Earth Day Post: Rainwater Capture in Our Own Backyard

By Diana McCarthy-Bercury

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Drought events have become an increasingly common phenomenon in the United States, resulting in monetary loss, inconvenience and an increased burden on local water infrastructure. Authorities responses to drought events are often reactive, designed to alleviate an immediate problem, while leaving long-term structural issues unresolved. Water conservation proposals tend to focus on reducing use, avoiding waste and being more mindful of the value of water. All these measures are sensible and laudable, however we believe a proactive approach to rainwater capture for non-potable use, is a viable and effective addition to a portfolio of water conservation measures.

A glance at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracker of billion-dollar weather events, illustrates the increasing cost borne by society for floods, wildfires, storms and droughts. EFG believes in proactive investment to improve local infrastructure and increase resiliency across the board. With drought in mind, we recently looked at residential and commercial rainwater capture systems for a client. Our analysis highlighted practical and relatively low-cost initiatives that utilize rainfall and aid water flow.

While the west and south-west regions of the United States come to mind when talking about drought and water scarcity, states like Connecticut are not immune in their own right, as this 2016 UCONN Extension blog post illustrates.

We think residential and commercial consumers might benefit from some or all of the following:

  • Installing rain barrels at homes and commercial properties. The barrels (or tanks) can be attached to the gutter system and capture significant quantities of water. Residential barrels typically range in size from 60 to 125 gallons and for reference, a 60-gallon rain barrel will distribute approximately half an inch of water over 100 square feet of lawn or garden space.
  • Increasing the permeability of the surface area around the home. Paved and developed land often prevents water from trickling down into the earth. A “water safe haven” or rain garden just a few feet away from a downspout allows water to travel from a roof or paved surface, away from the building (proper grading is important) and facilitates efficient drainage.
  • Commercial rainwater capture systems range from 1,000 gallons up and can be used for lawn care maintenance or greywater reuse in more sophisticated systems (e.g. flushing of toilets). These systems can be located inside or outside a building and used year round. Utilizing roof space of large commercial buildings may also yield benefits. “Green roofs” provide a vegetative surface that not only captures rainwater but can aid the cooling of a building in warm weather, potentially reducing energy bills.
  • Finally, a bioswell (or bioswale) is akin to a specially designed gutter, which directs run-off water away from finished surfaces while capturing some pollutants as the water moves through the system. This is a progressive way to minimize flooding and clean up run-off water before it replenishes the groundwater supply.

There are many options and unique design configurations for these types of relatively simple water and landscaping systems. EFG would like to encourage our neighbors in the New England states (and beyond) to think of water management when implementing both home and commercial landscaping projects. We believe that there is often a missing piece to the water conservation conversation. Let’s not only reduce our use but also maximize the benefit of the water that falls from the sky. Conserve, but capture too.

Happy Earth Day from Earth Forward Group.