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January 20, 2018 / 6:00 am EST


A Feast of Rainwater
A Feast of RainwaterMar 6, 2009

Landscaping is a luxurious part of any beautiful home, but an obvious drain on the water supply. The U.S. Department for Environmental Protection notes that nearly 30% of all household water use goes toward landscape irrigation. Nearly 50% of that is wasted through poor design.

Luckily, there is a trendy solution throughout much of the world: rainwater harvesting. The rainwater that normally would run off your home and property and be washed down the drain is redirected for home use and landscape irrigation.

Rainwater is ideal for landscaping because it contains no salts or minerals that are found in most municipal and well water supplies. An unrecognized osmosis-effect occurs whereby the salts are moved away from the root zones and drought-tolerant plants result.

“Rainwater harvesting” is a broad term that describes a variety of systems that catch and utilize rainwater. Cost varies greatly depending on what system you need -- a complete harvesting system with advanced filtering and purification for indoor use could cost $20,000, though a system to just water plants may add a mere $200. There are tanks and cisterns available to store water in addition to a variety of add-on fixtures for rooftop runoff, such as gutter filters and extensions.

Art Ludwig is the owner and founder of Oasis Design, a high-performance/low-environmental impact home and landscape integration company located in Arizona. He has been utilizing rainwater harvesting systems for almost 20 years. Mr. Ludwig recently published a book called Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers and Ponds. He confirms that ecological design is highly context-specific. “Rainwater harvesting on the wet side on the big island of Hawaii or in the Bahamas or New Zealand is a very different thing from rainwater harvesting in, say, California.” A variety of factors, including rain water accumulation and unique plant requirements, come into play. It is crucial that information specific to the location and plant genus are taken into consideration prior to the implementation of a rainwater harvesting system.

“The number one reason people use rainwater is because there is no other water -- a little island, off the grid. But you can reduce your water consumption with a rainwater system.” says Mr. Ludwig. “Here, we could run the indoor needs for our house all winter from rainwater. Rooftop rainwater is classic, but for landscaping check out ‘runoff harvesting’… unless you’re in a landslide zone, you should be able to use simple earthworks basins and swales with mulch to capture 100% of the rain that lands on the property.”

With so many options to choose from, it’s important to do your research and consult with a professional if you want to assess your unique water situation and needs. Companies such as Wilson Environmental Landscape Design, in California or ZonaGardens, in Arizona are eager to get you on the right track. While the southwestern portion of the United States has seen rainwater harvesting techniques implemented for quite some time, there are professional and community-education offerings in the Midwest and New England areas, as well as the United Kingdom, India and Africa. The Rainwater Harvesting Community non-profit site is a good way to get started learning about what you could do with a rainwater harvesting system in order to reduce your home’s water footprint without sacrificing the beauty.

By Carly Dobbins-Bucklad

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