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May 192008
 

By Barbara Kessler

Rainwater: It comes to us clean, “green” and free; literally a gift from heaven. The fountain of life.

And yet, we haven’t done a great job of conserving it. We Westerners, in particular, let billions of gallons of rainwater wash fladmarkraincistern.JPGaway, sliding off our concrete surfaces and roofs into storm sewers with every downpour. Some of us, however, are waking up to that drumbeat on our roof and reviving the ancient practice of capturing rainwater, though not in shallow pools like our forebears, but by connecting barrels to our suburban home downspouts. Cutting edge rainwater advocates are installing large steel tanks to store captured water for irrigation, washing clothes, bathing, even drinking.

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With droughts hitting vast areas of the earth every year, population stresses on the planet and water sanitation becoming increasingly difficult, it makes sense to adjust our thinking about water. Here’s a finite resource, like oil or coal, that people gulp almost without restraint. The logical solution: Rainwater capture.

Michael Fladmark of Tool, Texas started thinking about rainwater as he planned a new “green” house near Cedar Creek Lake. He wanted the house – where he and his wife expect to spend their retirement years – to be built for the ages with the most efficient heating and cooling systems, the best use of light and the most earth-friendly materials. It naturally made sense to also install a mechanism for catching and storing rainwater.

An oil and gas industry engineer, Fladmark noodled over his house ideas, including the rainwater system, for many months. At first he envisioned eight 55-gallon barrels collecting the water that would roll off the metal roof; eventually he realized that was underplaying his opportunity. He hired rainwater catchment expert Greg Whitfield, of The Rainwell, to install two 1,000-gallon rain catchment tanks.

Together they designed the above-ground, gravity-propelled system. Fladmark chose the visible tanks over buried tanks because he sees his house as a demonstration in eco-friendly practices and didn’t mind their appearance. Whitfield installed the system, hooking it into the house downspouts. Ironically, it was a “difficult install” because of extensive rainfall last December, Fladmark said. But going large was the right decision, he says. Since moving into the house earlier this spring, he’s been amazed to watch the tanks fill up.

Melanie Grimes, another customer of Whitfield’s, had a similar experience after she and home co-owner Mychele Lord, installed first a couple of 80-gallon rain barrels, then added three 300-gallon cisterns, tucked under the eaves and disguised by shrubbery, and finally, a 2,500 gallon cistern (behind the garage) at their 1950s-vintage home in East Dallas. The collection units just kept filling up with rainwater – Grimes estimates they will collect some 30,000 gallons a year — and with the help of a few hoses and a $120 pump, it easily supplies water for the home’s large lawn and various gardens.