Unlocking Potential

Sailing team aims for sustainability with rainwater harvesting system

Watching a 21st-century America’s Cup racing yacht in action is jaw-dropping. The state-of-the-art catamarans harness a solid airplane wing-like sail and hydrofoils designed to deliver mind-blowing speeds of more than 43 knots (51 mph).

Above image: Sweden’s Artemis racing team uses RO to treat rainwater for drinking, cleaning and other purposes. 

Winning the America’s Cup—the oldest international sporting trophy in the world, dating back to 1851—demands fresh thinking and making best use of new technologies. For Artemis Racing, the Swedish team vying for the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda, the challenge also extends to aiming to be the most sustainable team.

Artemis is an ancient Greek goddess who is both a hunter and the protector of nature. The modern team Artemis strives to live up to that reputation by recycling all waste, banning single-use plastic bottles and harvesting and treating rainwater using advanced water purifiers for drinking, washing and cleaning at its seaside base in Bermuda.

“The Artemis base uses four 3,800-liter storage tanks to collect rainwater in Bermuda, which suffers mini-drought conditions occasionally throughout the year,” said Kevin Lanthier, general manager of Clear Water Systems Ltd., a Bermuda-based water treatment company serving residential, small municipal, and commercial/industrial customers. Clear Water Systems has installed two second-generation direct-flow water purifiers made by Bluewater, an associate sponsor of Artemis Racing, at the Artemis base.

Clear Water Systems also has installed the required piping and tie-in to serve processed water to the sailors and backup staff, reducing total dissolved solids levels from 128 to 23 ppm for the facility’s kitchen, beverage station and boat house to feed water coolers, ice machines and coffee makers.

“The installation was pretty complex, but the Bluewater units are operating as designed and water quality out of the water cooler, for example, is excellent,” Lanthier said. Because of concerns that the sailing athletes need to keep their mineral levels high, Clear Water Systems also installed a coconut/calcite filter on the post end of the reverse osmosis system to add minerals to the drinking water.

Artemis is vying to not only win the 2017 America’s Cup, but also meet sustainability goals.

Rainwater as a Resource

Rainwater is a valuable resource in a world where freshwater availability and quality are declining, with humans using six times more water than 100 years ago and increasingly polluting surface water and groundwater systems due to intensified agricultural and industrial applications. The United Nations has described declining water quality as “a global issue of concern as human populations grow, industrial and agricultural activities expand, and climate change threatens to cause major alterations to the hydrological cycle.”

In Asia and Africa, harvesting rainfall is common, although water quality can be poor. Until recently, many developed countries have put less focus on making greater use of rain. In fact, in several Western states such as Utah, Washington and Colorado, individuals are banned from collecting rainwater by laws saying they do not own the water that falls on their properties.

Nonetheless, with growing populations and increasing water shortages, individuals and communities are awakening to the need to use water wisely. As the Artemis project demonstrates, rainwater harvesting is a viable, relatively low-cost approach to gathering water for multiple purposes, including irrigating crops, washing, cooking and drinking, provided suitable technologies are in place to safely filter and purify the rainwater, whether it was harvested from a rooftop or land.

The main difference between the two collection points is the degree of contamination. Roof-based water generally has lower levels of chemicals and other biological contaminants than ground-based water, yet both need the same treatment if the rain collected will be used for potable purposes.

Implementing rainwater harvesting is not a problem of collection, as long as the rain falls. Rainwater can be collected from just about any hard surface. It is not a technology issue either. Although designing and installing an effective rainwater collection system can be a challenge, the collection, storage and point-of-entry or point-of-use treatment of rainwater for domestic or light commercial use, even in urban environments, is relatively straightforward.

Regulating Rainwater

The biggest challenge to rainwater harvesting is that it is rarely included in industrialized nations’ water policies. And although it is a well-known concept, the implementation of rainwater harvesting generally has been piecemeal.

In July 2015, Sean Furey, a water and sanitation expert for SKAT, an independent Swiss development and humanitarian aid organization, told The Guardian that because there were no big agencies pushing rainwater harvesting, there was a need for a “reinvent harvesting” challenge.

Today, most water authorities tend to base their water management plans on renewable water sources such as surface water and groundwater. But this may be changing in the face of recent droughts and other water supply concerns.

Texas, Rhode Island and Virginia offer tax credits or exemptions for the purchase of rainwater harvesting equipment, and Texas and Ohio allow rainwater harvesting for drinking water. Oklahoma has passed legislation to promote pilot rainwater use projects. California has authorized residential, commercial and government landowners to install, maintain and operate rainwater capture systems for specified purposes, provided the systems meet certain requirements, while New York state is planning tax credits for homeowners and businesses investing in green infrastructure.

Elsewhere in the world, similar initiatives are underway. In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, water storage has been integrated into the urban environment with the large-scale application of green roofs, siphonic systems that collect and discharge rainwater. In India, where many cities lack sufficient water supplies, rooftop rainwater harvesting systems now are mandatory for new buildings in 18 of the country’s 28 states and four of its seven federally administered union territories, according to the Press Information Bureau. In Bermuda, where this article started, any new house constructed must have an adequate rainwater harvesting system.

The concept of rainwater harvesting dates back thousands of years. Maybe now, in 2017, the time has come to empower individuals and communities to manage their water. Suitable for homes, offices, retail complexes, sports stadiums, schools or apartment buildings, rainwater harvesting can help protect ecosystems, ease pressure on municipal water supplies, and deliver a constant source of water or serve as a bridge through dry spells and droughts. 

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About the author

David Noble is chief communications officer for Bluewater. Noble can be reached at [email protected].