2,400   gallon  capacity  costs  approximately $1,600.00.  Installation,   excavation   and   hook  up   are  added to that fee. Fiberglass cisterns cost about the same. Cisterns range in size from 1,000 to 6,000 gallon capacity.

Depending on the water source, it can be more advantageous to have a large cistern, rather than a small one. Most water haulers will not deliver less than 2,000 gallons, even if the cistern only holds 1,000 gallons. Water hauling companies charge about $35.00 for 2,000 gallons of municipal water.

WATER SOURCE AND QUALITY:  In the Niagara Region, there is enough rainfall to supply a standard cistern. Though rain water is purer than municipal water, it mixes with contaminants from the roof and eavestroughs. Regardless of the source, it is recommended that any water held in the cistern be purified. A water purification system is installed in the basement of the home. It is usually a 9″ tank that stands approximately 4′ high. A sand paper filter is installed behind the pump to remove any dirt from the water. The water is then exposed to an ultra violet light which kills any bacteria that may be present. This type of filtration system can be installed around $1,000.00. If there is an odor to the water, or a higher standard of purification is required, a secondary system can be installed in the kitchen. This is a finer filtration system and can purify the water up to laboratory standards, 99% pure.   The cost for this additional filtering system  is around $1,500.00.

MAINTENANCE: The cistern should be cleaned annually. The water should be drained, and any dirt left in the bottom of the tank should be removed. The walls should be scrubbed and hosed down before refilling the tank. This takes 2 to 3 hours. This can be done by a commercial cleaner and costs about $90.00. While the tank is empty it should be checked for cracks or erosion. Most small cracks can be repaired, but more serious damage can mean replacement of the entire unit. Liners are not recommended for cisterns, as they tend to buckle and pull away from the walls.  Pool liners should not be used in cisterns as they release toxins into the water. Before installing a liner, the homeowner should be sure that the material being used is fit for holding potable water. Dark spots  on  liners  are caused  by bacteria and dirt build up and can usually be removed by a professional cistern cleaner.

The cistern should be properly installed and maintained to ensure an adequate supply of potable water.