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#28 Rainwater Harvesting

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Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting in urban environments not only saves money on the water bill for urban farmers, but also has a positive environmental impact.  Many US cities have a Combined Sewage Overflow system, which means that rainwater and sewage water use the same pipes. When there is a significant rainstorm the pipes can get overloaded with rainwater, and can lead to rainwater and sewage overflowing into waterways. Rainwater harvesting helps to keep stormwater out of the sewage system and in turn can help maintain the cleanliness of local water bodies.  Note that rainwater should only be used for the purposes of irrigation or for cleaning equipment, but is not safe for washing produce.

Rainwater Catchment Systems

Building a rainwater catchment system can be relatively simple such as digging swales or constructing a rain barrel catchment watering system.  For those interested in building their own rainwater catchment system in New York State, good places to start include:

  • GrowNYC in New York City provides a how-to manual and video for building your own rainwater catchment system, as well as a map, descriptions, and photos of existing catchment systems, available at http://www.grownyc.org/openspace/rainwater, and
  • New York City’s Water Resources Group is a coalition of greening and community groups that installs rainwater catchment systems across the city, and maintains a blog and listserv featuring news and updates about rainwater harvesting at http://waterresourcesgroup.blogspot.com/.

Before building a rainwater catchment system, check your city’s building, construction and plumbing codes pertaining to water recycling systems.   For example, the New York City Construction Code (2008) reads:

  • PC C101: Water recycling systems shall receive storm water captured from roofs and balconies, condensate reclamation systems, gray water discharge only of lavatories from public restrooms in commercial office buildings, and the treated effluent from an approved black water treatment system as regulated by Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. Recycled water shall be utilized only for flushing water closets and urinals, cooling tower makeup and irrigation systems that are located in the same lot as the water recycling system. Recycled water shall be considered potable.  Such systems shall comply with sections C101.2 and C101.12.

Some towns and city departments promote rainwater collection by providing free or very affordable rain barrels. In Washington DC, DC Greenworks has partnered with the DC Department of Environment to provide training and installation of rain barrels (dcgreenworks.org). In Monroe County, NY the Soil and Water Department provides rainwater kits for private homes (http://monroecountyswcd.org/Pages/Rainbarrel%20Program.html). Rain Check, in Buffalo, NY, is a citywide effort to manage water where it falls and protect water quality and quantity. Individuals can submit applications for rain barrels.

Other Resources

The Save the Rain program in Onondaga County, NY is a comprehensive stormwater management plan that provides information about and funding to the development of green infrastructure and stormwater mitigation techniques.  For more information, visit http://savetherain.us/.


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Tara Hammonds

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