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Rainwater Harvesting

May 8, 2012

It’s inspiring to hear of a conservation program that’s actually working. Rainwater harvesting addresses a dire problem in India and other countries around the globe.

For years, India’s water has been sucked dry by irrigation-intensive agriculture and soft-drink companies. But now, villages in India are replanting trees and building tanks to catch rainwater. Amazingly, the water table can be restored. Large plants are now being built for water and dew collection. These measures remind me of the ingenious Fremen technologies in Herbert’s Dune.

Now in Texas, some people have a similar aim. Water is caught on rooftops. filtered and stored in rainbow-colored tanks. “Tank town” produces bottled rainwater, called “Cloud juice.” Cloud juice is helping Texans get through their drought.

What else can we do to conserve water?

  1. paws4thot permalink
    May 9, 2012 8:11 am

    Well, it does mean redesigning and rebuilding domestic water systems, but there is no good reason for not reusing using “grey water” (from mains and used for washing) for irrigation and/or flushing WCs rather than piping it straight down sewers with the “brown water” (guess why).

    USians could also consider switching to British bowels and cisterns which use 2 imperial gallons rather than 3 USg per flush.

  2. heteromeles permalink
    May 9, 2012 10:07 am

    Around here in California, most toilets use 1.5 g/flush, but that’s far from the biggest problem.

    For most people, especially in the western US, the single biggest water user is their lawn. If people got rid of their lawns, that would save a lot of water. Unfortunately, the useage that was left would be more inflexible, and municipalities have this bad habit of adding more citizens when surplus water becomes available (e.g. permitting more subdivisions) rather than figuring out how to save it. This leads to a vicious cycle of water-efficient housing where the use can’t be cut any more. Still, I’ve got a bumpersticker that says, “I killed my lawn, ask me how,” and I’m happy to post a link to a large, free book about how to garden with native (and water-conserving) plants.

    For western states, the biggest user of water is agriculture. One of the grim ironies is that all those California winter vegetables you see in the winter midwest are functionally exports of water, so in the US, we export water from a desert region to feed a non-desert, so they can grow more inedible corn and soybeans for industrial food that causes an interesting array of health problems. This is obviously highly rational somewhere. Perhaps Washington DC. Yeah. Right.

    Basically, the best way to conserve water in the west is to take over the upper Midwestern legislatures (state, county, and city), and get them to enact pro-growth policies to encourage people to move out of California and back to Ohio and other rust-belt states. Oh, and encourage people in the Midwest to grow more in their own gardens and can the surplus, rather than to count on winter veggies from California.

    • May 9, 2012 12:19 pm

      Ag water use in CA is pretty inefficient, although it is starting to change. Given that it still uses around 80% of all water in CA, there should be a concerted effort to increase ag irrigation techniques. The Central Valley aquifers are falling an average of 1 ft/year, so farms using wells are going to run into trouble with costs for re-drilling wells and power costs for the extra height to raise the water. Isn’t this the same situation with the Ogallala aquifer in the central US?

      CA cities are a different issue. Big users are mostly coastal (e.g. LA, SF – SJ) so it is feasible to reduce garden lawn usage, reuse grey water and use [still expensive] desalinized water. I think we are quite a way from where we could be with water use efficiency. We were going in the right direction with the late 1980’s drought, but that was reversed once the rains returned. LA is clearly running out of traditional water sources, so I expect innovative ideas from that CA city first (I am assuming “innovative” doesn’t mean buying up ag water rights to feed the city instead of farming).

      Interestingly Florida has a water shortage too and lawns were supposed to be left unwatered. However a law allowed new lawns and gardens to be watered, so the wealthy folks just restarted their gardens every year to avoid water restrictions (or so I read).

  3. heteromeles permalink
    May 9, 2012 2:43 pm

    Heh, I think innovation will mean buying farmers out, unfortunately. Repiping cities and making big new water plants gets expensive. Still San Diego and Orange County are getting into the toilet-to-tap recycling business, so I expect to see more of that. Unfortunately, desalinization is expensive because it’s energy intensive, so switching to desalinization is a bit of a fool’s game, with that ol’ energy crisis looming on the horizon.

    I’d recommend reading Willian deBuys’ A Great Aridness. He’s mostly writing about Arizona and New Mexico, and his book is where I learned of the problem of increasing inflexibility that I alluded to above. The basic problem is that once you’ve gotten rid of the lawns, swimming pools, and so forth, the problem is that the remaining water demand becomes more inflexible: it’s water for drinking and sanitation. Cities that get people to be more efficient, then use the surplus water to create additional water-efficient subdivisions, get caught in a more cruel bind than if they’d just kept their lawns and lower populations, and allowed the lawns to die during droughts. With more people, there’s more need for water, and if those people are being water-efficient, there’s less waste to cut.

  4. paws4thot permalink
    May 10, 2012 4:15 am

    I’ve just remembered an Australian idea which can be expressed as “only flush when you do #2s” – I’d want a good bleach, and quite possibly de-odouriser, with that policy!

    • May 10, 2012 10:36 am

      During CA’s drought the saying was: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down”.

  5. heteromeles permalink
    May 11, 2012 11:12 am

    My favorite is still the failed attempt to market bottled, recycled water in Madison, WIsconsin: “Outhouse springs. Why settle for #2?” It was perfectly potable (I drank some), but for some reason, it didn’t sell well.

    As for the flush with #2, they actually make water efficient toilets that will send different amounts of water into the bowl, depending on what waste was deposited (basically, two flushes, #1 and #2). Thing is, toilet water is a minor use, compared with lawns, showers, dishwashing and clothes-washing.

    Getting people to go back to showering once a week would also be a really smart thing to do, both for water conservation and probably for skin and hair health. I’ll let the esteemed professor expound on why constant soaping (other than hygenic cleaning of hands, etc) can be bad.

  6. May 14, 2012 10:25 pm

    Cloud juice. That is cool, I am going to look into that. Harvesting rain water is good for the environment.

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