Industries

A rainy day means savings

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Print this page by Nicole Anderson Ellis

In the winter of 1815, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend, “I have endeavored to constitute a supply of water at Monticello by cisterns for receiving and preserving the rain water falling on my buildings.”

Today, that’s called rainwater harvesting.  And thanks to population growth and increased water usage, business is booming.
“Rainwater is the in thing. We can’t keep up with all the work,” says David Crawford, president of Salem-based Rainwater Management Solutions (RMS), which designs, installs, and consults on systems nationwide. Founded in 1998, RMS opened a second office in Charlottesville in 2006. Their commercial clients range from retail (Ikea in Paramus, N.J.), to nonprofit (Norfolk’s Eggleston Services), with high demand in the public sector. 

The basics of most systems are unchanged from Jefferson’s day.  Rooftop runoff is collected, filtered and stored in cisterns (above ground or buried) for later use.

An award-winning RMS system at Manassas Park Elementary School and Pre-K manages 100 percent of the school’s precipitation on-site (1.3 million gallons), providing 80 percent of the school’s water needs. The remaining 20 percent includes drinking water.

Catching winter’s surplus and divvying it out during dry months can mitigate drought, one of the primary reasons that Tucson, Ariz., and Santa Fe County, N.M., are among U.S. localities requiring rainwater harvesting systems for new commercial and residential construction.
Benefits also flow during wet weather. 

“For us, it’s all about stormwater management,” says Nisa Dean, manager of the Richmond Regional Office of Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.  Dean oversees the “Greening Virginia’s Capitol” project. It broke ground last month and includes a roughly $50,000 rainwater harvesting system, paid for by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 

“The idea is to keep stormwater on site,” says Dean, “and let it infiltrate slowly without flooding and picking up pollutants along the way.”
When completed, the massive project is expected to reduce polluted storm water runoff flowing into Richmond’s sewer system by 64 percent, cut phosphorus amounts by 69 percent and nitrogen by 70 percent.

As for saving money?  “We haven’t figured out exactly how much,” says Dean.  “But we certainly expect savings.”

It’s that boost to the bottom line that’s driving the popularity of harvesting, says Crawford. “The cost of water is going up and up.” Builders have to install storm water management systems anyway.  Why not one that lowers operating costs?

Roanoke’s Western Regional Jail boasts an RMS system that provides 100 percent of the water for the jail’s laundry.  Public transit authorities from Charlottesville to Winchester to Atlanta rely on rainwater to wash buses.  And the Manassas Park project saves the school more than $3,300 a year. 

Wouldn’t Jefferson – as architect and fiscal conservative – be pleased?


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