Here’s a trend that’s good news and bad news. Maryland will now be joining other municipalities by taxing property owners based on the amount of impervious surfaces on their properties that leads to stormwater runoff. See the article: Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Maryland Rain Tax: Time to own up
They’re calling it a “rain tax,” and the more square footage of impervious surface you have, the more rain tax you’ll pay. Of course that’s bad news for property owners. But we think its good news for the environment. Properties with big roof tops and huge parking lots contribute disproportionately to the polluted stormwater run-off that overwhelms municipal systems or contaminates local waterways. So it makes sense to us that those property owners should pay their “fair share” for the treatment of that stormwater. In Chicago and other cities that have combined sewer and stormwater systems, big rain events spell big trouble when the volumes of rainfall create more flow than can be treated. The result in Chicago is that big storms result in a mixture of raw sewerage and stormwater being dumped untreated into the Chicago river – and even into our Lake Michigan potable water supply. (Yuck!) Chicago has spent BILLIONS on a huge detainage system (the Big Dig) that still isn’t big enough to hold the excess during large storm events.
We think the rain tax is also good news because it creates an incentive that rewards owners that reduce the impact of their impermeable surfaces by collecting and reusing that water for irrigation and other applications (Harvesting!). One reason more property owners do not harvest is because the value of the water savings alone presents a poor ROI vs. other conservation options. A “rain tax” adds another ROI contribution to the economics for a system. In addition to stormwater harvesting for reuse, green roofs, permeable pavers, vegetated swales and other tools are available to property owners to reduce their property run-off and earn a credit against a “rain tax”.
We suggested a similar tax to Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year as a revenue tool for Chicago that would help our city raise funds for stormwater infrastructure as well as create that incentive the will promote stormwater reuse and other sustainable practices in the metropolitan area.
We’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Should municipalities tax property owners on the stormwater run-off from their impermeable surfaces?
Many of our projects at Water Harvesting Solutions involve clients who are pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This program, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, provides an independent, third party evaluation of a building to determine if it meets optimum performance in five areas:
Each performance area is assigned a set number of points which are accrued through meeting various criteria. These points are added up to determine if the building has achieved LEED certification. To certify a new building as “green” requires 40-49 points. More points are required to achieve the higher certification levels of Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80 points or more). Those higher certification levels almost certainly must include achievements in categories related to water conservation.
The water efficiency goals of the LEED program encourage smart water use both inside and outside of the building and can provide up to 12 possible points toward certification. In the area of Water Savings points can be accumulated in the following categories: 1) water efficient landscaping, 2) innovative wastewater technology and 3) water use reduction.
Harvested water can be a key component to obtaining LEED water savings points. For example, using captured rainwater or greywater for irrigation can provide points for the “water efficient landscaping” category. A 50% reduction of potable water for landscaping is worth two LEED points and a 100% reduction is worth four points. Water harvesting can also be used to gain two points in the “innovative wastewater technology” category. Reusing rainwater and greywater not only helps to reduce potable water consumption, but it also reduces the amount of water sent into the municipal storm system. Finally, up to four points can be awarded for overall water use reduction (irrigation is not included since it has a dedicated category.) A baseline for water usage is calculated for the building and the amount of points received corresponds to the amount of water saved:
Additionally, water harvesting can earn points in the area of Sustainable Site Development. Harvesting stormwater for reuse can earn one point for minimizing run-off and one point for reducing the amount of contaminants that enter the storm system.
Our most efficient systems often capture multiple sources of on-site water for multiple uses. So a single system might capture rainwater, greywater and condensate to flush toilets and irrigate landscaping, saving as much as 90% of the total municipal water an office building would otherwise use. These systems can earn points from all four categories and help boost a project into the Gold or Platinum point levels.
The benefits of LEED certification are both environmental and financial. Not only does reducing water consumption help to conserve a vital resource, but it also reduces costs for municipal water use and stormwater management. LEED certification is also shown to increase a property’s resale value, making the investment in a water harvesting system a winning proposition.
We are often asked about the necessity of sanitizing harvested water before it is used. After all, when we are talking about clean rainwater coming from a roof, how much risk is there that there will be harmful pathogens in the water? Some remind us that cultures throughout the world regularly harvest – and drink – untreated rooftop rainwater. So if we are using it for non-potable applications, why bother to go through the cost (and maintenance) of adding a sanitizer like chlorine or ultra-violet? (Most understand and can agree that greywater (gray water) has all kinds of potential pathogens, so of course we should sanitize that source.) But what about rainwater
Here’s how we respond to that question. We think the risk that someone will get sick flushing a toilet or watering a lawn with with “raw” rainwater is pretty low. And if the harvester is a homeowner, and the storage cistern is a rain barrel under the downspout, then we agree that going through a sanitation step would be silly. But the systems we design are for commercial and institutional buildings; public buildings. Now the potential for a public health risk goes up dramatically, as does the standard for proper treatment. What could be in rooftop rainwater that could hurt someone? Bacteria, bird flu virus, and other pathogens. An article in this week’s Chicago Tribune underscores that risk – Two Dead From Legionnaire’s Bacteria – Chicago . Legionnaires is caused by a bacteria that grows in warm water, and can be transmitted to humans breathing a sprayed mist from the source (think sprinkler or spray from a flushing toilet).
Legionnaires and other similar health risks from rainwater are very unusual and the risk is low. But who wants to take that risk, especially when we have simple, proven methods for making that risk essentially zero? For a typical commercial system, the cost of adding a chlorination or U.V. step usually adds only 5-10% to to the cost of the system.
Which sanitation method is best? Chlorine and ultra violet are the two most common sanitation methods for harvested water and greywater harvesting. The advantage of chlorine is that once it has disinfected the water, it has a measurable “residual” value that we can use to confirm that the water is properly treated. We can manage that residual to about 5 parts per million, which is about the level in your municipal water supply. And that residual level of chlorine continues to protect the water downstream in pipes, tanks and toilets. Of course, chlorine is a consumable, and these systems need more added every few weeks. Ultra Violet is a great sanitizer in that it is chemical free (green!) and the bulbs last 10,000 hours – so the system can run for 1-3 years without maintenance. But we can’t confirm that UV has done its job correctly unless we send the water out to a lab for testing. And there is no “residual” value for UV, so once the sterile water leaves the UV system, it can become contaminated again downstream.
In addition to all that, we take pride in the systems we design. We want to sell and support rainwater and greywater harvesting systems that do what they are supposed to do: Make a meaningful impact on the water savings for a building. And we want those systems to deliver clean, safe water with minimal maintenance. So we bristle when we are asked to supply a system without a sanitation step – and if we can’t convince the owner otherwise, we often let someone else do the design and build. Better to leave someone else to the risk and concerns of a system that is not properly designed.
For more information on rainwater harvesting sanitation, visit our site: Wahaso.com
Clients often ask us about resources for funding our harvesting systems for their projects. While conserving water through the use of harvesting systems is a great idea, the reality of installing large commercial systems can be costly. We’re happy to report that we are beginning to see some options out there that can help defray some – or all of the costs for a system. We see three good sources for funding: 1) grants, 2) loan programs and 3) stormwater fee discounts.
The first incentive, grants, has not been a common funding tool in the past. However, grants are becoming more available as the importance of water conservation is growing. Grants can be offered through government programs such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Urban Watershed Stewardship Grant. The city of San Francisco recognized that in providing assistance, they were helping with the city’s overall stormwater management. New York’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program also helps to abate stormwater issues by providing funding to property owners, businesses and non-profits for rainwater harvesting, green roofs, rain gardens and bioswales. Grants can also be found through local community groups and private sources such as the One Percent Foundation.
Loans are also available for many sustainability projects, including water harvesting, through a variety of sources. One source is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This program provides loans for both large and small projects and while it has not traditionally been used for water harvesting, the number of green infrastructure projects is increasing. It is important to note that the EPA limits use to capital costs such as cisterns. Visit the EPA’s web site for more information on how to manage stormwater with green infrastructure.
Finally, when looking for financial incentives to install a water harvesting system, it can be beneficial to investigate if discounts are available for municipal stormwater fees. For example, the city of Portland, Oregon has the “Clean River Rewards” program. Customers who actively manage their stormwater runoff using methods such as rainwater harvesting, are eligible for a discount of up to 100% on their municipal stormwater charges. Similar to the theory behind the New York and San Francisco grants, the discounts encourage stormwater management by the property owners and lessen the impact on the community’s storm system.
Investing in a water harvesting system may seem expensive, but there are funding options available. It’s also important to remember that these systems have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of gallons of municipal water each year, saving real dollars of operating costs for the life of a building. And the USGBC has determined that a LEED certified building, with its lower operating costs and “green” credentials, can demand a market price of about 15% more than a similar non-LEED building, so the investment is worthwhile for the property owner and the environment. For more information on funding resources and other sustainability topics, visit the Wahaso web site.
Wahaso Marketing Manager
By John Bauer, Wahaso President
We find that there is a lot of confusion out there about greywater, (also called gray water and graywater), and rainwater usage. Which system is the best for a particular use? The usual assumption is that a greywater system, which must filter and sanitize water from showers and sinks, will be more expensive than a rainwater system. This may or may not be true, depending on your situation.
Generally, we find that a rainwater system makes the most sense when the following conditions apply for a property:
Greywater systems are often a better choice when these conditions exist:
If greywater is an option for your property – that’s good news. Unlike rainwater supply that is highly dependent on local rain events, greywater is a very reliable source, tied directly to building usage. Residents flushing toilets are also showering and washing their hands.
And while a greywater processing skid is somewhat more expensive than a rainwater system, the reliable source of greywater means that we usually only need to store a few hundred gallons of processed water at a time. That saves a tremendous amount of the cost and space requirements associated with a large rainwater system. A typical commercial rainwater system can require tens of thousands of gallons of cistern storage.
The net result is that a greywater system can predictably save more municipal water for a lower total system cost than a rainwater system. The one caveat here is the added cost of running a separate waste line in a building to capture the greywater for harvesting. Depending on the plumbing layout for a building, this cost can be relatively insignificant or a sizable investment.
And we should note that a greywater system will need a bit more maintenance than a simple rainwater system. Greywater sanitation requires the addition of chlorine, and there is additional filter maintenance. But these maintenance needs are typical of the many systems in a commercial building and require no special skills or training.
Our best advice about whether rainwater or greywater harvesting is right for you is to have you talk with us at Wahaso. We can help you evaluate the feasibility and cost considerations for both options as they relate to your unique building. Please contact Wahaso. And you can learn more about greywater harvesting and rainwater harvesting by visiting our website.
The water crisis that is upon us now is as severe as and even more dangerous than the oil shortage currently plaguing our nation. Our cities are doing battle in court over rights and amounts of water drawn from shared sources such as lakes and rivers. Rain water harvesting is an ancient and viable solution to part of this problem since much of the water in use by the populace is not, in fact, drinking water but water used for lawns and bathrooms. The answer is literally falling from the sky, simply waiting to be utilized.
Wahaso’s analysis of research done by the National Resources Defense Council and the Ceres group yielded a list of top ten cities in danger of going dry. Some of these were obvious, such as Houston, San Antonio, and Las Vegas, but others were far more surprising. Orlando, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia also made the cut due to the trifles of legal battles, as neighboring states and cities fight over use of the same water supply. Florida’s Aquifer is diminishing and a cap on the amount of water that the city of Orlando can pull for use would make sense. However, the Orlando’s population is growing so fast that a limit would cause severe water shortages for the city. Meanwhile Atlanta is fighting for the rights to draw water from Lake Lanier, a process which was made illegal in federal court as a result of the arguments from neighboring states.
Wahaso’s harvesting systems make it possible for commercial businesses to capture and use rainwater which can greatly reduce the amount of municpal water used. These systems can supply water for non-potable uses such as flushing toilets, which accounts for up to 65% of the total water usage in a commercial building. Average toilets use about 6.5 gallons per flush, with newer, more economic models using about 3.5 gallons per flush. Imagine the amount of savings available through these rainwater collection systems given the number of toilets each commercial building houses. It would leave more water for the city and more money the bottom line.
The importance of rain water collection is an idea that is spreading. For example, the Public Building Commission of Chicago created the Water Reuse Handbook, outlining the highly advanced system developed by Wahaso for the Harold Washington Social Security Building, which provides 800,000 gallons to the premises every year. Green building programs such as LEED are providing fantastic incentives by awarding points toward certification for water recycling . Cities looking toward a sustainable future need to consider incorporating more water reuse in order to conserve water and save money.
Chicago and its surrounding suburbs are bracing for the inevitable – much higher rates for the drinking water that too many of us take for granted and as limitless. Those rates are expected to double in the next three years, and our first reaction may be to cry “Foul!” But the truth is, we have all been undercharged for our municipal water for decades because the cost of the infrastructure to deliver that water (now and in the future) far exceeds the rates we have been paying. If our municipalities are to continue supplying us with all the water we need, we are going to have to expect to pay more for the service.
With regard to those higher rates, most of us can probably neutralize the cost increase just by making minor changes in the way we use water. It could be as simple as turning off the water between swipes of our toothbrushes and razors as we rinse, taking slightly shorter showers and adding a timer to our irrigation hoses.Eric Zorn, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, offered a similar argument in his November 16 article, “Getting Soaked? Doing the math on the new water plan.” I liken the current situation to a world where gasoline is essentially free and limitless and we leave the engine running all night because it is easier than turning the ignition on and off. As soon as the gas has a real cost to us per gallon, we’ll make a number of changes quickly to reduce our use – and cost – of the resource.
Avoid being soaked by higher water rates by reducing your sage
Of course, Wahaso is in the business of helping folks reduce their costs for municipal water through rainwater harvesting, greywater harvesting and other strategies to reuse water available onsite for non-potable uses like toilet flushing, irrigation and cooling tower make-up. By all means, make the simple changes first that can reduce the amount of municipal water your family of facility uses. Then change out the toilets and shower heads and faucet heads to reduce the gallons per use. And when you are ready to replace that municipal water being used for non-potable purposes through water harvesting, contact us! Then you can look smug when the rising municipal water rates pay back the cost of your system in half the time.
It happens every summer. We grow to expect it. When the summer heat scorches our lawns, every town in America begins its yearly water ban, limiting the amount of water used and sometimes banning water activity outright, save for daily necessities. It seems so regular that it is hard to believe there was once a time where this didn’t occur. Yet a solution does exist: a process known as grey water recycling.
Grey water is simply defined as water that has been “gently used” in sinks, baths and showers. It does not come from toilets or water with food waste, and yet it can make up eighty percent of the waste water generated by a single household. With a simple grey water harvesting system this useful water can be cleaned and sanitized for non-potable reuse such as irrigation. Grey water harvesting alone could potentially save a community thousands of gallons of drinking water for consumption, rather than wasting it on watering lawns.
While grey water is an excellent source of outdoor watering and can also be used indoors for flushing toilets. However, regardless of the intended use, the water must be clean and safe before it can be exposed to the public. The process of reusing grey water for both irrigation and toilet flushing starts with harvesting the grey water and sending it through multiple filters to remove particulates. The water is then sanitized in order to ensure it is safe for public use. These precautions are necessary whether it is a small residential system, or a large-scale commercial system such as those designed by Water Harvesting Solutions (Wahaso).