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Rainwater Put to Work

June 21, 2008

By Bill Robinson, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Jun. 21–Matthew Kip worried his two young daughters would inherit a world without drinkable water.

About a year ago, he stopped worrying — and started doing.

The former handyman and furniture maker built a rain barrel system that captures and stores about 220 gallons of rainwater that runs off the roof of his Rosewood home.

Aside from a few out-of-pocket purchases, Kip pieced together the rain barrel system from recycled materials scavenged from the side of the road or acquired through skillful negotiations.

It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.

In fact, when the reserves are full, he has enough to water his garden of organic vegetables and drought-tolerant plants for about three days.

With water restrictions in Northeast Richland, and Columbia officials urging others to curb use in the spirit of conservation, it is the kind of ingenuity many like to see.

“Rain barrels are gaining momentum in terms of conservation,” said Calvin Sawyer, a Clemson Extension Service specialist who teaches in the university’s agriculture and biological engineering departments. “They give us an opportunity to recharge the water table.”

The 31-year-old, who grew up in Pontiac and graduated from Spring Valley High, started out with just one barrel.

He was stunned by the volume of water he collected — and missed.

“One barrel is typically not enough,” said Kip, who today uses four 55-gallon drums, fed by a modified rain gutter and linked with PVC pipes.

He researched and designed the system, rigging up a secondhand gutter on the backside of the 900-square-foot house he shares with wife, Emily McCravy, and daughters, Sadie, 4, and Phoenix, 2 1/2 months.

He modified the downspout into a series of three interconnected white plastic drums, stacked atop one another in a rack he built with two-by-fours.

The configuration allows him to use the natural wonder of water pressure — the same concept behind municipal water towers — to augment city water the couple also uses to water plants.

A spigot on the bottom barrel is connected to an ordinary rubber garden hose.

“It’s a good flow,” he said, “but I can’t spray with it.”

A fourth, “spill-over” barrel doubles as a repository for what he calls “compost tea” used to irrigate and fertilize an assortment of small fruit trees, flowers and vegetables as well.

McCravy said the rainwater capture system Kip built “is not about your water bill. It has little or no financial bearing.”

“It’s about doing the right thing in using the water we get from rain,” she said.

Kip, who works at the University of South Carolina in its “green quad” dormitory project, said he and McCravy are moving toward other water-saving measures at home.

A brick strategically placed in the toilet tank reduces the amount of water stored and used during each flush.

When showering, he puts a five-gallon bucket in the tub to capture residual water, which is used to irrigate a small plum tree in the backyard.

When they save up enough money, they plan to buy a water-efficient front-loading washer. A low-flow shower head is also on the list.

Kip soon will be adding another barrel to a homemade greenhouse.

“I hope in two or three years we’ll be able to capture every drop” of rain that falls on the roof, Kip said.

He’s motivated to save water because “we behave as if we have no descendants.”

“We have to take more responsibility for our own existence,” he said.

Call Robinson at (803) 771-8482.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The State, Columbia, S.C.

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