The Future of Rainwater Collection

Sept. 25, 2020
Rainwater collection systems can offset overtaxed water grids around the world.

By Emily Folk

Every year, the Earth's surface receives tons of rain. In many parts of the world, rainwater collection is the only way to obtain potable drinking water. In others, collecting rainwater is against the law. Despite these legal issues, rainwater collection might become the norm with cities and suburbs constantly looking for new ways to reduce their environmental impacts. Should contractors be prepared for a future of rainwater collection?

Water Is Life

Water is arguably one of the most important resources on the planet—and there isn't as much of it as you might think. Yes, the planet is 70 percent water, but only 2.5 percent of that is drinkable. Of that, two-thirds is trapped in the polar ice caps and isn't readily available. This means the entire population of Earth—currently upward of 7.5 billion—subsists on a mere 1 percent of the water existing on the planet.

And in many places, it isn't enough.

Cities all over the world are at risk of running out of drinkable water. Rainwater collection systems can offset overtaxed water grids around the world, and in many places, they already are. In others, there are still many hoops left for contractors and homeowners to jump through before rainwater collection can become a viable option.

Contending With Water Rights

In many parts of the United States, it isn't just the weather that contractors and homeowners need to contend with. Many states have enacted laws that regulate rainwater harvesting, either for or against it. In the Western United States, for example, rainwater belongs to whoever owns the water rights for the property—which, in many cases, isn't the current owner or resident.

This falls under a "first in time, first in right" appropriation system. Essentially, any rain that falls on the property in these situations belongs to whoever first claimed the water rights for that area. Collecting rain on these properties is prohibited.

This old-school mindset is slowly changing, with some states starting to allow rainwater collection to offset already taxed water grids. It's also becoming available to property owners with specific types of wells. This mindset remains a challenge that contractors will need to explore as rainwater collection becomes more popular.

Rainwater Collection Safety

Another challenge when looking at setting up rainwater collection systems is safety. Water safety is someone else's problem for homes and businesses on the water grid. However, when you're looking at rainwater collection or wells, it becomes the property owner's responsibility to ensure any water used for drinking or cooking is safe.

Currently in the United States, nearly half of rivers and streams and more than one-third of lakes are too polluted to use for homes and businesses.

A basic safe rainwater collection system needs five things:

●     A pre-filtration system to remove any debris before the water enters the storage tanks.

●      A calming inlet to keep new water from stirring up any debris that might be in the tank.

●      A floating intake for drawing water out.

●      An overflow device to skim small particles from the top of the tank.

●      A point of treatment to allow you to make the water safe to drink or use in the home.

This setup might sound simple, but each step is essential to ensure the collected rainwater is free of contaminants, especially if it's used for drinking and cooking.

Preparing for the Future

Should contractors be preparing for the future of rainwater collection for homes and businesses? While there isn't an urgent need in most of the developed world, we will need more water resources to keep everyone alive and healthy as our population continues growing. Rainwater collection will likely increase in popularity, which means contractors need to be ready for anything.

Emily Folk is a green tech writer who covers topics in renewable energy and sustainable design. You can read more of her work on her blog,Conservation Folks.

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