A cistern (Middle English cisterne, from Latin cisterna, from cista, box, from Greek kistê, basket) is a receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Often cisterns are built to catch and store rainwater. They range in capacity from a few litres to thousands of cubic metres (effectively covered reservoirs).
Creating and using cisterns
Cisterns are commonly used in areas where water is scarce, either because it is rare or because it has been depleted due to heavy use. Early on, the water was used for many purposes including cooking, irrigation, and washing. Present day cisterns are often only used for irrigation due to concerns over water quality. Cisterns today can also be outfitted with filters or other water purification methods when the water is meant for consumption. A few people leave their cisterns open to catch rain, or have more elaborate rain-catching systems. It is recommended in these cases to have a system that does not leave the water open to mosquitoes or algae, which are attracted to the water and then carry disease to nearby humans.
Some cisterns sit on the top of houses or on the ground higher than the house, and supply the running water needs for the house. They are often supplied not by rainwater harvesting, but by wells with electric pumps, or are filled by manual labor or by truck delivery. Very common throughout Brazil, for instance, they were traditionally made of concrete walls (much like the houses, themselves), with a similar concrete top (about 5 cm. thick), with a piece that can come out for water filling and be re-inserted to keep out debris and insects. Modern cisterns are manufactured of plastic (in Brazil with a characteristic bright blue color, round, in capacities of about 10k and 50k liters). These cisterns differ from water tanks in the sense that they are not completely enclosed and sealed with one form, and rather they have a lid made of the same material as the cistern, which is removable by the user.
To keep a clean water supply, the cisterns must be kept clean. It is recommended to inspect them regularly, keep them well-enclosed, and to occasionally empty them and clean them with an appropriate dilution of chlorine and to rinse them well. Well water must be inspected for contaminants coming from the ground source. City water has up to 1ppm (parts per million) chlorine added to the water to keep it clean, and in many areas can be ordered to be delivered directly to the cistern by truck (a typical price in Brazil is BRL$50, USD$20 for 10k liters). If there is any question about the water supply at any point (source to tap), then the cistern water should not be used for drinking or cooking. If it is of acceptable quality and consistency, then it can be used for (1) toilets, and housecleaning; (2) showers and handwashing; (3) washing dishes, with appropriate sanitation methods, and for the highest quality, (4) cooking and drinking (5)Irrigation. If it is free of particulates but not low enough in bacteria, then boiling may also be an effective means to prepare the water for drinking.
Many greenhouses use cisterns to help meet their water needs, especially in the USA. Some countries or regions, such as Bermuda and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws that require rainwater harvesting systems to be built alongside any new construction, and cisterns can be used in these cases. Other countries, such as Japan, Germany and Spain, also offer financial incentives or tax credit for installing cisterns.
The modern water closet or toilet utilises a cistern to reserve and hold the correct amount of water required to flush the toilet bowl. In earlier toilets, the cistern was located high above the toilet bowl and connected to it by a long pipe. It was necessary to pull a hanging chain connected to a release valve located inside the cistern in order to flush the toilet. Modern toilets may be close coupled, with the cistern mounted directly on the toilet bowl and no intermediate pipe. In this arrangement, the flush mechanism (lever or push button) is usually mounted on the cistern. Concealed cistern toilets, where the cistern is built into the wall behind the toilet, are also available.
More history of the word
The word "cistern" is the translation of the Hebrew word bour, a receptacle for water that has been brought to it. This is distinguished from be'er, which denotes a place where water rises on the spot, like a fountain. (Jer. 2:13; Prov. 5:15; Isa. 36:16)
Cisterns are frequently mentioned in Scripture. The scarcity of springs in Palestine made it necessary to collect rain-water in reservoirs and cisterns (Num. 21:22). Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons (Jer. 38:6; Lam. 3:53; Ps. 40:2; 69:15). The "pit" into which Joseph was cast (Gen. 37:24) was a beer or dry well. There are numerous remains of ancient cisterns in all parts of Palestine.
- Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey
- Cistern in Silves, Portugal
- Cistern in El Jadida, Morocco
well water alternatives
- The Homestead Cistern, instructions on building a cistern.
- Difference between rain barrels and harvesting systems
- Build Your Own Rain Barrel
- La Raccolta delle Acque Matera - A perfect sample of water collection systemsde:Zisternenl:Regenton
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