Rainwater Harvesting Options for Homeowners

December 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Gardening, Slideshow, Sustainability, Water

Harvesting rainwater can be done as simply as placing a rain barrel (with spigot) below your rain gutter. Photo: Courtesy Landscape East and West

Harvesting rainwater can be done as simply as placing a rain barrel (with spigot) below your rain gutter. Photo: Courtesy Landscape East & West

Water is a precious commodity none of us can live without. Depending on where you live, your water bill can be one of your larger monthly expenses, especially during the summer. With the help of landscapers, you can set up a rainwater harvesting system that will save you money and reduce the demand for water in your community.

Common Rainwater Harvesting Systems

Rainwater harvesting systems can be as simple as using a barrel or as complex as installing underground tanks. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to remember that your landscape design should prevent water from pooling around the foundation of your home. Also keep in mind that plain rainwater is non-potable, so you’ll need to set up a purification system if you plan to drink it.

The most popular rainwater harvesting options for homes include:

Rain barrels 

One of the simplest ways to harvest rainwater is with a barrel that catches water that runs down your gutter system. Rain barrels hold between 55 and 100 gallons of water and have a spigot near the bottom that allows you to connect a garden hose.

Above-ground cisterns

Homeowners who live in areas that receive a lot of rain may benefit from an above-ground cistern. A “dry” cistern is a like a large rain barrel that collects water from a gutter system. A “wet” cistern can be placed further away from your home, as it uses underground collection pipes that are connected to multiple downspouts. The tank inlet, however, must be lower than the lowest gutter on your home.

Underground tanks

If you don’t want a large tank on your property, you can install an underground tank made of concrete, metal, fiberglass or propylene. While you’ll need to alter your landscape design to install an underground system, you can customize the size of the tank to meet the needs of your home and garden.

Rain pillows

One of the latest innovations in rainwater harvesting, rain pillows are large pouches that hold 30 to 200,000 gallons of water, depending on the model you choose. Because the pillow lies flat, you can place it under a deck, porch or crawlspace. The pillow collects water from your gutters, and a remote-controlled pump sends the harvested rainwater where you need it.

Rainwater Harvesting Benefits

In addition to helping you save money on your water bill, harvesting rainwater helps conserve this natural resource because you create your own supply. Basic harvesting systems are relatively simple to set up, and you can use non-potable harvested rainwater for your landscape, water features, washing your clothes and filling the toilets in your home. Furthermore, when you collect rainwater, you help reduce storm-water runoff that sends pollutants and debris into the local water supply.

Of all the water in the world, only about one percent is safe for human consumption. If you purify the water you harvest, you can drink it and use it as a backup source in emergencies.

Rainwater harvesting is a simple, sustainable way to meet the water needs of your home and decrease your dependence on the municipal water supply. Before altering your landscape design to install a rainwater harvesting system, however, make sure it is legal to harvest rainwater in your community.

Steve Stewart

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Steve Stewart is president of Landscape East & West, in Portland, Oregon. Landscape East & West is an award-winning, full-service landscaping design and maintenance company specializing in sustainable services, organic lawn care, and rainwater harvesting design options for homeowners. The company was recognized as one of the Top 100 Green Companies to Work for in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine.

Water Crisis in the United States

August 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Climate Change, Drought, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, Water

Comments Off on Water Crisis in the United States

Drought continues to plague the US as the summer of 2012 draws to a close. Graphic: NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC

Drought continues to plague the US as the summer of 2012 draws to a close. Graphic: NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC

The southwestern portion of the United States has historically been a dry area, but the problem has become much worse in recent years. About 30 million people in the Southwest rely on the Colorado River for their water, and the river’s level has been declining steadily.

Population growth, weather changes and modern agricultural habits are putting a strain on the U.S. water supply. Educating people about the causes and effects of the water crisis is the first step toward making large-scale changes in how people think about water use.

How Climate Change Affects Water Supply

Higher temperatures, particularly in regions of the Rocky Mountains that usually have snow pack year ’round, are affecting water supply across the country. Runoff when snow melts in the Rockies each spring and summer supplies not only the Colorado River, but also the Columbia River and Missouri River running east from the Rockies. But with temperatures steadily increasing over time, less snow pack is forming, resulting in less runoff to rivers. Experts predict that an average annual temperature increase of just five degrees would decrease the nation’s water supply by 20 percent. In an area already parched by drought, this change could be catastrophic.

Significant Impacts of a Water Crisis

Drought takes a toll on agriculture. About 70 percent of the water in the Colorado River is allocated to farmers, and a decrease in supply impacts crops throughout the Southwest. California has been using an enormous amount of groundwater to grow fruits and vegetables over the last several decades. Texas also uses groundwater to grow grains in the northern portion of the state. Since these crops are more difficult to grow when groundwater is depleted, food will become more expensive.

Eventually, the water crisis could lead to global unrest as countries squabble over water rights. Picture what is happening now with oil, but with water instead, which is a much more important resource.

Solutions to the Water Crisis

Everyone can play a part in solving the water crisis – from farmers to city governments and individual consumers. Here are some ways you can help relieve the pressure on water resources:

  • Plant grasses with deeper roots, which reduce runoff and hold moisture in the top layer of soil when it does rain. This is particularly helpful for cattle farmers who struggle to keep their cattle fed during arid conditions.
  • Improve processes to reclaim waste water, treat it and recycle it back into the municipal water supply. Households can implement this on a small scale by using “gray” water from sinks and showers to flush toilets.
  • Drink filtered water rather than bottled water. Using water filters in the home is significantly less wasteful than drinking bottled water that has been transported across the country.
  • Considerably reduce the use of water in household gardens by planting drought-resistant lawns or decorative plants and watering them with rainwater collected in a barrel.
  • Reduce household water use by installing low-flow shower heads, sink faucet aerators and low-flow toilets. Also choose dishwashers and clothes washers that use less water.

The water crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better, but now is the time to start implementing changes. Being attentive to increasing temperatures and conserving existing water supplies will help soften the blow. Ultimately, the population of the U.S. will need to change how we view water, and seeing it as a valuable commodity will help with that.

Lindsey Harper Mac

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Lindsey Harper Mac writes on behalf of DiscountFilters.com. She is a professional writer in Indianapolis and is working on her Masters degree.

Running Out of Water by Peter Rogers and Susan Leal

Running Out of Water by Peter Rogers and Susan Leal, published by Palgrave/MacMillianIt is no secret that humankind is facing several environmental crises. Greenhouse gases are slowly cooking the earth, several of our natural resources are nearing depletion, and impending water shortages threaten our way of life.

Friends, news sources, and the Internet bombard us with facts like this every day. It’s hard to make sense of it all, and too easy to feel that there is no hope.

But, as the cliché states, knowledge is power. When you understand a crisis, you can do something about it. This idea is the driving force behind Peter Rogers and Susan Leal’s book, Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource.

Rogers is Professor of Environmental Engineering and City Planning at Harvard University, and Leal is a consultant and former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. They’ve co-authored this book to empower the average water-user with knowledge and hope.

Simple Explanations

Peter Rogers, Co-Author of Running Out of Water

Peter Rogers, Co-Author of Running Out of Water. Photo: Courtesy Palgrave/Macmillian

The book contains nine chapters, the first of which explains why we are approaching a water crisis.

Rogers and Leal keep the language simple and break their explanation into several key points, including:

  • Less than one percent of all water on the planet is fresh water.
  • Most fresh water is unavailable because it’s stored in glaciers and ice.
  • Ocean water can be converted into fresh water through a process called desalination, but it is very expensive.
  • Much of our water is contaminated. Restaurants and households dump grease and food waste into sewers, and treated and untreated sewage is dumped into lakes and rivers.
  • Climate change plays a large role. The authors explain, “The water world is caught in a vicious cycle: Climatic change is reducing our [fresh] water supply, and the systems we use to deliver clean water and treat wastewater produce the same greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”

Reusing Water

Susan Leal, Co-Author of Running Out of Water

Susan Leal, Co-Author of Running Out of Water. Photo: Courtesy Palgrave/Macmillian.

Each of the next seven chapters book focuses on a solution to one of the many issues surrounding water waste. Rogers and Leal explain these solutions by providing case studies. In the book’s second chapter, they use Orange County, California and its reliance on the Colorado River as a case study.

The Colorado provides water for eight states as well as Mexico, and the combination of overuse and drought is causing it to slowly dry up. In addition, importing water is expensive, and because the process often involves fighting gravity, it uses a lot of energy.

Fortunately, Orange County found a nearby, steady source of water to reduce their reliance on the Colorado River: the sewers. The concept is unappealing, but recycled water is actually cleaner than river water.

The recycling process begins with three steps: microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light treatment. Rogers and Leal explain these processes, so I won’t make an attempt. But, these three steps filter out pollutants like pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Next, the water is injected into a local groundwater basin and treated again to become drinkable. The entire process uses much less energy than importing water, and reduces the strain on the Colorado River.

A Fascinating, Accessible Book

The authors go on to tackle agricultural water use, the importance of public involvement in instituting large-scale change, converting waste water into energy, and much more. The concluding chapter of the book tells the reader how s/he can take action.

When you reach the final chapter, you will have all the information you need to follow the authors’ suggestions. I can’t say that I completely understand the water treatment and sewage systems the authors describe. But, it’s easy to see which systems conserve water and which do not.

The authors have a very clear message: These solutions work, and they are available and affordable. So, what can we, the average water-using citizens, do to deal with the impending water crisis?

Changing the way our society handles water begins with the most basic of steps: awareness. A good start would be reading this book. It will give you a sense of how much power you have as a voting, tax-paying citizen. And, most importantly, it will give you hope.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

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Alenka Figa


Blue Planet Green Living