Growth in Rainwater Applications in the US

March 27, 2014

There are many areas throughout the world that suffer shortages of clean water.  This is also true in the United States, where fresh water shortages are happening more often and water rates are rising accordingly.   This need not be the case.  Through more enlightened water management, water shortages can be virtually eliminated.  Rainwater collection is one of many techniques that can help assure enough fresh water is available.  The amount of water we are wasting every year as a country is needless.  Rainwater harvesting is a great solution that is becoming more and more recognized as a viable water source as well as storm water management tool.

Overview of Rainwater Collection

The technique of collecting rainwater for everyday use has been around for thousands of years. The ancient Mayan, Roman, and Egyptian empires all used this technique to manage water supplies in their cities.  As over the centuries, rainwater from rooftops that normally is a nuisance leading to flooding, erosion, and building structure issues is turned into an asset by directing it to a tank. Nowadays, this water is pre-filtered through a variety of means before it goes to the tank.  Water is then clean enough for many non-potable applications such as irrigation and cooling tower make up.  In other cases where water is used indoors, treatment is done. Sediment filtration, carbon filtration, and UV disinfection are relatively simple steps that assure water is suitable for use indoors, even for drinking.  In the US, there are currently many thousands of new rainwater systems being installed each year both on commercial and residential properties and the number is growing rapidly.

The reasons people are driven to use rainwater collection is varied.  In many locations, it is the only viable water source.  In the US, there are many areas where wells are drying up or having saltwater intrusion and municipal sources are not available, making rainwater collection the best drinking water source.  Places in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Hawaii, and many others have this situation in rural areas.  Here is one example in Maine where saltwater instrusion was the issue. See http://bit.ly/1dwPY3w  Here’s another one installed in St. Croix USVI. http://bit.ly/1jMW1iJ

Others are driven by reducing water costs.  With water prices rising nearly everywhere, this is becoming a more and more important reason to use rainwater collection.  For some commercial systems, a payback of less than two years occurs with regularity.  Applications which are most likely to meet these excellent financial returns are with commercial laundries (e.g. in hotels), cooling tower make up in large buildings, fleet car washes. See http://bit.ly/1jM4cMd and http://bit.ly/P3DULz.

Stormwater management is another primary reason people turn to rainwater collection.  It is common to prevent issues caused by storm water and turn that solution into a water resource.  This was a driving force for a residential potable rainwater system in Atlanta and for a city park in Sandy Springs, Georgia.  See http://bit.ly/QhRYlX and http://bit.ly/OWhfRI and http://bit.ly/1g2vVVa and http://bit.ly/1dtzUPG and http://bit.ly/QhSzUz.

In regions hit with drought, governments are encouraging rainwater collection by passing bills to provide incentives and to streamline permitting processes.  This has happened for example in Texas and in Australia to help alleviate their “millenium” drought, according to The Guardian..  Many large companies such as Home Depot, Walmart, and TD Ameritrade have installed their own rainwater collection systems to protect themselves from water shortages while reducing utility bills and meeting sustainability initiative goals.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a group of high school students worked together to build a better campus, implementing a rainwater harvesting system. This school had an issue with a leaky roof and inefficient gutters.  When it rains, it was often an issue for students. In order to solve this problem and to do their part for the environment, students were proactive and designed a rainwater collection system which they installed themselves. This provided them with an opportunity to work together, using their creativity to design a rainwater harvesting system that would work well for them.

Sports teams are also seeing the benefits of rainwater collection with ambitious projects like the one at Target Field in Minneapolis or smaller systems at Miller Field in Milwaukee or Turner Field in Atlanta.

Whether it’s a vacation home in Maine, high school students in North Carolina, or corporations in Texas, one thing is for sure, rainwater harvesting techniques are starting to have a major impact on how we manage water.  As more and more properties adopt rainwater collection, the impact will be to vastly reduce the risk of running out of fresh water all around the US.  Water is one of our most precious resources, and there are so many advantages associated with implementing these types of systems.

2013 is a Great Year to Fill Your Rainwater Tank

July 15, 2013

The 9.57 inches of rainfall that Atlanta received during the month of June was the fourth wettest month on record and is an astonishing amount of collection potential if you have a rainwater collection system.  Actually, June is just a microcosm of the current trend.  It has rained more in Atlanta in the first half of 2013 than all of last year’s 37.02” of rain.   From January to June 2013, it has rained 37.32 inches in Atlanta, which is enough for a big retail store like The Home Depot to collect and use over 2 million gallons of free rainwater depending on tank size and water demand at just one of its stores.  It has also been a visibly wet month of July as well with many festivities being cancelled on July 4th due to the inclement weather.  The Peachtree road race was run in the rain for the first time since 1994.  But, as most Atlantans see a lot of rain as a negative, I challenge each person who reads this blog to reframe your mindset and look at the rain as a huge positive.  The amount of rainfall that can be collected during really wet periods like this one and even during dry periods tells us two things.  First, it tells us that we really need to improve our urban infrastructure regarding storm water runoff and manage it on-site in an environmentally intelligent way.   With the new city of Atlanta Post Development Stormwater Ordinance mandating the first inch of rainfall to be captured on-site means that active rainwater collection systems can make a big difference especially in the middle of the summer heat.  Secondly, the large amounts of rainfall that we are seeing tells us that there is no better time than now to start collection rainwater from your own roof whether you’re a homeowner or business owner.  The collected rain can be used for a variety of summer applications including outdoor watering of vegetable gardens, car washing, automatic irrigation watering, pool top-off, as well as pond top-off and many more.  With all this water supply, indoor uses for toilet flushing, laundry and cooling tower make up can all be supplied by captured rainwater.  So, next time you see it raining in Atlanta which will most likely be tomorrow, think to yourself “how much could I be capturing right  now” and how much will this reduce my monthly water bill which is the highest anywhere in the nation.  

City of Atlanta Stormwater Ordinance

June 9, 2013

The City of Atlanta Council recently passed a new Post-Development Stormwater Ordinance that seeks to change the way the city and its residents approach stormwater management.  Rainwater collection can be an integral part of any plan.  Ecovie has the expertise to work with any property owner to develop and execute a comprehensive stormwater plan.  First, here is some background on the new ordinance.

One of the key revisions in the Atlanta stormwater ordinance encourages use of “Green Infrastructure” practices in an effort to reduce the amount of stormwater that leaves a site due to urban runoff.  This is done by giving incentives toward the use of green infrastructure in lieu of traditional retention or detention methods.  The result is to indirectly reduce capital cost for projects to incentivize adoption of green infrastructure.

Green Infrastructure applied to stormwater management is a way to manage urban storm-water which seeks to mimic the natural hydrologic cycle through on-site pervious infiltration techniques as well as evapotranspiration through a number of specific methods, one of which is active rainwater collection which is Ecovie’s speciality.   I encourage you to take a look at this presentation which explains the various types of green infrastructure approved by the new ordinance.  Click here.  Also, the Ecovie website has some good information on this topic.  Click here.

Other methods include having bio-retention zones, rain gardens, permeable pavement, green roofs, and other infiltration techniques. The idea is to maximize the use of water on site. Ecovie employs these methods in conjunction with active rainwater collection by simply directing tank overflow to landscaped retention zones.

The green infrastructure approach is different than the diversion approach to managing stormwater which has been the norm for the past several decades.  Diversion means getting water off your property as fast as possible.  Retention, which is an interim step, seeks to keep water on site in retaining ponds.  Green Infrastructure is about keeping as much of the stormwater on-site and treating it properly through passive and active systems using methods that are visually appealing and positively affect the way we live.

Passive systems such as bio-retention zones, rain gardens, detention ponds, permeable hardscape, and vegetated swales are all ways that to reduce urban flooding increases aesthetic appeal and promote urban sustainability.  However active systems such as an above or underground collection system can also reduce flooding, increase sustainability but also it can capture water which can be used at the property owner’s discretion.

Active green infrastructure systems such as a rainwater cistern can help not only to manage stormwater on site, but it can give citizens more control on where and when the water is used on their property.  Where a bio-retention zone and permeable pavement reduce stormwater runoff and provide water to landscape areas when it rains, they’re potential is limited because the water can’t be used at a later time for either outdoor or indoor applications.  With an active collection system such as an Ecovie Rainwater Collection system the captured water can be treated and used again for outdoor irrigation, indoor toilet flushing, power washing, drinking water, laundry usage etc.  Thus when determining which green infrastructure approach is better in comparison, we at Ecovie feel that an active collection system gives the consumer a win-win situation because it is environmentally friendly, monetarily cost-effective, and the water can be used under the property owner’s own control.

Ecovie works with local contractors and developers to apply the green infrastructure elements of the new Atlanta stormwater ordinance in a way that is site specific and best meets the goals of the particular project.  Rainwater collection is just one of the green infrastructure solutions that we use.

Rainwater Collection at Schools

April 30, 2013

Rainwater collection has high interest in schools at all levels.  Ecovie has been involved a wide variety of projects from elementary schools through universities.  See this month’s newsletter for some examples.  

We have been asked to speak to students at all levels as well which has been very fun.  I have personally ‘lectured’ to kindergarteners which was quite an experience.  For that, I took the Mr. Science approach and explained things like the hydrological cycle and where the water we drink water comes from.  I asked the students lots of questions and had some pretty amazing answers!  I have also lectured at the graduate level to a GA Tech architectural class.  Probably my favorite was the classes I did for several 5th grade classes.  There we focused on match and science.  The class divided into small groups and we calculated how much water could be collected from a home rooftop and then figured out how much a family’s water needs could be supplied.

Actually, Ecovie looks at all our marketing activities as an educational process.  What we do is a little different and novel to modern society even though the concept has been around for centuries. Once we can explain what we do and why we do it, our audiences can see what the benefits can be to them specifically as well as to communities as a whole.  It is no different really than the work we are doing in formal educational environment.  We look forward to these opportunities to teach and to participate in student’s development whatever age they may be!

Does Rainwater Collection Affect Home Resale Value?

March 29, 2013

For this blog I am using a real life example to help answer the question whether having a rainwater collection system at your home help resale value or at least helps the home sell faster.  To start I will tell what real estate agents have told me over the last few years.

I wanted to know what those in the real estate business thought about rainwater collection.  My line of questioning to 10-20 real estate agents (I forget exactly how many) went something like, “Do you think that rainwater collection increases home value?”  The answer was a 100%, “Yes.”  OK, so that’s a good start.  So the obvious next question is always, “so what percentage of the invested cost of a rainwater collection system will be recovered when someone sells the house?”  Here I had a range of answers and a lot of hedging.  I can say that I never had an answer below 50% nor higher than 100%.  I am not sure what the average was, but for the sake of this article I will use 50% as a conservative number.  In fact, when asked by Ecovie clients for a financial analysis, I use 50% residual value for ROI calculations.  I feel this is a conservative estimate.

With that background, it just so happens that I recently sold my own home.  We priced at what we felt was aggressive.  It sold in one day for full asking price.  The buyer as well as others who saw the house mentioned our 2800 gallon rainwater system as a positive.  Did the rainwater system help us sell the house?  I certainly think so!  Did it help sell at a higher price?  I like to think so, but who knows?  What I can share is that the cost of the rainwater system was around 1% of our home selling price.  Those same real estate agents tell me that homes on average are selling for around 94% of asking price.  While we have definitely done other upgrades to our home, it seems like this single case is one vote for rainwater collection helping in the selling process.  You can form your own opinion whether we received at least 1% of the sales price from the rainwater collection system.

Also, the current average time on the market is over 6 months which is way better than it has been for some time.  Nevertheless, we have saved over six months of being on the market compared to the average since we sold our home in a day at a price we and our real estate agent thought was aggressive.  Again, it’s a guess how much of this good fortune was due to having a rainwater system.  Hey, maybe the new kitchen helped too.

The next question that may come to mind is whether this was a good investment overall.  Being a  bona fide rainwater geek and amateur financial analyst I had to know.  We installed our rainwater system for irrigation and garden watering in fall 2008 and have had four seasons of use.  Before we installed it our summertime water bills (City of Atlanta) averaged around $300 a month.  Now, our bills are below $100 a month year around for a savings of around $1,600 a year.  That’s a savings of $4,800 in the last four years.  Taking the conservative residual value of 50% and reducing our time on market by 2 months (I cannot accept that we were looking at 6 months on market), I ran a financial analysis.  I used a cost of the rainwater system at pricing Ecovie would charge its clients.  I had lower costs since this was essentially a DIY project.  Using these numbers, I come up with an ROI of 22.4% with us being money ahead by a long way in the 4+ years we have had rainwater collection.  Not too shabby!  This was on top of having a system to show clients and having a great garden and back yard.

Some of you may ask, what if you had not sold your home? What would the financials look like then?  I ran the numbers again and found that ROI was still around 10%. As a low risk investment, this seems like a pretty good deal to me. Plus this does not take into account the value of a lot of other intangibles you can read about on our website.  See the ROI page http://www.ecovieenvironmental.com/return-on-investment/.  A possible future financial benefit for the couple who bought our house is a potential stormwater utility charge in City of Atlanta.  If that happens, rainwater collection will be given a credit, as well as the other things we have done such as the pervious driveway and rain garden.

I hope you have found this informative.  If you want to find out more details of our system, please respond this this blog.  I will be happy to connect!

Long Term Water Management in The Southeastern US

March 4, 2013
Hi Everyone,
 
In this blog I use a brilliant note my good friend Bill Stolz just sent me.  He gives a compelling description of where we can go to support or water needs in the future and the possible positive economic impacts it may entail right here in the Southeastern US.  Thanks Bill for sharing this and for your efforts!
 
On March 1, 2013 he wrote:
 
The six-state territory of GA, NC, SC, TN, AL, MS has 38.5 million residents (almost 13% of the entire USA) spread among 62 metro areas (MSAs) plus smaller population centers and rural areas representing dozens of first, second and third tier markets.  Florida has 19 million and Puerto Rico + the USVI 4 million. A population-based extrapolation using the USA’s national water infrastructure investment needs during the next 25 years of over $1 trillion just to maintain our water and wastewater infrastructure at current levels of service (see AWWA’s attached report Buried No Longer”), indicates that our regional spend will be $40 billion per year and Florida’s $20 billion.  And these are conservative estimates.  

Many of these investments and expenditures are or will be mandated by EPA consent decrees or will be critical,must-execute-now types of projects requiring action no matter what political and economic climate winds may be blowing.  This will be an arduous, painful process due in part to wrongheaded politicians and other “leaders” who want everything but are often unwilling to pay their way for anything.  But it will have to happen if we as a country expect to continue to be a global leader.  Water is fundamental to our very existence in a way that most of our 310 million inhabitants take for granted and do not understand in the least.  This is o.c. true for all other nations too, but they are not the concern being voiced here.

Global infrastructure giants (MNEs) such as Siemens, GE Water, Bosch, Veolia, Suez and many others are active in the SE USA for these very reasons; clearly they “get it.” Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst (www.thebigthirst.com), stated in his talk here in Atlanta last fall that 49% of the energy that we generate and pump out over our national grid is used in one form or another to tap into, treat, deliver, retrieve, retreat and then dispose of water. This is an eye popper.  We also use enormous amounts of treated water to run our steam turbines to generate said power.  As a nation we cannot continue to be so blatantly wasteful of these two security critical resources – water and energy.

MNEs depend on hundreds of specialized smaller firms to be able to deliver their projects as promised, on time and on budget. This clearly bodes well for proven, long established products and technologies.  At the same time it opens the door to introducing and adopting new approaches to water usage efficiency such as rain water harvesting, grey water reuse and utilization, and energy generation from wastewater, to mention a few.  These will save enormous amounts of water and energy which will in turn result in better bottom lines for users and for the environment writ large.  Worth noting is that P3 (public-private-partnerships) project delivery models (e.g., DB, DBF, DBFM) can play leading roles in infrastructure development and execution if our states adopt the legislation necessary to move forward.  Texas, for instance, has already done this and is reaping the benefits.

Water industry professionals will obviously concentrate their work on projects that are either currently on the boards or will be in the near future in order to tap into the most viable opportunities promising the best returns in terms of both profitability and time frames for completion.  Supporting the efforts of entities such as EcoVie Environmental and the Southeast Rainwater Harvesting Systems Association (www.serhsa.com) should help new players get to the next level and ultimately move into the mainstream (pun not intended).  The question we all ask ourselves is, “What is the tipping point and how & when will we get there.”

 

Best,

 

Bill

Rainwater Updates

January 28, 2013

For this blog I have a number of updates on which I will comment.  Hopefully you find this informative and as always we welcome your comments and debate.

As many of you know I am a founding member of SERHSA (Southeast Rainwater Harvesting Systems Association) and am the acting president.  We have recently announced a partnership with the Regional Business Coalition which seeks to reach out to the local business community to offer rainwater as part of the solution to metro Atlanta’s water supply and stormwater runoff challenges.  Please see the press release on this development, click here.

I am personally very excited about the prospect of working with  RBC to raise awareness and to greatly increase the adoption rate of rainwater collection.  This development has also been picked up in the media with Georgia Public Broadcasting, click here. We will jointly be promoting SERHSA’s campaign, “when it rains, we store” in which property owners large and small can promote the fact that they are collecting rainwater.  Our overall goal is to increase water supplied by collected rainwater by 27 million gallons per day in the next 5 years.  This is a very audacious goal which would mean achieving an adoption rate of around 10% by my estimate.  Here is an overview of the campaign, click here.

Here in Atlanta, the city council is considering an upgrade to their stormwater ordinance to help encourage the use of more green infrastructure to manage runoff.  Here is a summary of what’s planned, click here. Rainwater collection is specifically named as one of many green infrastructure solutions that may be implemented along with rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and more.  I see this as a very positive development.  The way the ordinance is currently proposed, there will be credits given for using green infrastructure over traditional methods of retention or detention which will incentivize property owners toward green infrastructure.  In addition, in the case of rainwater, there  will be a water bill cost savings to make that option even more appealing.  Let’s take a typical 2500 gallon above ground residential system feeding automatic irrigation.  This system can supply about 50,000 gallons of water per year at a value of $1,500 annually given Atlanta’s water rates.  If the net capital cost of the system is $4,500 (the rainwater system cost minus the cost of retention/detention that it would replace), then the payback is 3 years in rough terms.  This is a very compelling reason to consider rainwater collection in the City of Atlanta.  It is well recognized that this ordinance follows similar policies set up in other cities such as Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, and others.  Here is the latest draft of the ordinance for those who REALLY want to go in the hole on this topic!  Click Here.

I would like to mention that Tuscon AZ, recently implemented an interesting rebate program for rainwater systems.  The program offers up to $2,000 to home owners who install active and/or passive rainwater systems.  I contacted the City of Tucson and found out that the program is funded by a surcharge of $0.07 per CCF (748 gallons) on standard water bills.  This is an interesting way to finance such a program.  If something like this were to be pursued here in Atlanta the water rate increase would be less than 0.5% and would provide enough funding to  install thousands of residential systems and fully offset any revenue loss from reduced municipal water use.  Even though the rate increase would be very small, there would no doubt be opposition to any rate increase.  Our top tier rate is currently $21.85 per CCF.  Nevertheless, I think that this is a concept worth considering and I certainly agree with the direction it would take us.  See this link.

Is rainwater safe to drink?

December 4, 2012

My main objective in writing this article is to establish that rainwater is safe for any purpose, especially for non-potable uses such as irrigation, toilet flushing, and doing laundry but also as a drinking water source.  I will do this by focus first on captured rainwater for potable use with the idea that if it’s OK to drink, it’s OK for everything else.

Captured rainwater actually already is the primary drinking water source for millions of people now in the U.S. and its territories.  Does that mean that it is actually safe?  Of course that is not automatically true.  There may be immediate (acute) or latent (chronic) health effects of using rainwater, treated or untreated, for potable uses. This article intends to point out the benefits of potable rainwater as well as indicate the lack of any evidence of any negative effects of using rainwater as a potable water source.

Rainwater captured from private property rooftops is currently, and has been used for hundreds of years, as a drinking water source.  I am personally unaware of any reports from anywhere of any negative effects from using this water source.  I have on the other hand heard and read about many reports of municipal water sources causing serious acute health issues.  The cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in 1993 is one example where people became seriously sick from municipal water supplies.  In that extreme case, it is reported that over 1 million people became ill and 104 people’s deaths were attributed to the water issue. In many more cases E. Coli is detected and reported in municipal water supplies.  While this does not automatically indicate that this water was unsafe to drink, it usually did result in water boiling requirements for local residents and definitely exceeded EPA standards.  The risk of acute issues with municipal water supply remains a concern even though most of us do not worry about this.

Before I launch into my evidence in support of collected rainwater as a viable potable water source, I must point out that municipal water supplies have greatly improved our level of health over the last 100+ years.  Clean drinking water from waterways and groundwater were greatly improved with modern treatment and better water management practices. Before that, lack of knowledge of possible pathogens and know-how to create clean water out of dirty water sources led to many problems.  However, the trend to use surface and groundwater as a large scale water source does not negate the viability of rooftop collected rainwater as a viable, safe drinking water source.

In contrast, there is no data and no instance of acute problems from drinking collected rainwater of which I am aware.  I would love it if someone would contact http://www.ecovierain.com to give any instance where this has occurred in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.  On the other hand, we do have our anecdotal and scientific research which indicates that collected rainwater is totally safe to drink and offers as low or lower risk of acute health issues than municipal water supplies.

Ecovie has installed several potable rainwater systems.  Check out our website for examples.  In each case, we tested the water before and after treatment and in every case found treated water to meet EPA drinking water standards.  In many cases the untreated water also met EPA standards.  See http://bit.ly/WFIaxI. I think that is fantastic, but it a limited sample size.  There is one study done in Australia which uses a larger cohort.  See http://bit.ly/11Kyari.  Over one year, there was no statistical difference in occurence of gastrointestinal issues between households which had rainwater systems as the sole drinking water source WITH AND WITHOUT treatment.  Please ask us if you want to see the full university report.  The Ecovie results and this one university study still does not prove that it is impossible to become sick from rainwater.  Even the thousands of rainwater systems from rural Kentucky to Texas to Hawaii to U.S Virgin Island and Puerto Rico to not prove that.  But, that fact that none of these example indicate any risk of acute issues from rainwater is a pretty strong indication that the risks are minimal.  In contrast, the ongoing examples of risk and actual incidents with municipal supplies indicate that rainwater may actually be a safer water supply.  Again, I ask you to send me real and verifiable data for specific examples of acute issues with rainwater collected from rooftops.

Now, let’s talk about chronic effects.  Are there any long term documented effects of drinking any type of water? Most of us have heard about the contaminants that exist in our municipal water supplies.  From runoff of pesticides and fertilizers in surface sourced water supplies to chromium-6 detected in many cities’ water supplies, the potential risk has been raised.  The chomium-IV contamination made famous by Erin Brockovich nor the PCE and TCE well contamination at Camp Lajeune, NC in the 1950’s to 1980’s causing alleged cancer cases do not have definitive direct proof of a link to chronic heath issues, but have raised concerns to say nothing about the court awards. Please check out Wikipedia and others sources to draw your own conclusions. I personally strongly suspect that the link exists, but being the scientific type I will not write or say that actual proof exists.  But, what is the actual level of risk to you regardless of what your water supply is?  The above examples indicate possible chronic risks from municipal water supplies albeit without definitive cause and effect links.

What about collected rainwater?  We can measure a wide range of contaminants in municipal water supplies and can prove how they came to be there.  With collected rainwater, none of these contaminants have been detected to my knowledge and we know that by the nature of the source of collected rainwater that the possibility that these types of detecting contaminants is an order of magnitude more remote than water coming from surface water (runoff to reservoirs or rivers) or from groundwater (wells).  Since rainwater never touches the ground, it cannot accumulate unwanted contaminants that are found from runoff.  For the same reason, rainwater cannot be accumulate many of the same contaminants that can seep into groundwater supplies.  Rainwater collected from rooftops by design avoid most of the risks to water quality found in our normal municipal water sources.

Does that mean that collected rainwater is automatically free of risk from contamination for either acute or chronic agents?  Of course not.  Nothing I can think of is completely free from risk from anything.  Risk is a relative term.  It is riskier to drive your car from Atlanta to Chicago than it is to fly.  Using collected rainwater for any use, especially non-potable uses but even for drinking water (in my opinion) is less risky than using municipal water supplies.

Now I would like to cover a bit about non-potable water uses.  There are a lot less concerns about water quality with water used outdoors for things like irrigation.  Nevertheless, we have heard about worries about sprayed rainwater being inhaled or about someone drinking water from a non-potable spigot.  Given that it is likely that the water meets EPA drinking water standards, this concern is minimal. Again, there are no reported incidents of anyone experiencing acute symptoms from inhaling or drinking captured rainwater.  On the other hand, wells and surface runoff sources are not controlled for water quality when used for non-potable irrigation use.  Now, let’s cover indoor use.  One concern is that piping indoors, specially in large institutional and commercial buildings will be confused with a potable water pipe and linked in sometime in the future.  This is a valid concern and I agree with backflow and pipe indication measures that prevent confusion and inadvertent mistakes, although the actual risk may be minimal.  I do not agree with measures like labeling toilets as supplied with non-potable rainwater which is the case in many areas.  The risk I have heard that a pet may drink from a toilet.  While this may happen from time to time, the potential risk from fecal coliforms we humans put directly in said toilet is far greater than contamination from rainwater.  The same argument holds for water splashing up on your butt after a particularly satisfying trip.  Again, risk is relative.

At Ecovie, we match treatment regimen with the end use to assure clean, pure water that meets the needs of our customers.

How Rainwater Collection Helps Alleviate the Effect of Drought

September 3, 2012

At Ecovie, we are asked often about what to do with rainwater collection during a drought.  The question comes from the thought that you cannot catch rainwater if it not raining.  While that is obviously true in the short term, rainwater collection has a beneficial impact on drought issues both during the drought and when the drought has passed.  Collected rainwater provides much added water supply during droughts when the infrequent down pour occurs.  And, when the drought passes collected rainwater aids in replenishing aquifers so they are available when the next drought arrives.

Let’s take the metro Atlanta area as an example of impact of rainwater collection during a drought.  In 2007, we had the least rain in 50 years with outdoor watering bans and threats of our reservoirs running dry.  During that year, the amount of rainwater that could be captured as about 70% of what can be captured in an average rainfall year. Surprisingly, the 32 inches of rainwater we did receive in 2007 fell at times when we really needed it like in July and August.  Even thought that 32″ was around 18 inches below average, it equals an average year in other parts of the country like the upper Midwest and far exceeds the average rainfall of other areas in the western US.

Collectively, we project that if Atlanta can achieve a 30% adoption rate of rainwater collection over the next 10 years or so, water supply will average 100 MGD of the approximate 650 MGD we current withdraw.  This would deliver around 70 MGD during a drought like 2007 which is certainly enough to help alleviate the impact of drought not only to the metro area, but also to downstream users like farms and communities who would have more downstream flow to use.  This amount would be additive to current supplies due to reduced runoff to the oceans and due to reduced evaporative losses.  As runoff is reduced during the infrequent drought rain storms, it can be put to use and then released for downstream use when it is not raining.  Evaporative loss is a bigger issue with our reservoirs than one may think.  For example, the evaporative loss from Lake Lanier alone averages around 122 MGD.  Rainwater collection eliminates this evaporative loss to actually allow for increased releases downstream.

After the drought passes, rainwater collection aids in our ability to replenish groundwater supplies in our aquifers.  The impact can be seen in the immediate metro area as well as downstream.  If compared to the water supplies from wells which always deplete ground water supply, rainwater collection for irrigation always has the effect of replenishing groundwater.  Compared to new reservoirs and the above mentioned evaporative loss, the added water supply from rainwater collection decreases demand on reservoirs to increase downstream release.  This reduces agricultural demand on wells while helping replenish aquifers.

Somewhat more controversial but based on scientific research, building reservoirs actually can have an impact on weather patterns.  With large open bodies of water instead of the trees that were where the new reservoirs exist, rainfall may tend to pass over the watershed area to fall elsewhere.  This would be a reduction in water supply potential of new reservoirs.

In the ways described above, rainwater collection is one of several sound water management techniques that can minimize the impact of drought.  Along with low impact development using newer storm water management techniques to slow runoff and replenish groundwater supplies, rainwater collection needs to be considered more than it is currently.

 

It still rains a lot in Atlanta

March 20, 2012

Here at ECOVIE, we hear a lot of comments about how it never rains in the summer here in Atlanta.  What’s the point of having a rainwater collection system if it ‘never’ rains?  Well, lets take a look at our actual rainfall results over the last few years and compare that with the recently updated 30 year averages.  You will see that while in fact the amount of rainfall has dropped in recent years and this has dropped the 30 year average slightly, it still rains a lot here.  What’s even better is that we do not have a distinct wet and dry season as is found in other part of the US and the world.  Our rainfall tends to come in heavy bursts which fill our rainwater tanks and then come again just before they are empty.  Indeed, even with our diminished rainfall over the last few years, metro Atlanta continues to be a near ideal location for rainwater collection.

Let’s dive into the numbers.  Over the lat 5 years, we have had below average rainfall in four of them.  In 2007, we had the least rainfall in 50 years at 32 inches. Image The one heavy rainfall year was 2009 with 69 inches, the most in 50 years.  2008 and last year, 2011, we had moderate droughts with 41 and 39 inches respectively.  2010 was near normal at 48 inches.  The point of throwing all these numbers at you is to show that even during our droughts, we still enjoy a lot of rainfall.

You may say, “that’s nice, but it hardly rains in the summer”.  OK, let’s take a look at June, July, and August.  First of all, the absolute heaviest rain month on average is now July for metro Atlanta (measured 1980-2010 at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport) with 5.3 inches!  June and August are now averaging 4.0 and 3.9 inches respectively.  Just as point of reference, 4″ of rain is enough to collect up to 4,400 gallons of water from a 2,000 square foot rooftop (i.e. a lot).  Well, there’s one hypothesis out the window.

You may say, “Not so fast!  It hardly rained at all last summer and what about the dreaded summer of 2007?”  Fair enough. Let’s drill down even deeper.  Sure enough, we had less rain last summer.  

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Here are the actual numbers for Jun -August for the last 3 years and for the drought year of 2007.  Last year especially, we were below average all summer with even less rain than during those 3 months in 2007.  Even so, we had a few nice night time showers that filled our rainwater tanks.  The 1.5 inches that fell in August was enough to capture up to 1,700 gallons of rainwater from our 2,000 square foot rooftop.  

Here’s where I will say it could be worse.  Let’s take our supposed rain blessed Pacific Northwest.  You may not be aware that Portland and Seattle have very distinct wet and dry seasons.  It rains all winter and doesn’t rain much in the summer.  Guess what the 30-year average rainfall is in those two cities in the summer?  Yes, it’s less than even our low rainfall of last summer.  

 

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Check out this table.  While, we did suffer through a dry summer last year, it is relative to what we are used to and not relative to what happens elsewhere.  Based on historical data, we can expect abundant rain during the summer even though some years may have less and some years may have more rainfall than others.

In case you may want to accuse me of cherry picking data, I encourage you to go to http://average-rainfall-cities.findthedata.org/ to find average rainfall data from just about anywhere in the US.  You will see that the Southeast US tends to have more rainfall than just about anywhere else.

Let me wrap up with a look at our average rainfall through the year.  The 1970-2000 data showed and average of 50.3″ which dropped to 49.7″ in the years 1980-2010.  The newly updated 30 year average show surprisingly (at least to me ) that the least rainfall now falls in April with a mere 4.0 inches. 

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What happened to our April showers?  October used to be the driest month with those beautiful fall football days.  One the other end, July has overtaken March as the wettest month.  This may be due to a larger number of big storms in the summer.

The main things to point out in our average data is the relatively low spread (1.9″) between the wettest and driest months.  It can rain anytime, and does.  

What does all this mean for rainwater collection as a viable water supply in the Atlanta area?  First, it means that we can count on copious rainfall even when it rains less than usual.  Second, we can design systems with smaller storage tanks than in other areas, because of the pattern of rainfall.  There are other design advantage given by our rainfall patter as well.  Thirdly, rainwater collection arguably does more to prevent runoff and flooding here than elsewhere due to our clay soils covering granite which given little ability for water to infiltrate.

Please respond to the post with any questions you may have.  I am looking for interaction with fellow rainwater geeks!

 

Bob Drew

www.ecovierain.com


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