What's Old is New Again: Rainwater Harvesting April 2016

You may be familiar with the nursery rhyme, "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day," but you probably won't hear that from anyone who is a rainwater harvester. The practice of collecting rainwater dates back thousands of years, but a recent renewed interest in rainwater harvesting has occurred in many areas of the country, including Texas.

Archeological evidence suggests rainwater was being collected as early as 4500 BC in parts of India and the Middle East. In Texas, Mescalero Apaches used natural rainwater catchment systems near El Paso almost 10,000 years ago.

Modern rainwater harvesting systems come in many shapes and sizes though most include the same basic components: collection surface, conveyance, and storage. The captured water is then considered potable (drinkable) or non-potable depending on whether additional filtration or treatment measures are applied. Non-potable water can be used on gardens or landscapes, to flush toilets, or even to water livestock.

As we have done each year since 2007, the TWDB recently announced the recipients of our annual Texas Rain Catcher Awards, which promote new technologies and provide recognition to those who have displayed excellence in rainwater harvesting. The awards are given in at least three different categories that best represent the most deserving projects, as determined by the judging committee. Scoring criteria focus on conservation of surface water or groundwater, originality, and innovation.

This year's award winners displayed a wide array of system types. A project in the Panhandle saves groundwater by capturing and storing up to 30,000 gallons of water from livestock barns and piping it into cattle troughs. A project in Kerrville supplies all the non-potable water needs of a youth event center, from animal wash bays to native landscaping. A home in San Antonio created a structural aquifer under the driveway that stores up to 18,000 gallons of rainwater and supplies the drip irrigation system. A mixed-use development project in Austin relies on repurposed infrastructure from an old power plant to collect and store rainwater that irrigates an adjacent park. And the Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center collects rainwater and distributes it to educational water features throughout the garden.

The unique nature of these projects illustrates that rainwater harvesting has once again emerged as an innovative technology that is far more than a barrel under a downspout (though that counts, too!).

With Texas' population continuing to grow rapidly, the re-emergence and expansion of rainwater harvesting provides important conservation benefits to the state. It can help stretch a community’s drinking water supplies and can reduce peak demands for water utilities during the summer months. Rainwater harvesting is considered a best management practice for stormwater abatement because of reduced flow to storm sewers. Most importantly, rainwater harvesting conserves water—our most precious resource.

For more information on rainwater harvesting, check out the TWDB's website.

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