Rain Harvest

Arbor Day Tree and Water Barrel

There is nothing new under the sun, as the old adage goes. There is also nothing new under the rain. Rain is a free source of nearly pure water. Catching or harvesting rain is an ancient technology that may have been used by our cavemen ancestors. Ancient writings, including the Bible, abound with references for water harvesting, although not necessarily in today’s terminology. Remember Latin I translations about Roman cisterns–cisternae? How about ancient battles that were won by the side with water? What is stimulating this renewed interest in harvesting rainwater, and how is it being used?

The short answer to what is stimulating the interest is need. In an era of dwindling resources, water is the new oil. As the climate changes and the population increases, the need becomes acute.

From one end of the country to the other, rain catchment systems are providing water for irrigation, livestock, wild animals, cleaning needs and, in some cases, drinking. You will find the systems on public buildings, private homes, park systems and demonstration projects. In some cases the use is legislated, in others purely voluntary. The uses for rainwater are limited only by the imagination and investment.

Just What Is Rainwater Harvesting?

Heather Kinkade-Levario, president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA), and author of Forgotten Rain–Rediscovering Rainwater Harvesting, and the newly published Design for Water, describes rainwater harvesting.

“Rainwater harvesting usually involves collecting rainwater runoff from cleaner surfaces such as rooftops. The aim of rainwater harvesting is to concentrate runoff and collect it in a vessel to be stored for future use.”

ARCSA was started in Austin, Texas, in 1994, and has slowly grown to about 250 members drawn from those who use, sell, or want to learn about rainwater catchment systems. There are national and regional conferences to promote the growth of rainwater harvesting. ARCSA is also instituting an accreditation process for Rainwater Harvesters to train in the basic knowledge of the technique. “Members who are drain salesmen or roofers will have an additional knowledge base and potential uses for their products,” says Kinkade-Levario.

Rainwater harvesting is common in many parts of the world, including India, Africa, China, Australia and the United Kingdom. It is an idea that is slowly catching on in the United States, especially in the Southwest where arid conditions and population influx are stressing the water reserves.

There are two tenets Kinkaid-Levario is passionate about:

1. The true value of water needs to be recognized.

2. Water should be used more than once.

“Our most pristine water should be used for drinking,” says Kinkade-Levario. “Storm water or harvested water can be used for flushing toilets and washing cars. It doesn’t make sense to pump water from the ground, purify it, and then flush it back down the drain.”

The bigger issue is one of personal responsibility. “Because you have it doesn’t mean you have to use it all up,” she adds. “We need to think about the future.”

United Nations studies predict that as a consequence of climate change, more than one billion people will lack fresh water by 2100. Glaciers that now feed the water systems that provide water to 40 percent of the world’s population are melting. Today’s hot and dry areas will become hotter and drier.

Positioning For the Future

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