Having little knowledge and less experience in rainwater collection, it was a lucky break for me that the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association or ARCSA national conference was held in my hometown recently. It was so close, in fact, that I was able to ride my bike to the event. I heard several good presentations from pioneers in rainwater collection with very interesting theories that really made me think. Issues that were raised included the value of rainwater vs. gray-water reclamation; one speaker contended that rainwater was a better value. The cost per gallon to construct a collection system is lower, the systems have fewer problems, the collected water requires less treatment, you can collect more water, and that water has a broader range of uses than gray water. Sounds logical to me, but I bet the gray-water equipment companies don’t like to hear that.
The water/energy relationship keeps coming up
Other points raised that struck a chord with me were that the high cost of deep well drilling sometimes exceeds installation of a rainwater system; that challenges exist in finding qualified managers and installers for new systems (complicated and cutting-edge technology is very susceptible to failure when not properly managed throughout the process, a point that should be considered in all high-performance building); and the danger of employing energy-intensive water conservation systems.
We know that power generation uses water, so therefore, water conservation systems that use large quantities of energy to operate are counterproductive, and ultimately do not save much, if any, water.
An industry still in its adolescence
There was a small exhibit area, your typical trade show arrangement, with vendors showing their wares. I realized after visiting the booths that this industry is still a very immature one, a conclusion I reached after learning that there are few, if any, single source solutions for rainwater collection. Systems are assembled with tanks from one supplier, first flush filters from another, controllers from a third, and additional parts from still more suppliers. The group is very knowledgeable, but still somewhat disjointed, not unlike the home performance industry, which also faces challenges to widespread adoption. Rainwater catchment is still neither quick nor easy, two factors that combine to slow down adoption.
Great products looking for markets
Two products on display impressed me by their simplicity: the Rain Tube , a gutter guard and filtration system made of recycled plastic, and the Rainwater HOG , a modular storage tank system that is a very clever design. Being new products in an emerging industry, they are still seeking their “sweet spots” in the market, and they both deserve more attention and sales than they are currently getting.
Best in show
I have to save my highest accolades for Enterpriseworks , an extremely cool non-profit agency that held a contest to create an affordable, commercially viable rainwater collection device for emerging countries. Currently in the process of commercial development, this product is designed to be sold at an affordable price to provide cost-effective water collection systems to a broad market in the developing world. The winning entry is a reinforced plastic bag with a tube at the top where water is directed for storage. It is so simple, elegant, and inexpensive, it can serve as a lesson to the developed world that simple and straightforward can sometimes be the best route to take.