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What would you do if you went to the kitchen faucet, turned it on, and no water came out? That could be a reality one day. Due to recent years of drought across the country, groundwater tables are at a record low and reservoirs are not as plentiful as they used to be. The reality of inadequate water supplies is imminent as our population grows.
The California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) released several statements in 2009 regarding its water deficit problems. Their biggest concern? The growing population in California brings greater demand for this precious resource. Since 1990, 9 million new residents have inhabited this state. The result? A water shortage crisis.
The CDWR also has stated that recent droughts over the past three years have dropped groundwater tables in wells in addition to lowering reservoir levels. Transferring water from less-affected reservoirs to reservoirs with severe deficits is just one solution. Building costly water treatment plants is another.
There is an alternative solution on the market that is growing in popularity with homeowners and catching the interest of water utility companies: rainwater harvesting (RWH).
Last year, homeowner Jerry Block of Northern California installed a 20,000-gal rain harvesting system. A series of five 5,000-gal water storage tanks were installed in his backyard around his large solar array. His home now has the potential of collecting more than 30,000 gal of rainwater in a single year. The water is debris free because his system is equipped with the Gutterglove Gutterguard, a first-stage filter for keeping all leaves, pine needles and roof sand grit out of his gutters and rain tanks. He now has an adequate backup supply of clean water.
One reason Block wanted to have this additional source of water was to relieve his fear of a potential earthquake damaging his area’s water supply. Now he has peace of mind and a second source of water to irrigate his yard in the event that disaster strikes.
In 2009, reporter Paul Young of The Los Angeles Times wrote an article on Jerry Block’s RWH system, quoting his concerns about potential water shortages.
“People don’t realize just how scarce fresh water is getting,” Block said. “We really take it for granted.”
Several professionals in the rain harvesting industry also see a potential water shortage problem across the country.
Bob Boulware, P.E., president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Assn., is a leader in the movement to install rain harvesting systems as an alternative solution to our water shortage problems.
Many areas of the country are experiencing shortages, and rainwater harvesting can help, according to Boulware.
Some examples Boulware cited from around the nation:
Colorado granted an exception to its water rights law to allow rural households with wells to use RWH. The state still restricts rainwater catchment in cities, however.
Tucson, Ariz., now requires that for new commercial construction, at least 50% of their irrigation needs must come from RWH. The city also encourages the use of rain barrels and RWH systems to help lower total water demand from conventional sources.
Santa Fe, N.M., requires RWH on all structures greater than 5,000 sq ft. Most new subdivisions are installing RWH as part of each property improvement.
In Texas, RWH is being actively practiced in more and more rural locations as well as cities. The cities are not yet officially adopting rainwater for potable applications, but in most rural areas it is being used as a potable alternative.
Washington recently created an exemption to its water rights laws to allow RWH with unlimited storage statewide.
California has removed virtually all restrictions on greywater use and RWH because of ongoing drought.
Boulware brings an interesting question into the picture: “Is a drought a lack of water, or too many customers?”
Gary Kulp, another expert specializing in gutters and rain harvesting systems, is the owner and founder of Austin Gutter King, which provides service to Travis County, Texas, and surrounding counties.
“Due to its growing population and recurring droughts, Central Texas is currently facing intermittent shortages of water,” Kulp said. “For example, during the time from 2008 to 2009, this area experienced one of the five worst droughts in the region’s history. As a result, wells ran dry, foliage perished and the cities of San Antonio and Austin placed mandatory restrictions on water usage.”
According to Kulp, population growth in the region is spurring water demand at unsustainable levels.
“Austin’s population is expected to grow by 10%, or 88,000 people, over the next 10 years,” he said. “With water already scarce, supply will be stretched even further. San Antonio has it far worse. Official forecasts call for water supplies to fall below the level needed to sustain the population within 15 years. Again, population growth is the cause of this crisis.”
Declining water levels in aquifers compound the problem, and the cost of groundwater can be crippling to residents, Kulp noted.
“For these reasons, I would recommend the installation of rainwater collection systems. In particular, we find for rural customers that we can provide systems that will supply their entire water usage needs during non-drought years. The water is filtered and purified for potable consumption.”
Jeremy Delost of Rainwater Harvesting Systems specializes in installing RWH systems and services the northeast part of Texas.
Delost also recognized population growth, drought conditions and the high cost of developing new supplies as contributing to water shortages in the region.
“According to the Texas Water Development Board, the population of North Texas is predicted to double in the next 50 years from 6.6 million in 2010 to over 13 million in 2050,” Delost said. “Water supplies are already severely stressed, as is seen in lake level declines during low rainfall months.
“The greatest increase in future water demand will be seen in the residential sector of the population, which requires that water be purified to drinking water standards. However, current water reservoirs in Texas, as well as other regions, are compounded by harmful fertilizers, pesticides and pharmaceutical residues that require costly treatment facilities to bring the water up to standard.”
Plan B for water planning officials, according to Delost, includes:
“connecting to existing surpluses, plus building new reservoirs. At the same time, plans to purchase water from neighboring states, and the legal rights to build new reservoirs, are faring poorly in the courts.”
So, what’s Plan C? According to Delost, the following is being considered: “Plan C involves building large water pipelines from East Texas, where one of the largest underground aquifers in the U.S. can be found. Although a viable solution, it is unlikely that such a plan could be constructed without severely raising the price of water.”
As you can see from the testimonials shared above, efforts are being made to provide some solutions to water deficit problems across the country, but the planning process and governmental red tape of municipal systems can take years to work through.
The cost-effective alternative of rainwater collection systems for individual homeowners and businesses can be installed and running in no time. Rainwater harvesting can not only reduce the severity of water shortages, it can serve as a completely independent water supply that is safe and sustainable.
With 35 in. of rainfall per year, a 2,000-sq-ft home can collect up to 43,000 gal in a single year. A rainwater collection system would supply 3,600 gal of water per month easily enough to meet the needs of the average water-conscious family.
Rainwater collection makes great sense, is affordable and is becoming more and more popular each day to offset our dwindling municipal supplies. Collecting rainwater also is a very green, sustainable and responsible thing to do. So, the next time you irrigate your yard, wash a load of clothes or take a drink of water, think rainwater collection.