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Questions To Ask Before You Jump In

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A portion of my business is inspecting and repairing systems put in by others. Additionally, as I speak to other installers around the country, I find I am not alone in this respect. A good portion of these malfunctioning systems had design or installation flaws. After the fact, it is impossible to know why these installers made poor decisions, but some fault has to be due to inadequate training. I wondered what questions a consumer should ask of potential RWH design, installation and maintenance professionals.

To that end, I reached out to John Hammerstrom, past President of the American Rainwater Catchment System Association (ARCSA) (www.acrsa.org) to provide his views on the subject.  >> more

Top 2011 Rainwater Stories

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Last year was a very busy, busy year with rainwater in the news around the world .  Below are my picks for top stories of 2011 from around the globe.

  1. King County OKs rainwater as sole drinking water source
  2. Atlanta passes potable rainwater ordinance
  3. First Ever US Rainwater Market Study Released
  4. Los Angeles City Council Unanimously Passes Low Impact Development Ordinance
  5. Rainwater Wins Drinking Water Competition

It was an amazing year to be involved in the rainwater market.  The HarvestH2o.com website continued to grow even in a difficult market, experiencing a growth in content, readers, vendors and visitors. 

If you think I missed a top story please let me know.

There is wide spread interest in water conservation and specifically in capturing and reusing rainwater in both residential and commercial buildings to reduce costs, reduce the environmental impact of the building and lessen the load on the municipal sewer and stormwater systems in the arid southwest where droughts are a way of life.

Harvesting rainwater from rooftops is one solutions to conserving our precious water, where it can be used instead of municipal drinking water for many non-drinking water (i.e. non-potable) applications (e.g. landscape, toilet flushing) as well as drinking water.  There are two general types of rainwater catchment systems - "active" or "passive".   Most professionally installed systems incorporate aspects of both to maximize the water conserved.  >> More

Water Rates

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One of my good friends, Pete Garcia, always complains about Santa Fe water rates. "We have the highest water rates in the country," he says. Well, Pete, I hate to say it, but that is just about correct.  Our base water rates aren't the highest in the country, but as our tiered and summer water rates schedule kicks in, we do have some of the highest rates. Yet compared to other cities in the world, our water is still downright cheap. 

In almost any place in the United States, we simply turn on the faucet and it flows. This amazing infrastructure was built over the last century and has supplied us cheap, plentiful water for decades. Abundant water, cheap electricity and a great road system have been the backbone of our economy over the last century. However, access to cheap, plentiful water is becoming a thing of the past, not only in the Santa Fe area, but around the country and the world. 

In the United States, we are fortunate to have accessible clean water at any price. Over 46% of the earth's population doesn't, and people in developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get access to water. One in eight people on the planet lack access to clean water. 

Access to an additional water source has been the main driver for Santa Fe's multi-year water rate increase (i.e., 8.2% annual increase from 2009 - 2014).  Our local Buckman Direct Diversion (BDD) project is estimated to cost more than $200 million and will provide both the city and county access to 5,605 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Project water per year (an acre-foot is approximately 325,851.4 gallons).

This water is more expensive than water pumped out of the ground or piped in from local reservoirs. But even this source will not provide us with all the water we will need in the future. We live in a high desert, arid region and simply do not have enough drinking water to meet our growing needs. Per the City of Santa Fe Water Conservation and Drought Management Report, we are over-pumping the groundwater wells resulting in damage to the underground aquifer. Even in the best of years, the Santa Fe River reservoirs can only supply about half of the water our region needs. In very dry years, they cannot supply much water at all and emergency water restrictions have had to be put in place.

Due to projects like this, in which water is accessed from further away or it is of lesser quality and requires more processing, , water rates are rising here and around the world.  Most cities are now facing similar challenges. 

For example, the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, which has historically enjoyed cheap water, faces the possibility that Lake Mead, the city's prime water source, will run dry in 13 years if usage is not cut back. The city's water agency, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, has undertaken a $700 million project to dig a bigger pipe into the lake. Scott Huntley, a spokesman for the agency, said they are concerned that the city is relying almost entirely on Lake Mead for its water, and officials were seeking alternate sources. Las Vegas is turning to rural counties to the north to quench a thirst that the nation's largest man-made reservoir can't sustain. Plans include drilling wells and building a $1-billion pipeline to tap rivers and groundwater from neighboring rural counties. This will not be cheap water.

Comparing data in the recently released Black & Veatch 2009/2010 Water/Wastewater Rate Survey, -Santa Fe has the fourth highest rates of the 200 hundred US cities included in the survey, behind San Diego, Seattle and Baltimore, in descending order. This comparison is looking at Santa Fe's rates for 3,500 gallons per month, not including sewer, connection charges, taxes or any other fees or summer usage rates.

However, at 15,000 gallons per month or more, Santa Fe has the highest rates of all the cities included in the survey. The City of Santa Fe's tiered rate structure of $15.81 per 1,000 gallons consumed makes our water cost almost twice as much as the nearest city: Austin, Texas.

For the cities included in the survey, the average cost of water from 2001-2009 has increased at a rate two times that of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). These rate increases are being driven by the increase in energy prices, increased demand, aging infrastructure, and the distance and water quality problems mentioned above.

In another study, the Global Water Intelligence (GWI) published a survey of water rates in 261 cities worldwide. In that survey, Santa Fe is not even close to the top, in fact, US water appears downright cheap compared to other cities in the world. The lovely cities of Copenhagen and Aarthus, both in Denmark, the price of water is more than $20.00 per 1,000 gallons versus $5.81 in Santa Fe [you said $15.81 two paragraphs up]. Other cities that are by far more expensive are Paris, France; Gent Belgium and Stuttgart, Germany -- all over $10.00 per 1,000 gallons. It is worth noting that more than a few international cities provide water free or nearly free and these cities are some of the largest water consumers.  

In Santa Fe, we are blessed to have had a drought that forced our hand to become much more focused on water conservation, to raise our water rates, and to create a tiered rate system to motivate the biggest water consumers to cut back. These forward-thinking measures are why we have enough water today, and we should thank our city staff for this. Our city is now one of the lowest water use cities in the United States. But even with all these efforts, expect water rates to continue rising. 

To avoid the highest water rates, conserve water to keep your water usage below 7,000 per month from September to April and 10,000 per month from May through August.  Water is not just a life-giving resource, it is also an economic engine. There is simply no more plentiful "cheap" water; consequently, water conservation will remain key to sustaining the beautiful area we live in.


Water is Local

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We live in a land of vast abundance, but northern New Mexico is, of course, also prone to water shortage. Water has sustained life in Northern New Mexico for hundreds of years; however, history has shown that we are prone to prolonged droughts from time to time and consequently need to manage water very wisely.  

It is a life giving substance - enabling our communities and economies to survive and thrive. This becomes especially apparent from the air, where one can see a vast majority of NM's population living within miles of the Rio Grande. Santa Fe is lucky in that it has both the Rio Grande and the runoff from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for its water supply. 

This easy access to water created an ideal location for our community and local agriculture. Garcia Street and the surrounding areas used to be farms not long ago. You can still see the sign for the old Gormley's trading goods store on Canyon Road, where local farmers would drop off their produce for folks from all around the area to buy. Of course, this store of bygone times is now a high-end art gallery, and its function has been replaced by the local farmers' markets.

To support an agrarian-based economy, Santa Fe used to have more than 30 active acquecias running through the city. These irrigation ditches were cleaned and maintained by the people living along them. They were the lifeblood of many northern NM communities. Of course, most are long gone, and we have moved from an agricultural-based economy to a more diverse, modern one. Although the method of moving our water has changed dramatically over the last century, our dependency on it has not. Water remains a local resource that is required for a strong, local living economy. 

Water is local and will remain local.

It has been the foundation of the economy for past decades and will continue for decades to come. It cannot be manufactured offshore, nor can it be outsourced. It is our most precious resource and it is the base on which our local economies are built. Even so, for most of us, water remains out of sight and out of mind.

Like our local produce, water is not a given and requires constant tending. Continued focus and investment is required to enable all of us to live in this area of abundant beauty. Without water, there is no growth, no local communities and no "us." We can be proud of our past water conserving efforts, but as any farmer will tell you -- last year's crop is no indicator for next year. 

Water is not only a life giving resource it also is an economic engine.  We have moved from an agrarian economy, to a mixed economy, but water is still critical to our growth.  Unnoticed, is it is also driving a growing number of thriving water-related businesses and we are truly blessed to have an unbelievable array of world-class water experts and water businesses that call Northern New Mexico home.   These businesses and individuals are local and can help us build a sustainable future in this arid area we all call home.

As published in the Santa Fe Real Estate Magazine, March 2011

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Top 2010 Rainwater Stories

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Last year was a very busy, busy year with rainwater in the news around the world .  From the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act of 2009, which unfortunately was never voted on in the Senate, to the number of new manuals that have been published by various states to promote safe Rainwater Harvesting. Below are my picks for top stories of 2010 from around the globe.

It was an amazing year to be involved in the rainwater market.  The HarvestH2o.com website continued to grow even in a difficult market, experiencing a growth in content, readers, vendors and visitors.  ARCSA had their largest annual conference in Austin, TX and as is apparent from the above others are beginning to sense the market opportunity.

If you think I missed a top story please let me know.

Top 2010 Water Stories

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Recycling in Santa Fe

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Americans are recycling more and discarding less, according to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that shows the United States recycled 32 percent of its waste in 2005.     

Solid waste results in greenhouse gas (GHG) production. First, on it's way to becoming a waste, there is embodied energy from the materials manufacture, transportation, use, and disposal. Then, as it decomposes in a landfill it produces the GHG methane. In addition to directly creating GHG, not reusing or recycling waste results in the extraction of more natural resources and manufacture and transportation of more new products. 

 So it is critical to reduce waste, one simple way is recycling.                            

 Recycling List by Location                                       Recycling List by Type 

Help us make this list as extensive and as inclusive as possible.  If you know a site not listed, send us a comment below and we will get it listed.

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A recent article in the New York Times discusses the impact of Solar Flares.  From this article: 

Occasionally, a large solar storm can rain energy down on the earth, overpowering electrical grids. About once a century, a giant pulse can knock out worldwide power systems for months or even years. It's been 90 years since the last super storm, but scientists say we are on the verge of another period of high solar activity.

This isn't science fiction. Though less frequent than large hurricanes, significant storms have hit earth several times over the last 150 years, most notably in 1859 and 1921. Those occurred before the development of the modern power grid; recovering from a storm that size today would cost up to $2 trillion a year for several years.

So why should this impact a decision to get a rainwater system instead of getting a PV system.  Simple - we can live without electricity, but not water.

Moving, processing and treating water is usually the largest expense for a water utility company.  A power outage of any substantial duration will effect the delivery of water.  Almost all water utilities do have power backup systems, but they are intended for short duration events, not days or weeks.

Having your own water storage onsite is critical to weather these coming storms.

Read the entire NY Times article

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A good article that starts a comparison that is long over due.  Not enough is being said today about comparing the various "green" alternatives.  Today, most press goes to solar panels and PV.  Solar connectors, even though a better investment, gets short mention.  And of course, rainwater hardly gets no mention as a possible good investment.  Hopefully this will be the first of many, many articles comparing the alternatives.

The Advantages of Rainwater Harvesting Over Other Sustainable Options

Sustainable options, green options and renewables - the pressure is on us to do each one of these, and we know we should. However, it all seems so difficult and it is expensive and the return on the investment could be so long. We might not even be alive to see the benefit.

Rainwater harvesting is one of these options and is something we can all understand quite easily. After all, our ancestors were doing it for centuries until mains water arrived, and it is not rocket science. Generally people with gardens have one or two water butts. Rainwater harvesting is just using water butts on a much larger scale and using rainwater for far more than just watering the garden. Fifty percent of the 150 litres of water we use daily does not have to be mains water, that is to say, drinking quality. 30% literally goes down the toilet.

>> For the complete article