September 1, 2008
Rainwater Easing Shortages — More Implementing Systems to Catch It for Nondrinking Uses
By Malia Wollan
SAN FRANCISCO - Tara Hui climbed under her deck, nudged past a cluster of 55-gallon barrels and a roosting chicken, and pointed to a shiny metal gutter spout.
"See that?" she said. "That's where the rainwater comes in from the roof."
Hui is one of a growing band of people across the country turning to collected rainwater for non-drinking uses like watering plants, flushing toilets and washing laundry.
Concern over drought and wasted resources, and stricter water conservation laws have revitalized the practice of capturing rainwater during storms and stockpiling it for use in drier times. A fixture of building design in the Roman empire and in outposts along the American frontier, rainwater harvesting is making a comeback in states including Texas, North Carolina, and California.
"We call it 'the movement that's taking the nation by storm,'" said Robyn Hadley, spokeswoman for the Austin, Texas-based American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, whose membership has jumped by more than 40 percent this year.
Hui, 37, got her first 55-gallon plastic barrel for free five years ago. The barrel had been packed with maraschino cherries, so when rain first filled it the water smelled like candied fruit.
Now, she has a daisy chain of 25 linked barrels under her back deck with a combined capacity of nearly 1,250 gallons. She built the system herself, after searching the Internet for information and buying the necessary plumbing parts at a hardware store. The whole setup cost her $200.
The average American uses 101 gallons of water a day at home and in the yard. Add in agricultural and industrial water use and that climbs to an average of 1,430 gallons per day per person.
Scientists warn that climate change will result in more severe droughts and erratic storms worldwide, and this spring was the driest in California's 114 years of record-keeping. Extreme drought and abnormally dry conditions persist across large swaths of the country, with states in the West and Southeast hardest hit.
Even in a drought, it only takes a few hours of heavy rain to fill all 25 of Hui's barrels. She uses that water throughout the summer to irrigate her backyard.
This fall, San Francisco will try to recruit more people to hoard the rain. The city will be putting $100,000 toward hosting how-to workshops and offering rebates and discounts on rainwater catchment tanks.
In addition to conserving water, these efforts reduce storm runoff, which, in big rains, can send raw sewage flowing into the ocean. Overloaded streams can cause flooding and damage salmon habitat.
Elsewhere, roofs are being used to collect rain from Austin to Seattle. Santa Monica's new library sits atop a 200,000-gallon rainwater cistern, and in August the city launched a rainwater rebate program for homeowners.
Doug Pushard, a software entrepreneur based in Santa Fe, N.M., runs HarvestH2O.com, a Web-based organization providing information on rainwater harvesting. It got more than 23,000 page views in July, almost triple the number he got in July 2007 .
New companies and ingenuity in plumbing and policy are pushing rainwater harvesting from the off-the-grid fringe to the core of 21st century green building design.
"You still have to be a tinkerer to make things work, but that's changing," said Pushard.
Originally published by Malia Wollan Associated Press .
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