Rainwater Harvesting: Utilizing our Precious Resource

Posted by Andrea Monico on Thu, Apr 23, 2009 @ 09:34 AM

Rainwater harvesting is easily defined as the catching of rainfall in a container for later use. It is a simple step that you can take to create a more sustainable life for yourself. Some initial questions probably come to mind when I make such a bold statement. Why should I harvest water when all I have to do is turn on my faucet? Will the collection system look ugly? How much work is involved? What are the costs? Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues to better understand water harvesting.

First of all, Mother Nature always knows what’s best for the environment. It is no secret that plant materials respond much better to rainwater than to municipal water. Take a look at your yard after a good soaking rain and see how quickly it greens up. Then look at it after irrigating from municipal water and you will see the response is not as quick or even as green. It may not be feasible for all irrigation needs to be met with a rainwater collection system. Rather, a combination of harvested rainwater and supplemental municipal water is the likely solution. After all, what mother doesn’t need a helping hand every once in a while?

The simplest and most cost effective means of harvesting is through the utilization of a rain barrel. There have been a number of manufacturers that have come out with their own lines of barrels that you can buy online or at local retailers. Rain barrels come in a variety of shapes and colors because of the popularity that they are experiencing. There are barrels that have planters on the top of them so annual plants can grow and drape over them. Some come in unique shapes, and others are designed to look like pieces of art. If you wanted to create your own barrel, you can customize it to any color, texture, or placement to fit your needs. This can potentially help lower costs and gives you the satisfaction of building it yourself.

The costs vary greatly depending on the type of harvesting project that you want to undertake, so it is important to consider your end-use plans before taking the plunge. Most rain barrels hold about 55 gallons, and will usually fill up in a very short time with runoff from your roof. If you want to move up to a larger system that can supply your irrigation for planting or even your turf, that would require the installation of a larger tank with a minimum capacity of about 500 gallons. The larger size will allow you dramatically cut down your outdoor water use (which can be about 40% of your water bill in the growing season) and also harvest much more of your runoff instead of letting it go down the gutter. These systems can be adapted to supplement existing sprinkler systems or be their own stand-alone system.

1,000 square feet of roof during a 1-inch rainfall can yield 600 gallons of water. Considering our seasonal rainfall average is 30 inches, we’re talking about a total of 18,000 gallons of water! When you use municipal water, you are not only being charged for the water, but your sanitary sewage charge is based on the amount of water you use. MUD is expecting large increases through 2017, reaching an estimated $50 per month according to MUD.

This all sounds good but now you may be wondering about what happens once you install a system. Retrieving water from a collection system can be as easy as turning a spigot. Larger systems may require pumps or more sophisticated filtering processes. Rain harvesting systems are meant to be low maintenance. They will require periodic inspection to look for debris build up, proper pump operation, and winterization (depending on setup of your system). One good investment that I would recommend to make maintenance easier would be a gutter protector. This will make cleaning your gutters much easier or even not needed, and result in less debris making its way to the water harvesting system.

Rain water harvesting will save you money. It will limit your runoff contribution to the storm sewer system; it will improve your plant health; and it can become a beautiful addition to your landscape. I’ve only touched on a little of what water harvesting can do for you and its benefits, so I highly recommend looking into it more.

When you add the financial and environmental benefits of rain water harvesting to the aesthetics of a healthy, lush landscape, you may start to wonder why you didn’t consider rainwater harvesting earlier. Feel free to contact me for more information on the topic.

Topics: Low Impact Development, LID, Rain water harvesting

Nice Days Have Their Price

Posted by Andrea Monico on Sat, Jan 31, 2009 @ 09:28 AM

Bright, sunny, warm, and balmy considering how cold it has been here in Omaha for most of the winter so far. Love these days during the winter, but I have also come to dislike them as well.

Even though we haven't had much snow this season, there are still snow piles all around parking lots, streets, and driveways such as mine. Those lovely piles of black and gunk really start melting on days like this. On my driveway, the snow melt runs across the width of my driveway and REFREEZES during the night. Tonight, after a nice dinner, I returned home and parked in the driveway, unwittingly right over where the snowmelt had refreezed. I spun around like an ice skater, but not as gracifully, and caught myself on the car instead of on the pavement.

Why does it have to be like this each winter season?

The main goal is to replace my driveway with permeable pavers so that I don't have to put up with it anymore. What are permeable pavers? They are just like most any other paver you have seen in a patio, driveway, or parking lot application, but instead of water running off of them, the rain and snow melt goes between the joints of the pavers and filters through aggregate to the soil below or to pipes to take it away. No more slips, falls, or heaven forbid a legal issue.

For now, the first phase of my driveway project uses a rain garden to catch any runoff from even getting to the driveway. So along the edge of the driveway, I am building up a berm to hold water back in a flat bottom garden so that the runoff filters into the soil and not onto the driveway. The rain garden is going to give me a lot of color as well as help out with limiting the number of times I become an ice skater.

Both the permeable pavers and the rain garden I mentioned above fall under a type of design that is called Low Impact Development. Just as the name implies, whenever we do a project, whether in the landscape or with a building, we should have as low an impact as possible. Managing the stormwater that we displace with our roofs and driveways is at the heart of LID. Just as I experienced today, utilizing LID properly not only is beneficial at the onset of any project, but also yields benefits way into the future.

I will continue to write and discuss various landscaping and LID topics here on the blog, so always check back and join me in utilizing LID more and making it the standard by which we design. Thanks!

Topics: Low Impact Development, LID, rain garden, permeable pavers