Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rainwater Harvesting: Utilizing our Precious Resource

Rainwater harvesting is easily defined as the catching of rainfall in a container for later use. It is a simple step that you can take to create a more sustainable life for yourself. Some initial questions probably come to mind when I make such a bold statement. Why should I harvest water when all I have to do is turn on my faucet? Will the collection system look ugly? How much work is involved? What are the costs? Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues to better understand water harvesting.

First of all, Mother Nature always knows what’s best for the environment. It is no secret that plant materials respond much better to rainwater than to municipal water. Take a look at your yard after a good soaking rain and see how quickly it greens up. Then look at it after irrigating from municipal water and you will see the response is not as quick or even as green. It may not be feasible for all irrigation needs to be met with a rainwater collection system. Rather, a combination of harvested rainwater and supplemental municipal water is the likely solution. After all, what mother doesn’t need a helping hand every once in a while?

The simplest and most cost effective means of harvesting is through the utilization of a rain barrel. There have been a number of manufacturers that have come out with their own lines of barrels that you can buy online or at local retailers. Rain barrels come in a variety of shapes and colors because of the popularity that they are experiencing. There are barrels that have planters on the top of them so annual plants can grow and drape over them. Some come in unique shapes, and others are designed to look like pieces of art. If you wanted to create your own barrel, you can customize it to any color, texture, or placement to fit your needs. This can potentially help lower costs and gives you the satisfaction of building it yourself.

The costs vary greatly depending on the type of harvesting project that you want to undertake, so it is important to consider your end-use plans before taking the plunge. Most rain barrels hold about 55 gallons, and will usually fill up in a very short time with runoff from your roof. If you want to move up to a larger system that can supply your irrigation for planting or even your turf, that would require the installation of a larger tank with a minimum capacity of about 500 gallons. The larger size will allow you dramatically cut down your outdoor water use (which can be about 40% of your water bill in the growing season) and also harvest much more of your runoff instead of letting it go down the gutter. These systems can be adapted to supplement existing sprinkler systems or be their own stand-alone system.

1,000 square feet of roof during a 1-inch rainfall can yield 600 gallons of water. Considering our seasonal rainfall average is 30 inches, we’re talking about a total of 18,000 gallons of water! When you use municipal water, you are not only being charged for the water, but your sanitary sewage charge is based on the amount of water you use. MUD is expecting large increases through 2017, reaching an estimated $50 per month according to MUD.

This all sounds good but now you may be wondering about what happens once you install a system. Retrieving water from a collection system can be as easy as turning a spigot. Larger systems may require pumps or more sophisticated filtering processes. Rain harvesting systems are meant to be low maintenance. They will require periodic inspection to look for debris build up, proper pump operation, and winterization (depending on setup of your system). One good investment that I would recommend to make maintenance easier would be a gutter protector. This will make cleaning your gutters much easier or even not needed, and result in less debris making its way to the water harvesting system.

Rain water harvesting will save you money. It will limit your runoff contribution to the storm sewer system; it will improve your plant health; and it can become a beautiful addition to your landscape. I’ve only touched on a little of what water harvesting can do for you and its benefits, so I highly recommend looking into it more.

When you add the financial and environmental benefits of rain water harvesting to the aesthetics of a healthy, lush landscape, you may start to wonder why you didn’t consider rainwater harvesting earlier. Feel free to contact me for more information on the topic.

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