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Rainwater Reuse for Water Sustainability

ROBIN WESTMILLER | Eco-Green Sustainable Landscapes
If you drive any type of gas-powered vehicle, you are very much aware that the cost to fill up your tank has skyrocketed. But have you checked your water bill lately? Droughts and population growth have resulted in more people having to rely on less water, making it an increasingly scarce commodity. In some areas, water rates have risen more than 25% as municipalities struggle to meet the growing population’s demand for water. A large portion of these fees go to build and maintain the infrastructure that transports water to homes and businesses. Water utility providers have passed laws to limit the number of times water can be accessed, employing tier pricing to encourage decreased usage and limiting the availability of new services.

While conservation programs have helped somewhat, only a portion of the population is actually participating. According to the American Groundwater Trust, 3.3 billion people worldwide will experience water scarcity by 2025. Yet, most people don’t know that at least 60% of the potable drinking water that comes to our homes is used, not for cooking, showering, or washing clothes, but to irrigate landscapes.

What if you had a way to obtain unlimited amounts of water for your lawns and flower beds absolutely free? That’s right—free. You only have to look toward the sky on a stormy day and you’ll not only see, but you’ll get a face full of the very wet answer.

Rain is delivered cost-free and tax-free from the one source that never needs or charges for its service. However, in most populated towns and cities, rainfall just flows off roofs and ends up in puddles, escapes into sewers, or disappears into the ground. Capturing this runoff and diverting it for use in irrigation systems is an ideal way to put this wasted water to good use. The reclaiming, recycling, recapturing, or reusing of rainwater is what is known as rainwater harvesting.

Rainwater catchment or rainwater harvesting are catch-all terms for the collecting, storing, and later using precipitation from rocks, roofs and other surfaces. Harvesting rainwater offers many advantages: it conserves municipal and well water, it’s free, gravity-fed systems conserve energy, it’s low in salts and good for plants, and it can reduce flooding and erosion.

Rainwater provides an excellent primary, supplementary, or alternative source of water. In terms of quality, it generally falls between groundwater and surface water. Rainwater can be used for multiple purposes—from residential to commercial—and at the neighborhood or community level.

Practicing even the most basic methods of rain harvesting can reduce the volume of water purchased from centralized water systems. This translates into real dollar savings for the consumer, while reducing stress on natural water sources, and strain on the public water and stormwater drain systems. Irrigating with rainwater, using weather-based irrigation controllers and installing drip, micro and sub-surface emitters completes the eco-friendly equation.


Illustration courtesy: Aquascape

Components for the recapture of rainwater are available from simple installations to the very sophisticated. Many homes and commercial buildings already have gutters on their roofs. Attached to these gutters are downspouts. When it rains, the rainwater runs off the roof into the downspouts and runs off to a grassy area, or around some shrubs.

Instead of letting the rainwater run off, if you allow it to run into a tank, you’ve recaptured the rainwater to be used at a later time.

Bushman, located in Canada and the U. S., is a manufacturer of rainwater recapture tanks. The size of the tank needed depends on the size of the roof and the amount of rainfall. The roof area and demand will vary from property to property. Smaller tanks for residential use typically fall in the 300-500 gallon range, while larger tanks for commercial use can be several times that size.

Tank storage rainwater harvesting is economical and environmentally advantageous, making it a practical choice. However, combining practicality with aesthetics can provide your clients the best of both worlds. This creates an amazing opportunity to not only store and use this water, which would otherwise be wasted, but to turn the rainwater harvesting system into part of the entire landscape design.

The RainXchange Rainwater Harvesting System from Aquascape, Inc., St. Charles, Illinois, is an example of how this works. Decorative permeable pavers on the surface blend in nicely with the surrounding landscape, while all the rainwater that falls on the pavers is stored below-ground and can be reused to irrigate plants. The AquaBlox storage modules can be placed side by side or stacked on top of each other, creating various shapes and reservoir sizes. A fountain stone can be incorporated into the design for filtration while adding a decorative element to the landscape design above-ground.

“They’re totally custom designable,” says Greg Wittstock, CEO of Aquascape. “You’re not limited to a size or a shape, like you are with pre-molded cisterns. If you wanted to build a harvesting system in a waterfall, a stream, or even bubbling from a rock, you can do that.”

There are countless benefits to becoming familiar with rainwater harvesting. Landscape contractors located in colder climates can install rainwater systems in the winter months when construction has slowed, to supplement their incomes.

Additionally, rainwater capture systems will eventually pay for themselves, which makes them appealing to your clients. But the real draw of rainwater harvesting is its green appeal, which in today’s day and age is a powerful marketing tool. “The green movement is not going away. In fact, it will probably be stronger in five years,” says Wittstock.

“We can dramatically reduce yearly water consumption by implementing rainwater harvesting systems combined with smart controllers, drip, micro or sub-surface emitters and installing drought-tolerant native plants,” says Mike Ray of Bushman. “The collected rainwater is used to sustain plants and vegetables and then flows back into the ground to help replenish our aquifers. Collecting rainwater reduces stormwater runoff and, more importantly, reduces potential pollutants that are otherwise carried off to our waterways and oceans.”

“Water harvesting is the hottest new business opportunity in the landscape industry,” says District Operations Manager Brian Quill, at John Deere Green Tech, Irvine, California. “Heightened awareness of global climate change and our carbon footprint on this earth are fueling a green movement embraced by more and more consumers who want to do the right thing.”

John Deere Green Tech offers both underground and above ground storage tanks, depending on the size of the project site. They build a system that comes complete with a control panel which interfaces with irrigation controller pump start relay and backup supply valves.

“Some of our commercial clients are so enthusiastic about getting involved with this trend that they painted their corporate logo on the tanks to show their concern about the environment. One client installed a spotlight to shine on his tank as part of the landscape design. Green is becoming so popular, even homeowners are asking for water harvesting systems. Incorporating water harvesting concepts early into an integrated design for the site is key to reducing costs and maximizing long term benefits.”

This trend toward sustainable landscapes is only beginning to gain momentum. Factoring in cost savings from water conservation, reduced problems with runoff— equaling reduced pollution to our waterways—in this environmentally-conscious age makes the timing right for this add-on. By including rainwater system installations to your list of services, you will be prepared to take on a future that is growing greener every day.

Patio made of permeable pavers

Photo courtesy: Aquascape

 
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