The rain barrel, the most commonly used equipment for the harvesting of rainwater, collects rain for outdoor, non-potable water uses such as watering gardens or even for rinsing off your car. Building your own barrel is easy and an excellent way to conserve water at home.
At Clarkson, I worked alongside Chelsea Farinacci and advisors Sue Powers and Amanda Lavigne, of the ISE, to expand water conservation on campus by using harvested water to flush toilets. Our hope is that one day rainwater collection could be used generally in community planning, which would save not only water but energy and money.
Going beyond the rain barrel is about incorporating external water sources -- -- alternative sources not connected to the residential plumbing system -- into the future internal plumbing of homes for uses other than drinking water. As shown in the image, the barrel connects to the rain gutter and a collection container equipped with a spigot. Once connected to home plumbing, it will allow the rainwater to power porcelain thrones – in other words, the system we are developing at ISE will allow non-potable water to flush our toilets.
Approximately 27% of a household’s water use comes from flushing the toilet. The average person uses about 20 gallons a day in toilet flushes (EPA 2014). The United States population was at 316.1 million in 2013. That makes approximately 5.75 billion gallons of water being flushed each day in the U.S. (Population 2013). All this is going on top of more frequent droughts. Currently the solution to droughts is to “use backup sources in different watersheds/recharge zones” (EPA 2014). If rainwater collection and use becomes more widespread, communities will be more adapt for drought, and our aquifers will not be depleted as quickly. The rain replenishes the aquifer over time it does not immediately add to the supply.
Rainwater must go through obstacles before reaching groundwater, such as flowing through the soil where it can be taken up by plant roots, insects, and microbes. With our system we collect rainwater directly from our roofs rather than with the energy-draining process of pumping it out of the ground. The water would still remain in cycle and the amount of water contributing to the wastewater treatment plant would remain the same. This process does not account for the possible decrease in water to our ecosystems. But the amount of rain captured is much less than storm water that runs off homes and impervious surfaces into the local environment or, in many cases, into stormwater systems. Run off is a common problem that arises with impervious surfaces that cause rain water to buildup and mold surfaces which have a negative effect on infrastructure. In some cases, however, capturing rain is a tradeoff that must be measured against its impact on the balance of local ecosystems.
Have you ever wondered why we flush toilets with drinking water? Why treat the water you won’t ingest?
There are current systems in place that use a lot of energy for water treatment. Some of these systems use UV light treatment, multiple pumps, and filters to make sure the collected water is treated to EPA safe drinking water standards. Rainwater is characterized as grey water in many states like New York, where rainwater is simply not defined in the New York State codes. However it is defined in the International Code Commission’s (ICC) International Green Construction Codes (IgCC).
Currently there are 16 states with rainwater harvesting. These states have different regulations and benefits for participating in rain harvesting for plumbing purposes. Only a few of the 16 states have adopted the ICC green construction codes: Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Washington have adopted IgCC codes within the local governments. District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, Rode Island have adopted it state wide.
New York State codes are transitioning to ICC authority. It is questionable as to what will change in the state’s building code and if the state will adopt the IgCC. To go beyond the barrel, we are looking to either adopt a rainwater conservation code from the IgCC or to create a new and improved New York State codes through the ICC code approval. This code will allow New York residents to participate in conserving rainwater. New York’s codes may change to adopt the ICC green codes or may not. Either way, adopting the habit of conserving water is crucial for the future development of the nation.
Booz Allen Hamilton. 2013. U.S, Green Building Council U.S. Green Jobs Council. IgCC. <www.usgbc.org/Docs/Archive/General/Docs6435.pdf >
Environmental Protection Agency. (2013, December 16). Water_Trivia_Facts. Retrieved November 6, 2014, <http://water.epa.gov/learn/kids/drinkingwater/water_trivia_facts.cfm>
Population_Estimates. (2013, July 17). Retrieved November 6, 2014, from <http://www.census.gov/popest/about/terms.html>