Rainwater harvesting can help strengthen Georgia’s economy
By Guest Columnist BOB DREW, founder of EcoVie Environmental and chairman of Southeast Rainwater Harvesting Systems Association (SERHSA) and a board member of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA)
After a summer of drought conditions in Middle and South Georgia, water levels in Lake Lanier are now close to the record lows established in the drought of 2007-2008.
USA Today reported on Nov. 11 that drought conditions throughout the South and Midwest have inflicted more than $10 billion in economic losses to the U.S. economy, a number projected to rise if dry conditions persist through the winter months as expected.
State and regional business leaders are appropriately alarmed about the looming gap between demand for water in metro Atlanta and available supply. That dreaded condition could reach crisis proportions as soon as five years from now.
Intensive efforts are under way to identify and establish new reservoirs to provide long-term reserves that will support metro Atlanta’s continued growth and prosperity.
In addition to those efforts, proven policies and techniques already established by regions long accustomed to drought – such as New Mexico and Arizona as well as the nation of Australia – show us that more can be done in the interim.
In those places and many others, rainwater harvesting is widely practiced and embraced as a means of making the most of every precious drop of available water.
The eastern U.S. remains largely unfamiliar with rainwater harvesting because abundant water resources have always been more than sufficient for residential and commercial use, with reserves to spare. Dramatic population increases are rapidly outstripping our resources, however, despite annual rainfall totals – even in the current dry spell – that the arid Southwest envies.
So, rainwater harvesting’s time has come in Georgia, offering significant benefits that every policymaker should understand and harness. Rainwater harvesting could provide key elements for a state water policy that maintains our business climate and quality of life.
In concept, rainwater harvesting is as simple as the popular rain barrel used by many gardeners to supplement their thirsty landscapes. But rainwater harvesting systems are far more sophisticated and adaptable to any size or type of structure, from a humble bungalow to an urban office/retail complex.
Georgia law allows rainwater use for more than lawn and garden irrigation, too. Under specific plumbing guidelines established by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, rainwater also can be employed for toilet flushing and laundry use.
More than half of all Georgia’s municipal water use, especially in the summer, goes to irrigation. And research – reviewed by a team of academic experts at Georgia Tech – indicates that a relatively modest 10 percent adoption of rainwater harvesting for metro Atlanta rooftops could save an average of 27 million gallons of water per day within five years.
This is an achievable goal with widespread public education and reasonable encouragement from state and regional leadership. Adoption rates in places where water supply was in crisis or aggressive policies were enacted have been much higher and could be possible here.
The best part of all is that this goal can be reached primarily through private investment, practical benefits and measurable returns. Those returns include savings on water bills (which are higher in Atlanta per ccf, or per 100 cubic feet, than any other city in the nation), reduction of destructive storm water runoff and preservation of landscaping investments during drought conditions.
Metro Atlanta and the state of Georgia would reap meaningful rewards from rainwater harvesting, too.
First, the additional water supply can extend the capacity of existing water supplies while new reservoirs are being sited and built, a process that takes 10 to 15 years at best.
Second, public efforts to encourage rainwater harvesting demonstrate the state’s good-faith efforts to exercise scrupulous stewardship of its existing supply as it negotiates with Florida and Alabama over shared waterways.
Finally, it provides an immediate, tangible response to an urgent problem without significant changes in state law or time-consuming regulatory requirements.
Here’s the even better part: Rainwater harvesting promotes economic development. In addition to system designers, suppliers and installers, the industry creates jobs for many Georgians hard-hit by the recent economic downturn such as plumbers, electricians and landscapers. And it protects the region’s economic climate, which stands to lose as much as $39 billion annually if demand for water outstrips supply as predicted, according to the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Georgia’s rainwater harvesting companies and their supporters have formed the Southeast Rainwater Harvesting Systems Association to help raise awareness about the benefits rainwater harvesting offers this region amid the looming water crisis.
Companies such as Ecovie Environmental, the Original Rainwater Pillow, RainHarvest Systems and BRAE Rainwater Harvesting Systems, as well as others, are investing in a unified effort to educate businesses and homeowners about the difference this technology makes in maximizing available water supply.
We have passed the point when we can take any available water source for granted. And continuing to ignore a readily available means to increase our water supply, stimulate and protect our economy, provide environmental and financial benefits, mend our relationship with our water-sharing neighbors, and preserve our quality of life makes no sense.
State and regional leaders should embrace sensible policies to encourage adoption of this vital technology as part of their critical mission to keep Georgia strong and prosperous.
To learn more about rainwater harvesting, visit www.arcsa.org.