Many of us will remember 2011 as the year Texas became the “New Dust Bowl.” That year, the state experienced a brutally hot, prolonged summer coupled with a lack of rainfall that resulted in extreme conditions statewide. It’s no wonder that rainwater harvesting has become a significant trend in building design, especially in areas without ready access to stored water supplies. For Austin homeowners enduring severe water-use restrictions and skyrocketing utility costs, the ability to make use of nature’s resources is invaluable.
Rainwater harvesting systems can range from the simple to the very complex. At its most basic level, a barrel or other container placed next to a gutter spout serves as a crude method of collection. However, many Austin homeowners are beginning to investigate more complex systems that allow for treatment and long-term storage of water for future use. The basic elements of a home collection system consist of a catchment surface (often the building’s roof); a gutter or other channel for funneling the water; filters to keep out leaves dirt, and debris; storage units; a conduit for delivering the water to its end use; and a treatment and purification filter to make the water potable.
On a larger scale, many Austin-area businesses use sophisticated rainwater harvesting techniques. Among them is the renowned Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, which harvests 300,000 gallons of rain each year for plant irrigation, as well as a semiconductor manufacturer that relies solely on rainwater and collected groundwater for irrigation needs. The state of Texas, recognizing the serious need for these kinds of conservation efforts, offers a variety of financial incentives for both private and commercial rainwater harvesting installations.
The advantages of rainwater harvesting in Austin and throughout the U.S. are numerous. It is a powerful tool for conserving an increasingly precious natural resource. It is clearly advantageous to homeowners looking to cut down on their utility bills, and it eases the demand on utility companies during peak months of usage. Also, its lack of mineral content means that it produces less wear-and-tear on appliances and therefore doesn’t require softening agents. Lastly, it is better for landscape irrigation and reduces the number of pollutants flowing into storm drains.
Austin residents have weathered too many long, hot, dry summers to be unaware of how precious water resources are. As conservation becomes a higher priority for public and private sectors alike, rainwater harvesting will likely continue to gain traction as a viable solution to an ongoing problem.