Archive for October, 2010

The Corrosion of America

October 26, 2010
This article appeared yesterday in the new York Times.  One part of the solution to decrepit water systems, reduced water supplies, and falling water quality is to use more decentralized water supply.  Rainwater collection is one excellent type of decentralized water supply.  Local rainwater collection for homes, businesses, and neighborhoods is a way to create local water reservoirs that have many advantages over the large public water delivery systems that we had in the 20th century.  By controlling storm water run off where it occurs, flooding is reduced and the quality of the water entering surface and ground water is improved.  Likewise, the environmental impact of building large new reservoirs is avoided and the need for large amount of public funding is greatly reduced.
Perhaps the fact that water systems need upgrading gives us the opportunity to shift to more decentralized water supply to improve water quality, clean up our waterways, and avoid the disadvantages of the large systems we used last century.  please read below and offer comments.



The Corrosion of America

Published: October 26, 2010

If you had a leak in your roof or in the kitchen or basement, you’d probably think it a good idea to have it taken care of before matters got worse, and more expensive.

If only we had the same attitude when it comes to the vast and intricately linked water systems in the United States. Most of us take clean and readily available water for granted. But the truth is that the nation’s water systems are in sorry shape — deteriorating even as the population grows and demand increases.

Aging and corroded pipes are bursting somewhere every couple of minutes. Dilapidated sewer systems are contaminating waterways and drinking water. Many local systems are so old and inadequate — in some cases, so utterly rotten — that they are overwhelmed by heavy rain.

As Charles Duhigg reported in The Times last March: “For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.”

There is, of course, no reason for this to be the case. If this were a first-class society we would rebuild our water systems to the point where they would be the envy of the world, and that would bolster the economy in the bargain. But that would take maturity and vision and effort and sacrifice, all of which are in dismayingly short supply right now.

We can’t even build a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.

Improving water systems — and infrastructure generally, if properly done — would go a long way toward improving the nation’s dismal economic outlook. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, every dollar invested in water and sewer improvements has the potential to increase the long-term gross domestic product by more than six dollars. Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created if the nation were serious about repairing and upgrading water mains, crumbling pipes, water treatment plants, dams, levees and so on.

Millions of jobs would be created if we could bring ourselves to stop fighting mindless wars and use some of those squandered billions to bring the nation’s infrastructure in the broadest sense up to 21st-century standards.

The need is tremendous. The nation’s network of water systems was right at the bottom of the latest infrastructure grades handed out by the American Society of Civil Engineers, receiving a D-minus. Jeffrey Griffiths, a member of the federal government’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council, told The Times: “We’re relying on water systems built by our great-grandparents, and no one wants to pay for the decades we’ve spent ignoring them. There’s a lot of evidence that people are getting sick. But because everything is out of sight, no one really understands how bad things have become.”

What has always struck me about this issue is that there is a desperate need to improve the nation’s infrastructure and a desperate need for the jobs and enhanced economic activity that would come from sustained, long-term infrastructure investment. But somehow the leadership and the will to move forward on the scale that is needed are missing.

A survey to be released this week by the ITT Corporation, which makes and sells water infrastructure equipment, shows that nearly 70 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I generally take my access to clean water for granted.” But a similar percentage said they would be willing to pay a modest additional amount every month to upgrade their water system and ensure their long-term access to clean water.

If public officials would provide honest leadership on this and other infrastructure issues, making a sound case for the investments that are needed and the benefits that would accrue from rebuilding America’s infrastructure, the public would be likely to sign on.

We can start getting our act together now, or we can pay dearly later. The Obama administration has provided federal support for some water and other infrastructure improvements but nothing close to the kind of effort needed to bring America’s infrastructure into even reasonable shape.

The horror stories abound: the drowning of New Orleans when the levees failed in 2005, the 2007 explosion of an ancient steam pipe in Manhattan that killed one person and injured more than 30, the gas pipeline explosion and fire last month in San Bruno, Calif., that killed seven and injured more than 50. There are endless other examples, tragic, costly and unnecessary.

The sorry state of America’s infrastructure is a hard-core reflection of what is really going on in this increasingly hapless society, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 26, 2010, on page A29 of the New York edition.



Atlanta to Adopt a Potable Rainwater Policy

October 18, 2010

By Bob Drew

Here in the Atlanta area, there has been increasing interest over the past year or so in using collected rainwater for potable purposes.  Currently there are no formal barriers per se to using rainwater from drinking water, but since there is no specific code written on the topic things are left to the discretion of local department authorities.  For that reason, the tendency has been to take what is felt to be the low risk route and ‘just say no’ to any permit application.

In 2009, through the efforts of people like ARCSA’s Eddie van Giesen the State of Georgia approved plumbing code specifying requirements for using rainwater and graywater for non-potable applications such as toilet flushing and cooling tower make up.  In 2010, this was expanded to include using rainwater for laundering.  The code specifies that filtration and disinfection be done much as would be done in a potable application.

This raised the question among some what it would take to approve rainwater for potable applications.  Many in the industry and some local residences saw that the cost of using rainwater in the home for all purposes was actually cheaper and saved more on water bills compared the the high cost of plumbing to toilets and laundry for a retrofit or new home.  Many sustainability oriented residents do not water a lot outdoors and thus were looking for other ways to use rainwater and gain all the environmental benefits of doing so.

Driven by high water rates, Atlanta’s rates next year for water plus sewer will be around $29/1,000 gallons, there have been inquiries from both homes and businesses to use potable rainwater.  You may recall the brewery that supplied rainwater beer to the ARCSA event in Decatur in 2009.  Their system is currently prevented from selling beer made with rainwater, but Russ jackson is doggedly pursuing that.  We see getting approval for residential potable rainwater as a first step in achieving approval for public drinking water sources.

As an rainwater professionals, we do not see potable rainwater becoming as large a contrinutor to water supply as outdoor uses, but we do see it as a great waty to bust the myths about the qualioty of rainwater and to raise the awareness of it as a viable water source.  So, several of us ARCSA members here in Atlanta, Russ Jackson, Steve Williams, and I set out to find a way to make it easier for City of Atlanta residents to use rainwater for potable uses.

Enter Mandy Mahoney, the City of Atlanta’s Director of Sustainability.  She has been our champion inside city hall and is supporting a pilot project to install systems for residential potable rainwater.  She talks about making Atlanta the rainwater capitol of the Southeast, which of course we love to hear.  One step we have taken is to work with the city to develop guidelines for potable rainwater.  Back in July, we were lucky to have Bob Boulware and Dennis Lye meet with us and the city to hammer out a draft guideline.  Drawing upon their expertise, guidelines from elsewhere in the U.S. (Portland, OR and Texas), and some recent equipment advancements we drafted what we think is the most up to date guideline possible.  The guideline is written in such a way that it takes into account concerns and needs for Atlanta while not making the guideline so stringent as to scare anyone away from doing it.

Currently we are awaiting approval  of the guideline from city council and expect that the pilot program will be part of Mayor Kasim Reed’s sustainability initiative to be unveiled 26 October.  From there, we will commission as many residential systems as the program allows and seek a statewide code which hopefully will go into effect in 2012.

We are not without remaining challenges.  The local water department is concerned that potable rainwater users will continue to use the sanitary sewer but will not be charged for it.  Some solutions have been proposed from submetering the rainwater system to charging a nominal flat rate for system use.  We are also working on making the pilot program as large as possible due to demand that we see from residents and businesses.

We’d welcome any comments and suggestions you may have as we pursue the quest to raise the awareness of rainwater as a viable water source here in the Southeast.

Bob Drew is founder of ECOVIE Rainwater Collections Systems, a full service water management company based in Atlanta.  he can be reached at 404-824-0318 or by visiting

Rainwater Collection Takes Hold in Atlanta

October 11, 2010

Recently published in Intown Atlanta Newspaper

By Bob Drew and Lawrence Richter Quinn

Next year, Atlanta’s already sky high water and sewer rates will ratchet up yet another 12 percent. One resident who’s not worried: Virginia Highland’s Mary Stouffer, who has been worried about the city’s ongoing water crisis for more than two years – and, over the past year, has found a way to both protect the environment – and keep her water costs in check.

Her solution: Install a rainwater collection system in her home – one designed so that water captured can be used for everything from safe drinking (of special concern, since she has three kids) and washing clothes to watering plants and grass and keeping her children’s back yard water slide amply supplied.

“With our draught-like conditions over the past couple of years – and the ongoing battle over who controls Lake Lanier’s water – it hit me suddenly: Water in the Peachtree State is not a renewable resource, not a commodity to be taken for granted or frittered away,” says Stouffer, who says her new 3,400-gallon tank and treatment center will cut her city water use by up to 90 percent, and ensure that what she and her family drinks is free is chlorine and other contaminants that find their water into city water systems nationwide.

Leading the metro area in its search for drinkable water

Stouffer, in fact, is becoming something of an unofficial spokesperson for city officials, residents and businesses as she promotes the benefit of collecting rainwater for drinking and others purposes. Hers is a “test case” for the city: She has worked closely with Atlanta officials (and plumbing code inspectors in particular) to make sure that the proper filters are installed so her water’s potable. (Until now, city and state plumbing codes have not included any guidelines for capturing and filtering rainwater for drinking.)

In fact, over the past 18 months or so, there’s been a groundswell of interest among city residents interested in installing rainwater collection systems – even without the tax and sales incentives other cities around the U.S. offer.

Just ask Sabine Bickert, 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 Atlanta, I plan to become independent of city water – and, finally, of buying electricity by installing solar panels on the roof of the house.”

Mandy Mahoney, the City of Atlanta’s director of sustainability, encourages all residents and business owners to follow the lead of Stouffer and Bickert.  “There’s no way we can solve our city’s water problems without creative, thoughtful solutions like this,” she says. “At City Hall, we’re incredibly enthusiastic about these initiatives.”

The rainwater systems above were installed by ECOVIE Rainwater Collection Systems ph. 404-824-9266