Archive for September, 2009

Rainwater Beer on CNN

September 27, 2009

Check out the CNN piece on rainwater beer.  It is true that rainwater is cleaner than city water.


Rainwater Beer

September 1, 2009

Yes, rainwater makes great beer.  No reason  it can’t be used also for home drinking water!  This goes a long way to dispel the myths about rainwater quality.

The Case for Rainwater Collection

September 1, 2009

To find a long-term, affordable solution to their ongoing “water wars” with neighboring states – and to put some much needed, long-term sanity back into the region’s overall water-related strategizing — metro Atlantans need look no farther than their own roofs.

Put another way: Area residents are a lot of closer than they think to a solution to the current water crisis – potentially for a fraction of the cost being discussed by various government agencies that think building new reservoirs and water treatment constitutes the only effective way out of this morass.

What exactly is this fix? Three words: rainwater collection systems.  Rather than large new reservoir, these personal mini-reservoirs can have a major impact on demand for municipal water. We’re not talking about what comes immediately to mind when most people think of collecting rainwater: Installing 55 gallon rain barrels in yards typically bought at so-called “big box” retailers or farmers’ markets – barrels intended to help water gardens.

Rain barrels are meaningful way to begin any effort at conserving and utilizing rainwater — but more substantive collection means the installation of residential tank systems that commonly store between 2,000 and 10,000 gallons. When outdoor water use accounts for around half of all residential demand and upwards of 100,000 gallons every summer, this sort of capacity is required to keep up with demand.

A quick look at some basic numbers demonstrates just how great the impact of these systems would be if thousands of Atlanta households were to embrace this solution to our ongoing water wars.

On a macro level, the City of Atlanta uses an average of around 90-100 million gallons daily to water their yards, flush toilets and do their laundry, according to the city’s watershed website. (More broadly, the 15-county Atlanta metro area utilizes about 652 million gallons per day.) This thirst is quenched in part by 270 million gallons of water withdrawn daily from the Chattahochee River (fed by Lake Lanier’s contested H20) and an additional 170 million gallons taken from the area’s lesser rivers.

How does this translate individually, on a household basis? A typical family of four uses about 25,000 gallons a year for toilet flushing and another 25,000 gallons for laundry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates.  This 50,000 gallon “non–potable” usage makes up around half of all indoor water use.   Outdoors, usage can be even higher with usage typically in a range of 50,000 to 100,000 gallons annually.

Enter the rainwater collection system, designed to significantly cut individual household draw on the region’s limited municipal water capacity and greatly reduce an individual household’s water bills in the process.

If a “typical” family of four were to build a rainwater collection system designed to handle its “non-potable” drinking needs, it could conservatively save 50,000 to 100,000 gallons annually depending on roof size and storage capacity – by cutting city water use for outdoor watering and for indoor non-potable uses. On a household basis, this level of city water usage reduction dwarfs conservation measures such as the use of low flow toilets and fixtures, which has been a very successful program.  With this sort of water savings, one can easily envision saving 30-50 million gallons daily if collection systems are adopted on a widespread basis.  This is equivalent to what we draw from Lake Allatoona for example!

Of course, rainwater collection alone isn’t a panacea for all of our water problems: The battle is still joined as the region’s demand for water is expected to increase 53 percent by 2035, to 1 billion gallons daily as a result of continues economic and population growth. Nevertheless, there’s no question that rainwater collection, if planned and executed on a macro level, will be an extraordinary ally in this area’s water planning – particularly if it helps individual Atlantans recognize finally that water is no longer a resource to be taken for granted or squandered, but one to be cherished as the city ramps up its overall “eco-friendly” initiatives, planning a healthier, cost-efficient future for all.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss rainwater collection as a viable, affordable answer to all of our water-related problems: After all, by definition this answer calls for individual households to take the lead (rather than government) as we address the area’s needs.

But in fact it turns out that there is at least one compelling reason for Atlantans to consider the installation of these systems: According to a study earlier this year by New York City-based Fitch RatingsAtlantans now pay the highest rates in the nation for their water use.   There’s no reason to expect these rates to decline at any point in the future: The proposed cost of building new reservoirs and treatment facilities to meet the area’s current and future water requirements comes to a staggering amount — all at a time city and state governments are slashing spending and even basic services as a means of balancing budgets and avoiding the raising of new taxes.   Add to this another reality: as of early July the state faces a new court-imposed deadline to solve its water feud with Florida and Alabama – or face having its access to Lake Lanier-sourced water cut off by the court.

Against this backdrop, it makes sense for Atlantans to sit back and consider solutions to our water problems other than simply building new reservoirs and forcing future generations to pay for them.

In fact, it may turn out that rainwater collection systems are a less expensive solution than the large public works solutions being debated.  While it is true that a system is not cheap — on average, they range between $7,000 and $12,000 depending on the size of system – they can pay back in 5-7 years in water savings and increased home value.

So what might help encourage residents to look seriously at installing rainwater collection systems now? Effective political leadership at both the state and local levels would help, of course – particularly if it leads to a basket of incentives to encourage rainwater collection.

What that basket might include: A requirement that builders install these systems in all new houses (akin to the proposed Green Building Ordinance); tax breaks for those who purchase them; subsidized lending programs that would lower these systems’ short- and long-term costs (in fact, the EPA already has a program for state and local governments to use for clean water projects.; and further amending Georgia’s plumbing codes so that rainwater can in fact be filtered and drunk.

What is very clear: While many chafe at the comparison, Georgia’s water conundrum mirrors increasingly that of states and municipalities throughout the Southwest – and failing to address the issue substantively now will only lead to greater cost for all down the road.

Being proactive now – in a manner that significantly augments broader corporate and government “eco” initiatives throughout the state. Clearly, encouraging the installation of rainwater collection systems will be a “win-win” for all.