Archive for August, 2010

Atlanta to be Rainwater Collection Capital of Southeast

August 28, 2010

Atlanta positions itself to become the “rainwater collection capital of the Southeast” – finding an affordable, realistic solution to its short- and long-term water needs

Officials convened recently at City Hall to consider how to encourage residential and business collection as a serious solution to water shortages that will only keep growing as the area’s population burgeons. Collecting rainwater seen as possible alternative to building taxpayer-funded dams and reservoirs

“We’re not going to solve the city’s water problems without adopting innovative solutions like collecting rainwater for all residential and business purposes,” declares Mandy Mahoney, the city of Atlanta’s director of sustainability. “We will become the Southeast’s rainwater collection capital, borrowing and improving on ‘best practices’ already in place in rain-starved Southwestern states and in many countries abroad.”

Atlanta’s positioning itself to become the “rainwater collection capital of the Southeast” – and not a moment too soon.

As residents are all too aware, like people along the entire East Coast, Atlanta’s been suffering through one of the hottest recent summers on record – as the state of Georgia faces a new drought threat in many parts of the state.

This weather alone should serve as ample reason by itself for city residents to once again think seriously about how to solve both short- and long-term water problems – brought into laser-like focus in 2007, when state and city officials declared the state officially to be in a drought, outgoing Governor Sonny Purdue prayed for rain – and county and other Atlanta officials restricted outdoor water use.

Adding to the ongoing crisis: The city’s water rates, already the highest in U.S. urban areas (according the city’s Mahoney), will rise another 12 percent in 2011 – necessary to pay for the ongoing court-ordered $4-billion fix of Atlanta’s sewer system.

Meanwhile, legal questions regarding which states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia) have access to how much of Lake Lanier’s water (the metro area’s primary source of drinking water) remain tied up in court – even as the most recent federal court ruling last year requires Atlanta to reduce its Lake Lanier-supplied use of drinking water to 1970s levels within three years.

As these issues sort themselves out, the city’s (and region’s) population growth will continue at an impressive clip,  the U.S. Census Bureau projects – and this larger population will all strain existing water supplies further.

Fix these problems through the construction of new dams or reservoirs that would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions – even billions – of dollars? “That has been proposed, but getting there any time soon is a real stretch, given both the state’s and city’s ongoing precarious financial situation, and less-than-stellar credit ratings,” says Bob Drew, vice president of the recently-created Southeast Rainwater Harvesting Systems Association (SERSHA) and founder and CEO of Ecovie Rainwater Collection Systems, a company selling residential and commercial rainwater collection systems in the Atlanta area.

“There are a lot of ‘what ifs,’ cost-wise and for environmental reasons, that could delay construction for years,” says Drew. “Meanwhile, the city can push forward with a rainwater collection solution, potentially having a positive to the tune of millions of gallons of water saved daily.”

Drew and other rainwater experts say an aggressive push toward incenting residents and businesses to use rainwater could reduce Atlanta’s water demand by 50 million to 100 million gallons a day – about 25 to 50 percent of the expected shortfall of 200 million gallons daily from Lake Lanier (if the judge’s ruling last year takes effect).

Rainwater collection came into vogue in Atlanta with the 2007 drought — with many systems now installed primarily to take care of outdoor water needs (and to free those who have installed them from any watering bans).

In 2008, plumbing codes were updated to cover use of rainwater for toilet flushing and other non-potable uses. The next step: To develop code for potable (drinkable) rainwater use. The combination of these uses is what will allow rainwater to have a real impact on local water supplies.

Individually, “the beauty of using rainwater for potable uses in the home is that it can be done relatively simply, tied into existing plumbing,” says Drew. “Each of us has an opportunity to save a significant amount of water, even if you’re not watering a lot outdoors. We’re talking easily between  50,000 and 100,000 gallons per year per home – several fold the savings from simply installing ‘low flow’ plumbing fixtures, for instance.”

Stepping into the breach: Mandy Mahoney, city of Atlanta’s director of sustainability (subhead)

Realizing that, left unaddressed,  the city’s water problems will only grow worse, for more than a year the city’s Mahoney has been pushing ahead with a number of initiatives to make rainwater collection a “top of mind” priory in the city and state.

To that end, she’s working to update the city’s plumbing guidelines so that they detail exactly how rainwater collection systems need to be installed so that drinking it can be done using the latest developments in rainwater collection and treatment. One benefit of drinking rainwater is that it has none of the contaminants that are found increasingly in public drinking water supplies.

To encourage those efforts, Mahoney’s also setting up a pilot program for drinkable rainwater use in the city.   As part of this, individual residents and businesses have agreed to have their homes and businesses used as “test cases”: The quality of rainwater collected is tested on an ongoing basis as the city checks the water’s overall quality, making sure it meets tough standards.

Meanwhile, last month Mahoney convened a meeting at City Hall including representatives of various departments that have a stake in the successful implementation of a rainwater collection initiative.

City officials face a delicate balancing act as they develop their rainwater collection program: On the one hand, it needs to protect revenue currently collected when it bills businesses and residences for city water and sewer use: Those dollars are dedicated to paying for the upgrade of the sewer system, and widespread installation of rainwater collection systems might lower dollars received as municipal water use declines.

On the other hand, to encourage rainwater collection – and make it “top of mind” as a viable, affordable solution where implementation can begin immediately makes a lot of sense: Cities such as Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, already collect hundreds of millions of gallons of water daily during peak rain seasons because of city-initiated programs that provide significant tax and sales incentives for installing systems.

“We can meet all of our needs but want everyone at City Hall to be involved – and enthusiastic about rainwater collection as we put together our program,” says Mahoney. “That’s why we flew in rainwater collection experts from around the country last month, getting them together with a great variety of city officials at City Hall, to ensure that as we move forward, we’re doing this right.”

Among those who met over three days at City Hall and elsewhere in Atlanta: representatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); members of the city’s planning and watershed management departments; ARCSA’s president (American Rainwater Collection Systems Association);  the city’s head of plumbing inspectors; Russell Jackson of Cumming-based RainHarvest Systems,  a supplier of rainwater collection systems; and Ecovie’s Drew.

The goal of these meetings: To have a guideline for a pilot program in Atlanta and then to have a statewide code by 2012.

“Thanks to these meetings, we’ve got terrific momentum, we’re going to be successful in becoming a Southeastern rainwater collection ‘showcase,’” says Mahoney.

The state steps in (subhead)

One development that will help the return on investment in a rainwater harvesting system is that the state legislature passed and Governor Perdue signed House Bill 1069 which authorizes up to a $2,500 tax credit for the installation of any rainwater system.

The program will go into effect once federal stimulus funds are released to Georgia.  It is hoped that this will occur by year end.

Meanwhile, SERHSA has hired its own lobbyist to help encourage the passage of additional legislation going forward that will provide sales and other tax incentives for those who install rainwater collection systems.

“It’s great to talk about rainwater collection systems as the key to solving our water problems,” says  G. Edward Van Geisen, SERSHA’s lobbyist. “But we’ll never make these systems ubiquitous if we don’t everything in our power to make it economically attractive to install them.” (Van Geisen was instrumental in lobbying for the passage of the recent tax break bill.)

Atlantans not waiting for the city and state (subhead)

Many Atlantans already are taking matters into their own hands, installing rainwater collection systems without the benefit of any current tax breaks or other incentives.

“In Germany, every newly-built house has to have an underground cistern installed for the use of garden water and even flushing the toilet,” says Sabine Bikiert, a Frankfurt-based architect who lived in Atlanta between 1998 and 2002 and bought a second home in Marietta where she installed a water harvesting system last year.  “In my job I deal with water retaining systems and solar panels for new homes all the time; in Atlanta, I plan to become independent of city water – and, finally, of buying electricity by installing solar panels on the roof of the house.”

Ultimately, a city-wide mindset change required (subhead)

Atlanta’s Mahoney realizes that, for the city’s rainwater collection program to be successful, residents and business executives will have to realize that water – and rainwater in particular – need to be treated as a finite resource that must be managed carefully if the city wants to maintain its world-class status.

“We don’t think of ourselves as ‘rain starved,’ as people in parts of the West and Southwest do,” she says. “We’re just beginning to change our thinking about the value of water and rainwater, but if we play our cards right, we’ll get there, sooner than later.”


Local Water

August 28, 2010

In reading this, i thought of Atlanta’s water situation and ideas to bring water from far away or build new reservoirs.  rainwater collection on the other hand is the ultimate in local water sources.  Comments?

Augusta testing water samples for contamination

August 25, 2010

As many know, ECOVIE is working with City of Atlanta to establish guidelines for use of collected rainwater for potable (drinkable) purposes.  In fact, we have installed one such system successfully in the Virginia-Highland are of Atlanta and has a second larger scale system contacted and in the design phase.  Our clients use collected water from their roof for all indoor and outdoor purposes including drinking water.  Since the collected water is treated with carbon filtration and UV disinfection, there is little if any risk of bacterial contamination such as that found this week in Augusta’s city water supply (see link below).  All tests of our systems have shown no incidence of fecal coliforms and in a wide range of metrics tests better than Atlanta municipal water.  Most notably, treated rainwater has no chlorine, flourides or trace amounts of chemicals from runoff and pharmaceuticals that are making their way into public drinking water supplies.

The incident below in Augusta is believed to be caused by cross contamination from old sewer lines.  In a treated rainwater system, treatment occurs just before the water is used, so the risk of this type of contamination is negliglible.  According to Dennis Lye, a PhD biochemist with the US EPA, a properly designed and maintained rainwater system has little or no health risk to those who use them.

In our work with City of Atlanta, we have recently worked with Dennis Lye and Bob Boulware (President of American Rainwater Collection Systems Association) to develop what we believe to be the most up to date guideline for potable use of rainwater in the US.  We built upon guidelines in Portland, Oregon and the State of  Texas using the most recent product development and research.

It’s our goal to help develop state-wide guidelines for potable rainwater use so that it can become widely enough adopted to have a true impact on water supplies and water quality in a way that’s cheaper and better in the long run than large public water sources.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Officials in Augusta have broadened their examination of water downtown after an Augusta Chronicle analysis found elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

The sampling began Monday after the newspaper published a report Sunday revealing the results of water sample testing from 50 locations in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties.

Fecal coliform bacteria indicates that pathogens may be present and could pose a risk to human health.

Garrett Weiss, manager of the Augusta Engineering Department’s Stormwater and Environmental Section, says his department has been aware of some of the problems and is moving to correct them.

He said old, hidden sewer lines that aren’t properly hooked up to sanitary sewer systems may be to blame for the high levels.

Water Independence

August 2, 2010

This article appeared in this week’s edition of the Sunday Paper.  ECOVIE is collaborating with Atlanta City Hall on rainwater collection policies.

By Mark Woolsey

A meeting last week at Atlanta City Hall may enable residents to reduce their reliance on the City’s water system. But some important technical and logistical hurdles remain.

At issue is the city’s first rainwater catchment system built for potable residential use. Potable means water for drinking, showering, food preparation and kitchen use, as opposed to non-potable systems for laundry, flushing toilets and lawn-watering. The city already has some of the latter, non-potable systems, in place.

The roughly $15,000 system of two 1,700 gallon tanks, pumps and filtration equipment constructed for Mary Stouffer’s Virginia-Highland home has been complete since February, but has yet to be permitted by the City of Atlanta. Last week, all the parties involved attended an informational tutorial aimed at city plumbing inspectors, the Bureau of Buildings, and the Planning Department.

“We were able to get into a candid discussion about what works and what doesn’t work in other jurisdictions,” says Mandy Mahoney, the City’s sustainability director. “We are still at the information-gathering stage. The rainwater guys would like to be moving yesterday, but we have got to be thoughtful and deliberative about our policies.”

One of those “rainwater guys” is Bob Drew, the Founder of ECOVIE Rainwater Collection Systems, who built Stouffer’s system. He and others say this is the first system in the city aiming for official governmental approval, although they suspect other “bootleg” potable systems have already been operating.

“This is a collaborative process. It’s not antagonistic,” Drew says of the meeting that brought together Drew, city officials and the president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, plus a microbiologist who has worked with the group, to explain how such rainwater rigs work in other parts of the country.

Drew has worked with Cumming-based RainHarvest Systems, a supplier of rainwater catchment components, which last year tried to get official blessing for a rainwater-trapping system for a local craft brewer, but problems arose with the lack of technical standards or a permitting process.

“We tried to get a state permit to operate a public water system with rainwater as the source,” says Russell Jackson, the firm’s sales director. “The Environmental Protection Division grants the permits and they didn’t have the authority to recognize rainwater as a potable source of water. Right now we are working with the City to permit residential systems. We have backed off the commercial.”

But city officials have found a state law passed a couple of years ago allowing rainwater collection for commercial and residential non-potable use. They’ve also found that local jurisdictions have the authority to regulate potable use upon getting permission from the state Department of Community Affairs.

So as the city was getting its permission letter from DCA, Drew was tying the Stouffers’ downspouts into their filtration system. Now the family of five, including three kids, is awaiting the official OK to proceed with establishing a degree of independence from the Dept. of Watershed Management. (The city water supply would function as a backup.)

Mary Stouffer says last year’s drought, coupled with Atlanta’s dependence on Lake Lanier, brought to mind her Florida childhood. In Florida, she says, “you could tap into aquifers, which is one thing, but being here and dependent on a lake makes you feel differently. The drought put the seed in my head that water is not a renewable resource.”

The Stouffers are currently using their system to water their lawn.

“And we have tested it inside and it works just fine,” says Stouffer. Once fully operational, she expects to recoup the $15,000 investment within 12 years, while mostly avoiding City of Atlanta water rates, which are already high and poised to go higher: another 12.5 percent hike is planned for next year.

Not only is the City of Atlanta raising water rates to pay for its $4 billion sewer upgrade, a federal judge last year ruled that the city must reduce its use of drinking water to 1970s levels within three years, because Lake Lanier was never intended for that purpose. About 3 million residents in the metro area get their water from Lanier.

Drew and other experts say a proactive rainwater collection system could reduce Atlanta’s daily water demand by 50 million to 100 million gallons a day. He says that would cover 25 percent to 50 percent of the expected shortfall of 200 million gallons from Lake Lanier, if the judge’s ruling stands.

But there are some things to be done first.

One is an ordinance that would set up plumbing codes, guidelines and technical standards for potable rainwater use, but Mahoney says it’s premature to discuss them at this point.

Another issue is the cost of treating the excess water once it enters the city’s wastewater facilities. Mahoney says some cities charge residents for such services while others don’t. Currently, Atlanta water and sewer charges are assessed based on metering when city water enters a home. Clearly, a different approach would have to be used for homes that don’t use city water.

“I would be a proponent of people not paying any sewer charge if they’ve taken the bold step of using rainwater for drinking water.  they should only pay for the city water they use,” says Drew.