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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
A fun article, showing how some are taking a step-by-step approach to saving water.

Charles and Judy Ainger wash their clothes in rainwater. Living in the dry central belt of England, just to the west of London in Chalfont Saint Giles, they have being trying to save water for years, collecting rain in butts for garden use and showering instead of bathing.Recently, however, they decided to go further, and now have a rainwater harvesting system which feeds one of their loos and the washing machine.

With bills rising, and water restrictions increasing, there has never been a better time to see how you can save and harvest every precious drop.


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

Article written by John Hammerstrom

This rainwater harvesting (RWH) system, with an above-ground, 7,500 gallon (usable) poured-concrete cistern, used for both potable and nonpotable purposes, was designed and constructed in 2001 as an integral part of a new single-family home in Key Largo, Florida. Rain is collected from a 1,700 square-foot white Galvalume roof and gathered in six-inch copper gutters with spash shields at roof valleys for occasional heavy downpours. Copper plumbing is used throughout the house as well.  Read full article>>

Question and Answer Session with John

John, first thank you for publishing the article on your home system.  It is a great reference for those interested in following in your footsteps and living on rainwater and solar.

  1. One of the questions, that I have and I am sure many of the readers will have is - why?  Cisterns were always in the Keys, so it was a natural to build when we were building our new home.
  2. Was 7,500 big enough?  No, it is not big enough.  Budget and space prevented us from putting in a bigger one. I have never met anyone that has a cistern too large.  Would have liked to go at least 50% larger.
  3. Why concrete?  The house is made of concrete and it is part of the house structure.  Also it neutralizes acidity from rain and lastly it is widely available in our area.
  4. Why an 8" cistern wall?  That is what the engineer advised.
  5. Who designed the system?  I did.  I am ARCSA Accredited.
  6. What is a rubber "dam" gasket?  It is a piece of rubber about 1/2" thick and about 8" wide comes in a roll.  It is put between the floor and wall to prevent any leakage.  Half of it is put in the base around the edges when it is poured and the other half is put into the wall when it is poured.
  7. Do you use greywater?  No, I wish we did.  Regulatory barriers were a big issue in building green.  Greywater would have been another barrier and we did not have the time.
  8. If you would to do it again, what would you do differently?  I would have smaller downspouts, design some way to move water between sides of the tank, consider using a floating extractor, a low level cut of switch to prevent the pump from burning out and re-analyze newer filtration methods.

If you have any questions, please submit and John will answer them to the best of ability.

The Importance of pH Control

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By Stephen Wiman

In addition to its effects on biological and chemical processes, the variability of pH affects our decisions in domestic water usage. High-pH water often tastes bitter and may be an indication of the scaling potential of the water. Low-pH water may lead to the dissolution of pipes, particularly copper pipes. The EPA classifies pH under unregulated Secondary Drinking Water Standards and recommends a range between 6.5 and 8.5 pH units.

The term "pH" refers to the potential of hydrogen. The scale measures the logarithmic concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxyl ions (OH-), which constitute H2O. Because the scale is logarithmic, a change in pH by a factor of 10 results in a change of one unit on the pH scale - the pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 and is a measure of the acidity/basicity of water. A neutral solution, with a pH of 7.0, is achieved when the activity ofH+ and OH- is balanced. Water that has more free hydrogen ions (over 7) is acidic and water that has more free hydroxyl ions (less than 7) is basic or alkaline. Acids lower the pH of a solution and bases raise the pH.

Well water is typically high in ions (both positive cations and negative anions) such as calcium and magnesium (the "hardness" minerals), sodium, potassium, nitrate, chloride and sulfate. The presence of these ions decreases the activity of the H + ion and increases the activity of the OH- ions, causing the water to be higher pH. Well-water pH is a function of the minerals taken into solution as the water moves through rock strata. In Santa Fe, our municipal water, which is commonly a blend of sources, has a pH ranging from 7.04 to 8.21, with both the low and high ranges occurring in Buckman Well Field water (2010 Water Report, Sangre de Cristo Water Division).

The term "alkaline" should not be confused with the term "alkalinity;' which refers to the "buffering" capacity of water, or its ability to resist or "buffer" changes that would make the water more acidic. The main sources of natural alkalinity, which limits swings in pH levels, are rocks containing carbonate, bicarbonate, and hydroxide compounds. Borates, silicates, and phosphates may also contribute to alkalinity.

Conversely, granite, which is a common aquifer in the Santa Fe foothills, has few minerals that contribute to alkalinity. Areas rich in granite have generally low alkalinity and therefore poor buffering capacity. We sometimes see low pH in water produced from fractured granite aquifers.

In general, reverse osmosis (RO) water, although extremely pure, has inherently low pH. This is not because of the RO process per se, but is a function of the fact that RO water has such low total dissolved solids, or mineral ions, that it has little or no buffering capacity. The easiest way to raise the pH of RO water to a more palatable, and less corrosive, pH level above 7.0, is to pass it through a food- grade, NSF-certified calcium carbonate (calcite) media filter. If you buy bottled water, most of which is mass-produced by RO, you can bet that the pH has been adjusted upward.

Stephen Wiman has a background in earth science (Ph.D. in geology) and is the owner of Good Water Company in Santa Fe.  He can be reached at 505-471-9036 and skwiman @ goodwatercompany.com.

Related Links:

What is pH and How is it Measured
Good Water Company
Is Rainwater Really Safe?
The Drinking Water Book - How to Eliminate Harmful Toxins from Your Water

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.
Agriculture and ranching consume a substantial amount of potable and pumped water around the country, and to some extent in Northern New Mexico. In some areas of the US, farms and livestock consume up to 60% of overall water use. This water is usually either clean, highly processed potable water or well water pumped from precious underground aquifers. This is not a great use for this water given that a cheaper, better and proven alternative is readily at hand. Rainwater is FREE and sometimes very plentiful even in the arid southwest; it is no wonder its use is growing for agriculture and for ranching purposes. Not only does using rainwater save processing and/or transporting water; it also saves energy and helps the environment.

A question I occasionally get from readers is, - "Is rainwater good for plants". I must admit I take long pause when I get this question. It is as if we have forgotten that our primary water source is the sky. If it were not for rain we would live in a very parched world. My great aunt caught rainwater for use on her summer garden; it has been a source of water for generations for both crops and livestock. My typical response is, - "Would you pour chlorine on your plants?" (Chlorine is used by most water utility companies to purify water before it arrives at your spigot.)

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Albuquerque and Santa Fe have had water conservation programs for well over a decade, and both have been very successful. Yet their approaches to saving this precious resource in the arid Southwest are different. . Since 1995, Albuquerque has reduced per capita use by 36%, Santa Fe by 42%. Santa Fe's water use is now substantially less than the US average, while Albuquerque is likely to fall below the US average soon. Both have made tremendous strides in conserving life-giving water. What lessons can we learn by comparing these cities?

This article explores the two cities programs and how much they have saved.  As it shows it is possible to greatly reduce consumption without changing our lifestyle.  And yes, it is possible to go even further.  Read the full 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.

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