Category Archives: Infrastructure

Conservation Considerations

Construction projects throughout the Pacific Northwest are incorporating conservation practices and rainwater harvesting into their designs in order to meet new stormwater management requirements set by city, state, and federal mandates.

Conservation practices such as Green Building Certifications, Leadership in Energy and Environment Designs (LEED), and The Living Building Challenge are being asked of architects, designers, and contractors.

Environment, not cash, encourages conservation, according to UCLA researchers when asking families to save electricity. The same is true when water is the topic of conservation, mostly because savings are minimal compared to the low cost of municipal water. However, considering the costs of designing and implementing infiltration as compliance with local stormwater / drainage codes, with little benefit to the developer, costs can become part of the equation.

Rainwater harvesting is an integral part of conservation when used effectively. Irrigation typically requires a large amount of storage lending itself to more of a commercial application.

Water closets and laundry facilities supplied by rainwater can be an effective use of rainwater for both commercial and residential usage with limited storage amounts and treatment. Together they account for approximately 48% of household usage according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and can often be enough mitigation to meet drainage requirements. With filtration and disinfection rainwater can be used as a supplementary source to municipal water or as a “sole source” supply for those who meet hardship requirements from county health and planning departments. Water quality is exceptional when designed and installed properly by an approved designer/installer.

Rainwater harvesting for beneficial use plays an important role in conservation by minimizing groundwater decline while improving our aquifers. It conserves and prevents surface water runoff, minimizing pollutants from entering our bodies of water. Rainwater harvesting bypasses the centralized water system, conserving energy. A decentralized water system reduces demands of our municipal water supplies. When properly designed, and treated, rainwater can be a sustainable, viable source of water for many uses while preserving our supplies for future generations.

How Do EPA Budget Cuts Affect Drinking Water Supplies?

How will the 31% budget cuts to the EPA affect our country’s drinking water?

An order of review of the “Clean Water Rule” will likely cut protections for smaller streams and wetlands.

According to Scientific American, “Wetlands do an excellent job of filtering out pollutants.  As an example, bacteria in wetlands remove nutrients like nitrates from agricultural fertilizer run off, which prevents the contamination from living down stream.” Thus, affecting larger bodies of water, which are reservoirs for much of our water supplies .

Cuts to the National Forest Service can put our watersheds at risk. Forested areas are crucial to infiltration of ground water. Much of our nation’s water supply is from well water, dependent on natural filtering. Runoff caused by development and deforestation would directly affect water quality from increased pollutants entering larger bodies of water.

The Clean Water Act protects major water bodies like large streams, rivers, bays and other coastal waters, along with streams and wetlands that flow into them from being destroyed or polluted—or, at least, not polluted without federal oversight. It covers a large range of pollutants, including sewage, garbage, biological and radioactive materials, and industrial and agricultural waste.

States need the EPA as backup to costs of programs that study, monitor, and write policies that protect our nation’s water supplies. The Federal government, with the clean water act of the 1970s and its amendments, need to remain in tact for the health and welfare of our nation.

Why is Rainwater Collection Important?

rainwater-collection-diagramSimply put, Rainwater Collection is the practice of collecting and storing rain for future use.  A Rainwater collection system combines components to collect, convey, and store for beneficial use. This can be as simple as rain barrels or a more complex system for potable drinking water. Both are important and have large scale benefits environmentally and socially. 

The use of rainwater collection, or sometimes referred to as harvesting, is nothing new. Evidence as far back as 1700 BC on the Island of Crete indicate a sophisticated rainwater collection system. It is known that the Romans constructed reservoirs and conveyance throughout the Mediterranean. In more modern times, many of our grandparents collected rainwater in rural areas in the United States and Europe. During World War II, many of the South Pacific Islands occupied by US forces collected rainwater for beneficial use.

A modern, centralized water system in urban areas expanded into outlying areas and eventually into more rural communities. Large and small public and community water systems made life easier for the average person and costs were minimal to the consumer. However, with increased demands from population, commercial and industrial demands, new fresh water supplies are becoming strained. The technology, equipment, testing, and efficiencies of rainwater collection and a supplementary, decentralized water system are helping to reduce that stress on today’s resources. 

Expenses incurred to upgrade, expand, and repair our current centralized water systems will be high, but can be reduced by lessening the demand. The use of rainwater capture for non potable use, i.e.,  toilet and laundry facility, can reduce residential use by as much as 48%. The use of centralized water, disinfected to drinking water standards for irrigation of landscaping has a great impact on our resources. Along with better practices such as swales, drought tolerant plantings, passive on sight infiltration, pollution of our waterways are less threatened by stormwater runoff.

Groundwater levels at present are showing declines, excessive pumping, and other factors are causing wells to go dry or quality to decrease. Many locals are experiencing shifts in rainfall frequency and intensity. Declining habitat due to impacts of development, pollution from runoff, and declining river flow rates can be minimized by preventable, best practices such as rainwater collection, use, and infiltration.