Poorly Designed Rainwater Harvesting Systems

Poorly designed and maintained rainwater harvesting systems can be more than unpleasant.

As many others did, I built a house in the Puna district of the Big Island of Hawaii in the 1980’s. The inexpensive properties of the subdivisions above Hilo provided an opportunity for home ownership to those who could not otherwise afford to build. The subdivisions were created in the 1960’s and 70’s as agricultural, with little infrastructure, certainly no water source. As everyone else did, I built my own rainwater catchment system, designed based on what everyone else was doing. The county provided “city water” stops along Kamehameha Highway, for drinking water for those on rainwater catchment. All other household water use was provided by the catchment system with little filtering and no real disinfection. UV disinfection was not available for small water systems at that time. 

Many systems were owner built and consisted of a “pool boy” – an above ground swimming pool with a non potable liner. There were some corrugated steel and a few cement or wooden tanks. Many of the roofs were asphalt shingle, causing a bit of a sheen on the water surface during the hot day. A sediment filter prior to the pump was the typical filtration train and, as mentioned, no disinfection. But, no one was drinking it as far as I knew. 

For decades there were no regulations for rainwater catchment systems in Hawaii. Systems were built with not much consideration of public health. Essentially, a large community with no oversight to standards or safe practices. Now, many of these antiquated systems are being contaminated by slugs and snails which have been found to carry “rat lungworm parasite”, a potentially devastating disease. Please see below article.

Water Catchment Systems Need to be Properly Maintained

Rainwater catchment can be a safe, viable alternative to ground water “IF” proper best practices are followed. The industry has grown considerably, along with most states having some type of regulations and permitting.

ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 63 has been adopted as code by most municipalities that allow rainwater collection for potable use. ARCSA Accredited Professionals are trained and must participate in continuing education in order to keep their accreditation. Designs for permitting are being submitted to Health Departments for plans review. Inspections by county plumbing inspectors during construction of systems is common with bacterial sampling required by some.

It is not the 70s and 80s any longer and rainwater catchment for potable use has hit an all time high here in Washington State. Systems are being designed and installed by professionals that have the training and experience needed for the well-being of their customers. Check with your contractor to be sure they are ARCSA Accredited and know the code requirements. By doing so, you will be assuring that your water source is safe for you and your family.

Skagit County Water Source

RainBank Rainwater Systems has broken through the barriers that have restricted rainwater collection as an approved water source for single family residences in Skagit County.

With the instream flow rules,  many property owners in the Skagit River Basin were unable to develop their properties. WA State Department of Ecology encouraged Skagit County to adopt the practice as a solution that would benefit the river and salmon habitat, while providing a viable water source. Limited permitting for the affected areas was considered as recently as 2015.

A group of residents from Guemas Island petitioned the county to accept rainwater for potable use for homes that were experiencing salt water intrusion in their wells. RainBank Rainwater Systems, along Tim Pope, ARCSA educator and past president, met with Skagit County in January 2017 to encourage acceptance of potable rainwater collection as a viable alternative source, not only in the instream flow rules affected areas but to those who are experiencing other hardships regarding potable water.

RainBank Rainwater Systems is pleased with the recent design approvals from Skagit County for potable residential RWC systems outside the instream flow rules, allowing for more property owners in Skagit County. We look forward to assisting Skagit County residents with their dreams of developing or purchasing properties with limited water resources.

Rainwater for Vehicle Washdown

A five-year old rainwater harvesting system built for the city of Guelph, Ontario, Canada  received an award for saving enough drinking water to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools – by using captured rain for vehicle washdown.

The Water’s Next national awards program honors the achievements and ideas of individuals and companies that successfully work to change water in Canada.

Award categories include:

Business Leader: Person in the private sector that has demonstrated significant leadership and innovation in the water sector.

Academic Leader: Person in the academic sector that has demonstrated significant leadership, innovation, and scientific excellence in the water sector.

Non-Government Leader: Person in the non-government sector that has demonstrated significant leadership, innovation, and influence in the water sector.

Government (includes municipalities, agencies, watershed authorities, and First Nations government) Person in the public sector that has demonstrated significant leadership, innovation, and influence in the public sector, towards the benefit of Canada’s water resources.

Young Professionals: Individual under the age of 30 working in the water sector who has demonstrated exemplary leadership, innovation, and growth potential.

An additional benefit of using rainwater to clean city buses is that the captured rainwater is softer than groundwater, therefore, less cleaning products are needed, which saves money for the city.

“We rely on a groundwater supply in Guelph, and we need to be smart about how we use water—at home, at work and at our City facilities,” said Emily Stahl, manager of technical services for the City’s Water Services department. “It makes sense to match the water supply provided with the use, and naturally soft rainwater is better for washing buses, and cars at home too.”

Click here to read more about Guelph’s water advocacy award.

RainBank designs and installs systems for potable and non-potable usage, including vehicle washdown, laundry and toilet facilities.

Contact us today to discuss a system for your home or business.

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