Harvesting Rain Downunder
by Doug Pushard
Rainwater harvesting is not just a topic of interest in the arid southwest, or even just parts of the United States; it is a topic of worldwide interest.
Sally Dominguez, CEO of Rainwaterhog from Sydney, Australia, was recently in the United States promoting her Rainwaterhog product line; an innovative, attractive interconnectable line of rainwater tanks that can be used vertically or horizontally.
Sally, how long ago did you get involved in Rainwater Harvesting? I guess I started about 15 years ago when I started designing houses with large steel tanks. I have also lived in houses with rainwater systems; one was where a possum drowned in the drinking water tank, so I also seen the drawbacks first hand.
What is the weather like in Sydney? Where I live, we have rainfall patterns similar to those in San Francisco. We have super heavy downpours - they are appearing heavier in recent years - followed by very hot dry periods which can in the summer scorch the leaves on the plants. We also can have dry spells in winter.
Is Rainwater Harvesting growing in Australia? It is mandatory for any remodelling or new building in most states throughout Australia - so it has to grow!
Are there incentives for water reuse and conservation in Australia? Yes - tank rebates start from NSW $100, about $88 in US dollars, for a 2,000 liter (528 gallons) tank and NSW $500, about $442 US dollars, rebates for connection of a rainwater tank to a clothes washing machine and toilets. In Queensland, where they are on the highest level of water restrictions due to drought, the rebates almost entirely pay for a system. Interestingly though, in all new building where harvesting is mandatory the owners are ineligible for rebates which is driving resentment because the cost of installing the system adds cost to the building bill.
How do you think the Australian market is different from the US? Well, it’s much smaller of course, but the federal government is forcing it to be a part of water conservation. Australia has legislated change and now everyone is required to sprinkle gardens and wash cars using only rainwater or face large fines from the Water Police. The US is huge, and it seems the green fringe is super keen to harvest on their own, but your mainstream mindset will need to be jolted by the government and incentives. Plus, there are no standards in the US for governing definitions of water tanks which creates confusion and slows adoption.
What have you observed that is distinctly different about the US? Primarily what stands out for me is the per person water use in the US – you are about 3 times our personal water use. A 5 minute shower is a dirty word at Sydney dinner parties – most everybody aims for 4 minutes or less. Yet at one of the seminars last week more than half the room had showers longer than 10 minutes! And the lawns! You just don’t see lawn in Australia unless the owner has access to well water or lots of rainwater. I think in the US there is still a sense that the country can afford for all its citizens to use as much water as they like - that this is a constitutional right. The major positive difference is the recognition in the US of the direct relationship between energy use and water use. This is not something that is ever mentioned in Australia. Perhaps because we don’t have the whole aquifer thing going on and we are not transporting water as far as you are from say Northern California to Southern California. But here you have energy authorities pushing for water conservation in order to save energy. I like that, pressure to conserve is twofold.
Why are you visting the US? I am exploring the opportunity to bring the Rainwaterhog line of tanks to the US.
How is your trip going thus far? Great, we just finished showing at the West Coast Green show in San Francisco and the reaction has been fantastic. I will be back at the bebinning of January 2008 to deliver our first shipment, most of which we have presold. I hope to be in the US a lot! What I love about Americans is their ability to embrace change - more so I think than Australians who possibly have to be kicked into change - and I feel a change coming in the US. I love the enthusiasm with which your designers embrace new technology. I love the increasingly widespread use of green roofs on civic architecture like the San Francisco Academy of Science. And the directness of Americans is very appealing. I like direct.
Rainwaterhog is a funny name, what has the reaction been to it?
We did have a few comments that it might not suit the US! H2O is obviously "water", then the "G" stands for Grey, so - Water Grey becomes Rainwaterhog. As an architect I like to specify a product with a short name - easy to type, easy to say; so I tend to give all my products short, memorable names. We are going to use rainwater H2OG in the US because it describes the function more accurately. We don’t want to be a water hog but rainwater HOG-ing is good! H2OG is also a play on words which makes it fun. In medieval times a measure of water was the hog's head.
What advice can you give those of us in the US who are interested in harvesting rainwater? Don’t only be guided by cost - make sure you install a system which suits the way you live. If you are into aesthetics - get a system which suits your "look". If you only have a small area you want to irrigate - get the capacity to suit you. Work out what you can harvest, then what you will use it for, and then design the system to suit your needs. Ideally get a system you can add to so that when you expand your rainwater use to say flush toilets or pipe to the laundry, it is easy to scale. If you live in an urban area don’t forget to install not only a leaf filter but also a first flush diverter to get rid of the nasty buildup on your roof.
Thank you Sally, and good luck in bringing your Rainwaterhog to the US.
Rainwater harvesting is obviously here to stay in Australia and has become very mainstream. In the United States, it is hit and miss; but will need to become mainstream as our water situation become more and more serious. Do want you can to conserve, but also push your local and state representatives for more local and state incentives and standards to promote growth.