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American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association and the Dynamics of the US Rainwater Industry

by Jason Kerrigan, Vice President of ARCSA, Presented at 2009 International Rainwater Catchment Systems Association Conference, Kuala Lumpur

As the United States is being highly affected by the global recession with many industries shrinking in size; one industry is gaining momentum, that being the rainwater industry. Rainwater Catchment Systems in North America are rapidly increasing in popularity. This can be seen through the increase in membership numbers of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) and the increase in the activity through media channels, such as the New York Times, NBC News, National Public Radio and the Associated Press. The critical need for water resources has encouraged educational programs, university extension and research, plus municipal governments to address rainwater harvesting as a viable option to decrease shortages. This has increased businesses related to the rainwater industry and encouraged adoption of rainwater technologies by individuals and commercial enterprises.

ARCSA, the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association was established in 1994 by Dr. Hari J. Krishna in Austin, Texas, to promote rainwater catchment systems in the United States. ARCSA’s core initiatives are:

(a) To serve as a resource for credible information on the health, safety, technology, and services of rainwater catchment systems provide. (hereafter “RCS”);

(b) To promote advancement of RCS through networking, meetings, seminars, education and partnering with governmental agencies. ARCSA also hosts an annual national rainwater harvesting conference;

(c) To develop informative publications and compile educational literature related to RCS;

(d) To establish minimum guidelines and/or standards for operating and regulating RCS;

(e) To establish an accredited rainwater harvester certification/accreditation course for RCS professionals.

The ARCSA Membership pre-1996 consisted predominately of academics and enthusiasts such as Ms. Trish Macomber the current IRCSA Secretary and Dr. Dennis Lye the IRCSA North America Regional Director, and a drinking water specialist with the United States Environmental Protection Agency. There were also a limited number of small business owners such as the past president of ARCSA, Mr Tim Pope.

The dynamics of the membership has now changed due to rapid growth of the industry; ARCSA has quadrupled in size over the last 4 years. In 1995 the organization had less than 90 members and grew to approximately 125 members in 2007, then to 250 members in 2008 and at 1 July 2009 the organization has over 640 members with a goal to complete the year with 1,000. As ARCSA has grown so has the dynamics of the membership changing from predominately academics and enthusiasts to businesses. In the last two years ARCSA has seen a dramatic rise in the numbers of Architects, Engineers and Regulators that have become interested in the industry which many of these individuals attended the ARCSA training to become “Accredited Professionals”. This is due to the awareness of the rainwater industry gaining momentum, plus environmental building trades, embracing RCS. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is also including RCS in its development criteria for “green” construction. ARCSA has applied to USGBC to become the educational provider for water issues. Through the increase growth within the rainwater industry, it is becoming viable for entrepreneurs to invest and start businesses. As of July 1, 2009 the current business directory on the ARCSA website lists 283 companies

The businesses consist of:

• Designers
• Installers
• Retail
• Manufacturers
• Architects
• Landscape Architects
• Engineers
• Metropolitan Water Surveyors

As stated above ARCSA’s main members were academics, enthusiasts or small business owner’s pre-1996, and the demand for rainwater systems was very low as the North American population had no real reason to supplement their “abundant, inexpensive and inexhaustible” water source from the centralized municipal system or groundwater. If there was a need for any decentralized systems such as properties in rural areas, wells were used to draw water from the aquifers. This created small localized markets, for rainwater where decentralized systems were needed or where aquifers were unsustainable. For example where the water was of poor quality because of saltwater intrusion (e.g. San Juan Islands of Washington State) or the people were sustainable in nature, in that they want to help the environment and embraced technology that would help reduce their carbon footprint (Tucson, Arizona is a good example of many people with this mind set). This creates a very “young” Rainwater Catchment industry that is fragmented with multiple channels in which products and services may be distributed through.

As stated one of the challenges the USA rainwater industry has had in the past was that it is relatively small and fragmented, which is still the case. The industry could only sustain a handful of early adopting companies which could sell products and/or install systems. These businesses introduced technologies and components that were “foreign” to the United States. These products were mainly imported from countries such as Germany; examples are Wisy, Graf and 3ptechnik. Also Australian products from BlueScope Water and Atlantis Water Management entered the USA shortly after.

As the demand for rainwater collection systems was low the challenge has been for companies, especially for those that are not diverse and solely specialized in rainwater harvesting, to sell their products or services at an acceptable market price and keep a sustainable business. As stated by the law of supply and demand the rainwater business needed to sell at higher margins due to the low demand. Therefore the industry has been challenged by the small amount of business over the past 10 years to receive enough income to sustain a business plus promote rainwater catchment as a viable alternative method to use as a water source

Other challenges which increased a price of a system have been that there are no standards or guidelines for Rainwater Collection Systems in the USA, other than some broad guidelines that a number of states such as Texas and Virginia have published. This has meant that Government agencies and Municipalities have not known how systems should be designed thereby requiring even the simplest residential system to be designed by a qualified professional such as an engineer or architect to be passed. Not all houses have gutters thereby a home owner will need to pay an additional cost to have gutters installed to collect the rainwater from the roof through the conveyance system.

Other challenges are that Home Owners Associations have not allowed residents to install RCS due to the fact that it is not covered in the covenants or that it may not be attractive which may decrease the aesthetics and the value of properties in that area.

States such as Colorado and Washington have legislation in place that does not allow the collection of Rainwater due to perceived threat to irrigators. These are known as “water rights” in the United States which mandates “first in time, first in line”. Those with the oldest water rights control access. Some of these laws are being challenged and changed at this time.

Over the past 2 years a number of significant developments can be identified that have increased the awareness of rainwater catchment systems and lowered the overall price:

  • Climate Conditions
  • Programs through Municipals & University Extension Services
  • Rain Barrels
  • New Businesses entering into the market
  • USGBC and their LEED Rating System

Climate conditions and continuing population growth have forced the communities to seek alternatives to supplement their water supply so they can water their landscape and even provide potable water solutions. Examples of these communities are Atlanta, Georgia and the state of California which have implemented water restrictions due to the lack of rainfall. This caused people to start researching alternative methods to supplement their current water source plus municipals and university extensions started to promote rain harvesting predominately through the use of Rain Barrels. Several examples of university extensions with rainwater programs are:

Several Examples of municipals that are promoting rainwater are:

As the Universities and Municipalities promote rain barrels or larger RCS by providing information, workshop and rebates they are increasing the awareness to the community. Universities and Municipalities are dominantly promoting Rain Barrels. By creating awareness and providing a low cost solution to rainwater catchment through rain barrels this has contributed to the increase in demand for RCS. This helps to decrease the cost of a system thereby making it more attractive to people. The increase in demand also creates extra competition, via entrepreneurs starting new business or existing business diversifying into the industry; an example of a business diversifying are landscapers looking to offset any slowdown that has been an impact from the Global Economic Recession. Increase in competition and demand will help towards products and services to be supplied at lower margins and at an acceptable market rate.

The U .S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been very progressive with promoting green building practices. The USGBC LEED rating system is the preeminent program for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. 35,000 projects are currently participating in the LEED system, comprising over 4.5 billion square feet of construction space in all 50 states and 91 countries. The LEED rating system gives a number of points for designs and construction of developments that utilize rain water catchment.

The advantage of ARCSA’s membership growth is that there is an increase amount of resources available, not only from the revenue received but also the considerable amount of expertise and skills accumulated from the members that can be utilized in order to accelerate further growth of the organization. This allows the organization to implement more costly objectives such as creating extra accreditation courses and funding research.

The main objectives ARCSA is working to achieve in the following year by increase awareness of RCS are:

  • Training/Accreditation
  • National Guidelines/Standards
  • Conference
  • Displaying at National Conferences
  • Presenting at National Conferences
  • Research.

ARCSA has created a series of 2-day workshop to train individuals the basics how to build a rainwater catchment system and to become “Accredited Professionals”. This is being taken to different cities throughout the USA that have been demanding training. To date this year there has been 6 workshops, with 300 attendees of which many have joined ARCSA as members

Due to the increase in awareness and interest with rainwater and people wanting to know the latest techniques or information there has been an opportunity to increase the national conference from once every 2 years to annually.

ARCSA is working with International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to create a set of guidelines that will be adopted nationally. IAPMO is the building code that is primarily used in the Western United States. ARCSA will begin this year to work with the International Building Code which predominates in the Eastern US.

From the increase revenue from membership numbers, training and the annual conference, ARCSA can now afford to be more aggressive in promoting rainwater catchment systems through national conferences such as the International Irrigation Expo, Green Build, Water Smart Innovations and the American Water Works Association (ACE expo). This will promote ARCSA and Rainwater to businesses and individuals that ARCSA has not reached in the past. The intent is to increase the resources available to ARCSA through new memberships, and highlight the “Accredited Professional” workshops that will help to fund research, which will in turn increase the amount of knowledge and education of RCS in the United States.

ARCSA also seeks to gain greater ties and collaborations with domestic and international organizations such as IRCSA as ARCSA continues to strive for promotion of rainwater harvesting worldwide.

As discretionary spending is at an all time low in the United States and the rainwater catchment industry is growing dramatically through promotional activities from Municipalities, Universities, and the industry itself, ARCSA is confident that the U.S. rainwater catchment industry will grow faster than the overall market.

Related Links

First Ever US Rainwater Market Study
University of Florida IFSA Extension
State University of North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Texas AgriLife Extension
University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension
City of Austin
City of Philadelphia
City of Tucson – (Tucson is requiring RCS for commercial construction)
City of Santa Monica
City of San Francisco

City of Seattle
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority

Other City, County, State Programs



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