Rain Water Harvesting

Published on November 17, 2008


A Green Add-On Business to Consider


If as a child, you remember when Elvis was cool and TV only came in black and white, you may remember rain barrels at the side of the house. They were used to irrigate herb gardens and flower gardens during the summer months. Then along came municipal water agencies and cheap irrigation systems and the need for rain barrels became obsolete. Or so we thought.


Today with the demand on municipal water agencies at historic peaks and drought conditions all over the country the thought of capturing winter rains for use during the summer has brought a new appreciation for rain barrels, or as their big brothers are known, cisterns.


A company in Soquel, California, Rain Source Water (www.rainsourcewater.com) has even improved on the standard above ground water tank by offering an underground solution. By constructing these cisterns underground the homeowner saves valuable space for planting and also hides what normally would be an eyesore that needs to be screened.


I recently talked to Bruce Arthur, Rain Source Waters Manager of Environmental Education and he explained the genesis behind the company’s formation. Rain Source Water is a division of Pondsaway, Inc., a distributor of pond building equipment. Bruce had been studying urban runoff pollution and the related stormwater management practices that can improve the situation. He realized that the detention ponds and cisterns that the regulatory agencies were requiring were just utilitarian water features.


Pondsaway already warehoused the entire product used to construct the cisterns. The main component of the cisterns is the plastic “matrix box.” An Australian company, Atlantis Corp, produces the matrix boxes. They are large Lego type boxes that simply snap together from flat panels. They are made from 85% recycled polypropylene battery casings. Designed strong enough to hold traffic loads when installed with the proper engineering techniques. In other words you could install them under your driveway or even a parking lot. Each matrix box is 27˝ long by 16˝ wide by 18˝ tall. They are stackable and can be assembled into any shape necessary to conform to the contours of the area to be used.


Bruce proceeded to install a prototype in his own backyard. He dug a hole 7´ by 7´ by 3´ in depth and lined it with rubber liner. He installed the rain boxes inside the rubber liner, pulled the liner up over the top and covered the installation with dirt. By placing an access box on the top before covering it with dirt he had access to the cistern and an opening to install a pump to power his drip irrigation system.


By a simple calculation he determined his garage (which was the catchment area for his cistern) would capture 431-gal for every inch of rain that fell. Garage rain catchment calculation: (Length times Width times .625 equals amount in gallons for every inch of rain). His cistern would hold 1,152-gal, so it would only take 3˝ of rain to fill it.


Kirk Samis, the owner of Pondsaway, had an epiphany while Bruce was trying to spec a pump for the irrigation, he showed up one Saturday with a little 50watt fountain pump that produced 1,000 gph in flow, 100´ of drip irrigation line and 100-2 gph emitters. They put the pump in Bruce’s pond stretched out the line installed the emitters and plugged it in. Well what do you know each and every emitter produce 2 gph and the one at 100´ was even raised 6´ in the air and still produced flow. So the energy consumed to run the irrigation system only costs as much as running a 50watt light bulb.


The last task was plumbing an overflow that exited into a rain garden, which percolated the excess water back into the ground. The result was water much richer in nutrients without the salts and chorine of municipal water. His garden is happier and healthier that it has ever been.


Oh! By the way, the local water district offers a rebate for rainwater catchment, $25.00 for every 100-gal. not to exceed $750.00. Bruce received a credit of $288.00. Many other districts are already offering or planning to offer a comparable credit so it is definitely worth your while to investigate this in your own water district.


The water garden industry is in a bit of turmoil with the announcement that the EPA has taken the stance that water features wastewater shouldn’t be considered in their WaterSense program. If you think about it you could use the cistern water in conjunction with a water feature and kill two birds with one stone. Using rain water for the makeup water in your feature is better for the fish (no chlorine or chloramines) hence no need to dechlorinate before adding fish. It also has even more beneficial nutrients mixed in as the fish and other critters interact with the water.


One of the biggest concerns is the initial cost of the system. The product runs about $1.50 to $1.75 a gallon, not including the installation. With the price of municipal water still at very low rates it’s hard for some customers to justify the expense. All you have to do lately is pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news on TV to realize the cost of water is going to increase dramatically very soon, if in fact it hasn’t in your area already. Not only is that, in many areas of the country water districts limiting the use of water for irrigating the landscape. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the facts that if you own your own water supply you can do whatever you want with it. So, it begs the question. What is it worth to have your own water supply that will keep your landscape healthy and green all summer long during restrictions? I think we all would agree it is PRICELESS.


A couple of other advantages sometimes overlooked. Fire protection in rural areas not serviced by hydrants in many areas requires 10,000-gal of water stored on site for fighting fires. Bruce talked to the Fire Chief in his area, which just experienced two devastating fires, and the Chief pointed out that none of the structures lost had supplemental water available and every structure that did was saved. When the pumper truck shows up they only have a limited amount of water to fight the fire and when it’s gone they have to leave. Having the extra water supply could be the difference between loosing you property and having something to go home to.


Underground cisterns don’t need engineered pads to hold the tanks and don’t clutter up you view. The other advantage would be; in areas that could loose water service in a disaster, cisterns would be a great resource of potable water using some commercially available purification devices. Earthquakes are a good example of a disaster that could disrupt water mains for quite a while.


In a very depressed economy, the first things to be eliminated are the disposable income items, such as ponds and water gardens. The really great thing about installing rain harvest storage systems is that the same tools and manpower are needed to install both kinds of systems. If the economy has resulted in your receiving fewer calls for water feature work, why not consider diversifying and ride the GREEN wave. Seriously take a look at rain harvest storage system installation. The drought and the economy don’t mean the end is near, to the contrary, you can find opportunity in any dark cloud. Remember, if you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain! In our case, the rainbow will come IF we capture and use rainwater sensibly.


About the Author

Mike Garcia founder of Enviroscape, began his career in the horticultural field more than 25 years ago. After earning his college degree in Ornamental Horticulture, he earned his C-27 Landscape Contractors License, as well as his D-49 arborist Tree Service Contractors License. Under his leadership, Enviroscape has won numerous landscape and water feature awards at the local, state, national and international levels.



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