25 July 2008

Kiss the rain

Back to my rainwater reclamation kick from Tuesday, I was rooting around on the website for Tampa Bay Water this morning. Tampa Bay Water supplies water to 2.5 million people in Pinellas County, Saint Petersburg, Tampa, Hillsborough County, Pasco County and New Port Richie. That's an odd-looking list, but apparently there are municipalities within the counties listed who don't fall under the jurisdiction of Tampa Bay Water.

Anyhow, I was looking on their site to see if anybody at that hallowed body has ever given any thought to rainwater harvesting. It turns out they have, click here, but it doesn't appear that they've thought about it on any kind of large scale. The same goes for Swiftmud, their website lists this link to a discussion about rain barrels. Thanks to Mike Molligan, their Communications Director, for pointing that out to me.

As I talk to clients and friends about rainwater harvesting, the question always comes up about how many household uses harvested rainwater has. I'm fast to point out that it's perfect for toilet flushing, irrigation and clothes washing. I'd always assumed that it was illegal to use it as a drinking water supply. I figured that it wasn't possible to opt out of a municipal water supply. Well, it turns out that I was wrong on all counts. To quote Tampa Bay Water:

Currently, there is no existing regulation or policy in the State of Florida regarding the use of cisterns for potable or non-potable use. This research was undertaken to find policies and permitting criteria that is used by other governments that could provide some rationale for understanding how and why
permitting and design specifications may be required in the Tampa Bay region.

So a rainwater harvesting system paired with a reverse-osmosis filter could allow anybody to supply his own drinking water. For now anyhow. Interesting. I am not suggesting that any one actually do this mind you, but it's an interesting thought.

On a related note, I came across this story about a High School a week ago on the great blog Metaefficient. The Langston Brown Community Center and High School in Arlington, Virginia captures and uses 280,000 gallons of rainwater every year. The facility uses that water for non-potable purposes exclusively. This is in an area of the country with 39 inches of rainfall a year, so it's not as if this building is sited in a part of the country that's particularly wet. Metaefficient also linked me to a case study on the USGBC's (the US Green Building Council) website that about knocked my socks off.

The 32,000 square foot headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis MD, is said to be the most energy efficient building ever built. It saves the foundation housed in it $33,000 in energy and utility costs when compared to a conventional office building of the same size. Saving $33,000 a year isn't just for granola-eaters kids. Sustainability makes sound, solid, economic sense and continuing to build things conventionally because "that's the way we've always done it" is madness.

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