WILMINGTON — How would you like to save money, while helping the environment at the same time? Water catchment systems provide the opportunity to do just that. These systems collect rain water for everyday use, from irrigation to washing cars, and can even be designed for in-home use. They also prevent hundreds of gallons of runoff from polluting waterways, just by collecting the rain.
Essentially, these systems are large reservoirs attached to the roof of a home or building by gutters or pipes. These channel falling water into a filter on top of a tank, where it is cleansed, allowing the water to be used by the system’s owner.
Mike Heath, vice president of Rainstorm Solutions, a Wilmington company specializing in the design and installation of water catchment systems, says that for every 1 inch of rain, in every 1,000 square feet of roof space being directed into a tank, a system can collect around 650 gallons of water.
“It doesn’t take much to fill these things up coming off a regular sized house or building or anything like that,” Heath said.
To that end, Heath pointed to a project Rainstorm Solutions did for New Hanover County last year, when they installed 20,000 gallons worth of tanks to “recharge” a cooling tower that uses around one million gallons per year.
“With the water that they’re capturing they’ll be able to drastically reduce the water intake coming from CFPUA (Cape Fear Public Utility Authority), and make up water for that cooling tower,” Heath said. “My estimate, and our company’s estimate, is that we’re going to end up saving them probably 700,000 gallons a year, just by installing these tanks and capturing that storm water.”
Much of the use for these systems has been aimed at commercial and governmental properties. Heath says the payback is “a lot longer in residential than it is on commercial application.”
Despite a high initial cost, roughly $7,000 according to Heath, the payoff can be immense.
“If you’re a big gardener, or have a whole bunch of flowering beds around your homes or something like that, I mean, we’ve got systems here just in Wilmington alone that range from 750 gallons all the way up to 5,000 gallons, just at people’s houses, the largest one being about 5,000 at one person’s home,” Heath said. “They have tons of gardens, and tons of beds, they use all of that water for that, and it runs the irrigation system for their whole house.”
Some folks have used these systems to get almost completely “off the grid,” as these systems come in all shapes and sizes.
“You can go from that no frills basic system where you’re tying into your gutters, you have a screen on top of your tank, something like that, all the way up to something that’s inside a house, or building, where they’re using it for toilet flushing, laundry, or for drinking water,” Heath said. “It’s filtrated just as much as the water that you’re drinking out of your tap.”
However, if you are looking to get off the grid completely, you’ll have to deal with county directly.
“The permitting process is between the homeowner and the county, we don’t get involved in the phonetics and the permitting between them,” Heath said. “I think they still have to have a viable sewer system on site.”
According to Heath, many of the people who have installed these systems on residential property are environmentally friendly, people who want to make a change to the environment.
The most recent study conducted by the EPA for the National Water Quality Inventory Report, a division of the EPA, found that runoff from urbanized areas is the leading source of water quality impairments to surveyed estuaries and the third-largest source of impairments to surveyed lakes.
The study showed that urbanization increases the variety and amount of pollutants carried into streams, rivers, and lakes.
The pollutants include: sediment, oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from motor vehicles, pesticides and nutrients from lawns and gardens, viruses, bacteria, and nutrients from pet waste and failing septic systems, road salts, heavy metals from roof shingles, motor vehicles, as well thermal pollution from dark impervious surfaces such as streets and rooftops.
The report goes on to state that these pollutants can harm fish and wildlife populations, kill native vegetation, foul drinking water supplies, and make recreational areas unsafe and unpleasant.
Normally, runoff is diverted into storm drains, where it is funneled into fast moving streams of water and carried into nearby water systems. These streams of water carry all the pollution they pick up along the way with them, depositing them into nearby waterways.
By collecting rain water in water catchment systems, the runoff never has the opportunity to endanger the environment. Heath says that these water catchment systems are a great way to help prevent pollution, especially in coastal areas.
“We’re very mindful of our environment, what we do, and how we do it,” Heath said. “Our company is sort of built around that, we don’t leave an area with more than what we took in there, we try to make it less.”
Recently, Rainwater Solutions teamed up with the Cape Fear Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, to construct a water catchment system for DREAM’s of Wilmington, a local non-profit youth development system, to work with their existing rain garden. This will allow the children to grow their own produce, while helping them learn to be environmentally conscious.
For more information on these water catchment systems, and to learn more about Rainwater Solutions, visit their website at rainstormsolutions.com.