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7 Mistakes to Avoid when Harvesting Rain Water

7 Mistakes to Avoid when Harvesting Rain Water

Rainwater is an excellent source of drinking water whether you’re living on a homestead or surviving after a disaster. However, it’s not as simple as setting out buckets when it rains. You need to set up a proper rainwater harvesting system. And even then, you have to be careful not to make any serious mistakes.

Look over this list of mistakes and make sure you’re not making them or you’ll live to regret it.

Here they are:

  1. Forgetting to make sure it’s legal in your area.
  2. Using the wrong kind of barrel (the wrong kind will leach dangerous chemicals into your water).
  3. Buying expensive barrels. If you’re search hard enough, you can find them used.
  4. Not setting up a system for getting your water out (such as a spigot or pump).
  5. Not keeping your barrels covered (with sheets, screens, or even cooking oil).
  6. Forgetting to let rain rinse your roof for 10 minutes before collecting rainwater.
  7. Using a small system. It takes a lot of water to live.
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100-Year-Old Way to Filter Rainwater in a Barrel

During our boiling, broiling, blistering summer, water was a topic of conversation wherever we went. Creeks and ponds dried up (some never recovered) and the water table dropped, forcing a few neighbors to have their well pumps lowered or to even have deeper wells drilled.

Many folks shared memories of rain barrels, cisterns, hand pumps and drawing water with a well bucket as a child, usually on grandpa and grandma’s farm. Some said they’d never want to rely again on those old-time methods of getting water. But, at least they knew how it was done.

It seems we have lost much practical knowledge in the last 50 or so years because we thought we’d never need it again. Now we are scrambling to relearn those simple know-hows.

A tattered, 4-inch thick, 1909 book I happily secured for $8 in a thrift store reveals, among umpteen-thousand other every-day skills, how to make homemade water filters. The instructions in “Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook” are quite basic as everyone had a rain barrel back then and presumably knew how to filter rainwater. Now, 104 years later, I am thankful the authors had the foresight to preserve their knowledge for us, and pointed out that rainwater collected in barrels from a roof is a necessity in some locations, but also is best for laundry and “often more wholesome for drinking purposes than hard water.”

The “wholesome” observation applies to plants, too. I noticed during our 6-week dry spell (not a drop of rain) that I was only able to keep my vegetables alive with the garden hose – until our well, too, began sucking air. The pitiful potato, tomato and bean plants actually seemed petrified, like faded plastic decorations. Then, after a 2-hour rain shower, the plants miraculously leapt to life – vibrant, green and THRIVING. I did, too.

In early June last year, my husband surprised me with a 425-gallon water tank so I could water with nutritious rainwater, although it was August before any measure of water was in the tank. When the elusive rains finally paused briefly overhead, I was out in it with my 2-gallon watering can, running and sloshing the water like a crazy woman onto our neglected trees far up the hill.

100-year-old instructions

For gardening, rainwater is, naturally, best unfiltered. But, for household use, the vintage book says the following instructions yield a cheap and easy way to make a filter just as good as a patent filter costing 10 times as much:

“Take a new vinegar barrel or an oak tub that has never been used, either a full cask or half size. Stand it on end raised on brick or stone from the ground. Insert a faucet near the bottom. Make a tight false bottom 3 or 4 inches from the bottom of the cask. Perforate this with small gimlet holes, and cover it with a piece of clean white canvas.


“Place on this false bottom a layer of clean pebbles 3 or 4 inches in thickness; next, a layer of clean washed sand and gravel; then coarsely granulated charcoal about the size of small peas. Charcoal made from hard maple is the best.

“After putting in a half bushel or so, pound it down firmly. Then put in more until the tub is filled within 1 foot of the top. Add a 3-inch layer of pebbles; and throw over the top a piece of canvas as a strainer. This canvas strainer can be removed and washed occasionally and the cask can be dumped out, pebbles cleansed and charcoal renewed every spring and fall, or once a year may be sufficient.

“This filter may be set in the cellar and used only for drinking water. Or it may be used in time of drought for filtering stagnant water, which would otherwise be unpalatable, for the use of stock. This also makes a good cider filter for the purpose of making vinegar. The cider should first be passed through cheese cloth to remove all coarser particles.

“Or a small cheap filter may be made from a flower pot. A fine sponge may be inserted in the hole and the pot filled about as directed for the above filter. It may be placed in the top of a jar, which will receive the filtered water.”

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STATE RAINWATER | GRAYWATER HARVESTING LAWS AND LEGISLATION

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Record droughts and water-supply worries have served as catalysts for state legislatures to consider legislation legalizing the catchment and use of rainwater for use in households and for lawns.

There has been increased interest over the past five years in legislation allowing, defining, and clarifying when rainwater harvesting can occur. Rainwater harvesting is the act of utilizing a collection system to use rainwater for outdoor uses, plumbing, and, in some cases, consumption. States have also passed legislation encouraging the use of Graywater. Graywater refers to the reuse of water drained from baths, showers, washing machines, and sinks (household wastewater excluding toilet wastes) for irrigation and other water conservation applications.

States must ensure water-quality standards and public health concerns are met. In some states, such as Colorado, previous water law stated that all precipitation belonged to existing water-rights owners, and that rain needed to flow to join its rightful water drainage. However, a 2007 study conducted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Douglas County determined that only 3 percent of rain actually reached a stream or the ground. Colorado followed-up by enacting two pieces of legislation, one allowing certain types of well owners to use rainwater and one authorizing pilot development projects.

Texas and Ohio are among states that have devoted a considerable amount of attention to this issue, and have numerous enacted laws regulating the practice of rainwater harvesting. Texas offers a sales tax exemption on the purchase of rainwater harvesting equipment. Both Texas and Ohio allow the practice even for potable purposes. Oklahoma passed the Water for 2060 Act in 2012, to promote pilot projects for rainwater and graywater use among other water saving techniques.

Map of Rainwater Harvesting Laws

rainwater

State Rainwater Harvesting and Graywater Laws and Programs

Arizona | Colorado | Illinois | North Carolina | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Rhode Island | Texas | Utah | Virginia |Washington | U.S. Virgin Islands

Arizona

Arizona had a tax credit for water conservation systems that included collection of rainwater; however, the credit expired on Jan. 1, 2012. The credit is equal to 25 percent of the cost of the system. The maximum credit in a taxable year could not exceed $1,000. From 2007 to 2010, over $360,000 was credited to homeowners that purchased a water conservation system.  Arizona Revised Statutes §43-1090.01

AZ H 2363 (2012) – Established a joint legislative study committee on macro-harvested water. The committee shall study, analyze and evaluate issues arising from the collection and recovery of macro-harvested water, including reviewing scientific data on surface water, rainwater harvesting, methodology costs and benefits, potential impacts on water rights, downstream users, and potential aquifer management issues and groundwater management issues.
AZ H 2830 – This bill allows the governing body of a city or town to establish an energy and water savings account that consists of a designated pool of capital investment monies to fund energy or water savings projects in public facilities, including rainwater harvesting systems. (Arizona Revised Statutes §9-499.16)

Colorado

NEW CO HB 1044 empowers any local city, county, or city and county to pass a resolution that will allow the use of graywater for beneficial uses. Permitted sources of graywater include: bathroom and laundry sinks, dishwashers, bathtubs, showers and laundry machines. Graywater may not be collected from: toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks, dishwashers, or non-laundry utility sinks.

Prior to adopting a resolution allowing graywater, the county or municipal governing body is encouraged to consult with the local board of health, local health agencies, and wastewater service providers concerning the use of graywater and proper installation and operation of graywater works. Further, graywater must be used in accordance with all contracts, decrees, and well permits that govern the use of groundwater, and the Colorado Ground Water Commission may promulgate standards and requirements to encourage the use of graywater and protect public health and water quality. Under the bill, any water user that is supplied by a municipal or industrial water provider, or any person withdrawing water from a small capacity well may use graywater and install a graywater treatment work. Additionally, the use of graywater is limited to the “confines of the operation that generates the graywater.”

Colorado had some of the nation’s strictest rainwater harvest laws, essentially prohibiting the practice. In 2009, two laws were passed that loosened restrictions.
CO SB 80 allowed residential property owners who rely on certain types of wells to collect and use rainwater.Colorado Revised Statutes §37-90-105
CO HB 1129 authorized 10 pilot projects where captured precipitation was used in new real estate developments for non-potable uses. Colorado Revised Statutes §37-60-115
Resources:

  • Colorado Division of Water Resources outlined information on SB 80
  • Colorado Legislative Council Issue Brief on SB 80 and HB 1129 and Rainwater Harvesting in Colorado
  • Criteria and guidelines for pilot projects

Illinois
In 2009, Illinois created the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act which relates to water conservation, efficiency, infrastructure and management while promoting rainwater harvesting. Illinois Revised Statutes Chapter 415 §56

IL H 991 of 2011 amended the Homeowners’ Solar Rights Act. It requires  that within 120 days after a homeowners’ association, common interest community association, or condominium unit owners’ association receives a request for a policy statement or an application from an association member, the association shall adopt an energy policy statement regarding: (i) the location, design, and architectural requirements of solar energy systems; and (ii) whether a wind energy collection, rain water collection, or composting system is allowed, and, if so, the location, design, and architectural requirements of those systems. Illinois Revised Statutes Chapter 765 § 165/20

North Carolina
NC H 609 of 2011 directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to provide statewide outreach and technical assistance regarding water efficiency, which shall include the development of best management practices for community water efficiency and conservation. This shall include employing water reuse practices that include harvesting rainwater and using grey water. North Carolina General Statutes § Session Law 143-355

Ohio
Ohio allows rainwater harvesting, even for potable purposes. Private water systems that provide drinking water to fewer than 25 people are regulated by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Ohio also has a Private Water Systems Advisory Council within the ODH. The nine member council is appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Ohio Revised Code §3701.344 and Ohio Revised Code §3701.346

Oklahoma
OK HB 3055 of 2012 created the “Water for 2060 Act.” The bill initiates grants for pilot programs. The pilot projects shall be innovative programs that will serve as models for other communities in the state. Pilot projects may include, but are not limited to, community conservation demonstration projects, water use accounting programs, retrofit projects, school education projects, Xeriscape demonstration gardens, projects which promote efficiency, recycling and reuse of water, and information campaigns on capturing and using harvested rainwater and gray water.

Oregon
Since Oregon allows for alternate methods of construction of rainwater harvesting systems, the Oregon Building Codes Division (BCD) created methods for both potable and non-potable systems. Oregon Revised Statute §455.060

Senate Bill 79, passed in 2009, directs the BCD to increase energy efficiency, by including rainwater harvesting, in new and repaired buildings.

Resources:

  • Potable Alternate Method
  • Non-Potable Alternate Method
  • Oregon Smart Guide – Rainwater Harvesting

Rhode Island
RI HB 7070 of 2012 created a tax credit for the installation of cisterns to collect rainwater. Any individual or business that installs a cistern on their property to collect rainwater for use in their home or business shall be entitled to a state income tax credit of ten percent (10%) of the cost of installing the cistern not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000). Each entity shall be allowed only one tax credit over the life of the cistern unless they are replacing an existing cistern with a larger cistern and have not received the maximum tax credit of one thousand dollars ($1,000). A cistern is defined as a container holding fifty (50) or more gallons of diverted rainwater or snow melt, either above or below ground.

Texas
Texas HB 3391 of 2011 is one of the most far-reaching and comprehensive pieces of legislation regarding rainwater harvesting in recent years. Among its provisions:

  • Allows financial institutions to consider making loans for developments that will use harvested rainwater as the sole source of water supply.
  • Requires rainwater harvesting system technology for potable and nonpotable indoor use and landscape watering be incorporated into the design and construction of each new state building with a roof measuring at least 50,000 square feet that is located in an area of the state in which the average annual rainfall is at least 20 inches.
  • Requires the development of rules regarding the installation and maintenance of rainwater harvesting systems that are used for indoor potable purposes and connected to a public water supply system, prior to this bill it could only be used for nonpotable purposes. The rules must include criteria to ensure that safe drinking water standards are met and the water does not come in contact with the public water supply at a location off of the property.
  • Requires a person who intends to connect a rainwater harvesting system to a public water supply system for potable purposes to give written notice to the municipality or the owner or operator of the public water supply system. A municipality or public water supply system may not be held liable for any adverse health effects allegedly caused by the consumption of water collected by a rainwater harvesting system that is connected to a public water supply system and is used for potable purposes if the municipality or the public water supply system is in compliance with the sanitary standards for drinking water.
  • Encourages each municipality and county to promote rainwater harvesting at residential, commercial, and industrial facilities through incentives such as the provision at a discount of rain barrels or rebates for water storage facilities.  Requires the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to ensure that training on rainwater harvesting is available for the members of the permitting staffs of municipalities and counties at least quarterly. School districts are strongly encouraged to implement rainwater harvesting systems.
  • Prohibits a municipality or county from denying a building permit solely because the facility will implement rainwater harvesting.

Other Texas Statutes
Texas Health and Safety Code §341.042 outlines standards for harvested rainwater. Includes health and safety standards for treatment and collection methods for harvested rainwater intended for drinking, cooking, or bathing.

Texas Property Code §202.007 prevents homeowners associations from banning outdoor water-conserving measures, including rainwater harvesting installations. The legislation allows homeowners associations to require screening or shielding to obscure view of the tanks.

Texas Tax Code §151.355 allows for a state sales tax exemption on the purchase of rainwater harvesting equipment.

Resources:
The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting provides information on the practice and outlines sales tax exemptions at the state and local level (pg. 53).
In 2005, the legislature ordered the creation of a Texas Rainwater Harvesting Evaluation Committee; see here for its2006 Report to Texas Legislature with Recommendations.
The Texas Water Development Board sponsors the Texas Rain Catcher Award to advance the technology, educate the public, and to recognize excellence in the application of rainwater harvesting systems in the state.

Utah
Utah allows for the direct capture and storage of rainwater on land owned or leased by the person responsible for the collection. If a person collects or stores precipitation in an underground storage container, only one container with a maximum capacity of no more than 2,500 gallons may be used. For a covered storage container, no more than two containers may be used, and the maximum storage capacity of any one container shall not be greater than 100 gallons. Utah Code Annotated §73-3-1.5

Virginia
In 2001, Virginia passed Senate Bill 1416, which gave income tax credit to individuals and corporations that installed rainwater harvesting systems. “There is hereby established the Alternative Water Supply Assistance Fund to be administered by the Department to provide grants to localities to be used for entering into agreements with businesses and individuals to harvest and collect rainwater for such uses as determined necessary by the locality, including, but not limited to, irrigation and conservation.” However money has not been allocated for these purposes.

Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-248.2 – Requires the development of rainwater harvesting and graywater guidelines to ease demands on public treatment works and water supply systems and promote conservation.
Resources:
Virginia Rainwater Harvesting and Use Guidelines

Washington
In Washington, state law allows counties to reduce rates for storm water control facilities that utilize rainwater harvesting. Rates may be reduced by a minimum of ten percent for any new or remodeled commercial building. However, the rate can be reduced more than ten percent, depending on the county. Kitsap County’s Ordinancereduces surface and stormwater fees by 50 percent.  Washington Revised Code §36.89.080

Uses for harvested rainwater may include water closets, urinals, hose bibbs, industrial applications, and for irrigation purposes. Other uses may be allowed when first approved by the authority having jurisdiction. Washington Revised Code §51-56-1623

Resources:
In 2009, the Washington Department of Ecology issued an Interpretive Policy Statement clarifying that a water right is not required for rooftop rainwater harvesting.
Washington Department of Ecology Rainwater Collection website

U.S. Virgin Islands
Since 1964, the U.S. Virgin Islands has required most buildings to be constructed with a self-sustaining potable water system, such as a well or rainwater collection system.
U.S. Virgin Island Code Title 29 §308

2012 Notable Rainwater Harvesting Legislation

State

Bill

Summary

California

CA AB 1750 (Pending: To Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Water and Rules.)

Would enact the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012. Would authorize residential, commercial and governmental landowners to install, maintain, and operate rain barrel systems and rainwater capture systems for specified purposes, provided that the systems comply with specified requirements. Would authorize a landscape contractor working within the classification of his or her license to enter into a prime contract for the construction of a rainwater capture system if the system is used exclusively for landscape irrigation.

CA AB 2398 (Pending: In Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water: Held in committee.)

Would enact the Water Recycling Act of 2012. Would establish a statewide goal to recycle specified amounts of water by specified calendar years. Would require the adoption of a drinking water criteria for groundwater recharge project utilizing recycled water and the development and adoption of drinking water criteria for advanced treated purified water for raw water augmentation projects. Establish a related research fund. Relates to permits and permit fees for raw water augmentation projects. Relates to inspections.

Illinois

IL HB 1585 (Pending: Referred to House Committee on Rules.)

Would provide that “plumbing” includes rainwater harvesting distribution systems, but does not include any rainwater harvesting distribution system or rainwater harvesting collection system unless otherwise required by the Illinois Plumbing Code.

Massachusetts

NJ AB 2890 (Pending: To Assembly Committee on Environment and Solid Waste.)

Water Conserving Plants Purchase Tax Deduction – Would provide for a personal income tax deduction for the purchase of certain water conserving plants and items: WaterWise plants and landscaping items intended to reduce water usage, including, but not limited to: drought resistant plants that last for more than one year; kits or devices specifically designed for generating compost; grey-water recovery systems where the effluent is used for watering plants; rainwater recovery and storage devices where they are used for watering plants; rain sensors for irrigation systems; and, underground drip irrigation systems.

New Jersey

NJ AB 2890 (Pending: To Assembly Committee on Environment and Solid Waste.)

Rainwater Capture and Water Conservation – This bill would establish several incentives for installation and operation of a rainwater capture system and prohibiting any fees or taxation related to the purchase, installation and use of these systems.

New York

NY AB 6490 (Pending: Amended in Assembly Committee on Real Property Taxation.)

Would create a tax exemption program for commercial and residential real property owners who purchase or install systems for rainwater harvesting, which a municipality within Westchester or Putnam county could adopt by resolution.

North CarolinaNC HB 282 (Failed: Adjourned.)

Would provide that homeowners associations may not prohibit the installation of certain water and energy efficiency improvements by homeowners. Water efficiency improvement. – Rain gardens, cisterns, rain barrels, and other devices or landscaping installations intended to capture, collect, or store rainwater or to reduce the need for irrigation.

NC SB 427/ NC HB 787 (Failed: Adjourned.)

Would improve the security of North Carolina’s water resources. Employing water reuse practices that include harvesting rainwater and using grey water.

Washington

c WA HB 1025 (Failed: Adjourned.)

The rate a county may charge a school district under this section for storm water control facilities would be reduced by a minimum of ten percent for any new or remodeled commercial building that utilizes a permissive rainwater harvesting system. Rainwater harvesting systems would be properly sized to utilize the available roof surface of the building. The jurisdiction would consider rate reductions in excess of ten percent dependent upon the amount of rainwater harvested.

WA SB 5447/ WA HB 1746 (Failed: Adjourned.)

Related to utility rates and charges for unoccupied mobile home lots in manufactured housing communities: The rate a city or town may charge under this section for storm or surface water sewer systems or the portion of the rate allocable to the storm or surface water sewer system of combined sanitary sewage and storm or surface water sewer systems shall be reduced by a minimum of ten percent for any new or remodeled commercial building that utilizes a permissive rainwater harvesting system. Rainwater harvesting systems would be properly sized to utilize the available roof surface of the building. The jurisdiction would consider rate reductions in excess of ten percent dependent upon the amount of rainwater harvested.

Wisconsin

WI AB 737 (Failed to Pass.)

This bill would require DSPS to promulgate rules that establish standards for the installation of graywater and rainwater systems and that authorize the use of graywater and rainwater within the building, or on the property surrounding the building, from which the graywater was generated or the rainwater was collected.

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Drought Stricken Areas Need Rain Water Collection and Storage Systems

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Rainwater and snowmelt are the primary sources of all drinking water on the planet. Rainwater harvesting is the practice of collecting the water produced during rainfall events before it has a chance to run off into a river or stream or soak into the ground and become groundwater. Rainwater harvesting can be classified into two broad categories: land-based and roof-based. Land-based rainwater harvesting occurs when rainwater runoff from the land is collected in ponds and small reservoirs before it has a chance to reach a river or stream. Roof-based harvesting, on the other hand, involves collecting the rainwater that falls on a roof before the water even reaches the ground. Although roof-based systems generally produce water with lower levels of chemical and biological contaminants, the water produced by both systems is subject to contamination and must be properly treated before it can be used. The level of treatment you need to provide depends, to a great extent, on whether you will be using the water for potable purposes (such as drinking, food preparation, bathing, and dish- or hand-washing) or for nonpotable purposes (such as toilet flushing, clothes washing, and watering). Obviously, rainwater that is intended for potable purposes must receive a higher level of treatment than rainwater that is intended for irrigation purposes.

Government does not set minimum treatment requirements for rainwater that will be used as a drinking water source for a single household nor do they regulate nonpotable uses of rainwater.

If you have access to a public water system, we encourage you to utilize your rainwater
collection system for nonpotable use only. This approach will:
• Reduce your construction, treatment, and operational costs, because less
treatment is required for nonpotable uses than for potable uses.
• Lower your monthly water bill because you will need to buy less of the public
water system’s drinking water for nonpotable use.
• Conserve the natural resources being developed and utilized by your public
water system.

What Kinds of Contaminants Can Be Found in Rainwater?
Rainwater and snowfall are the ultimate sources of all drinking water on the planet. Rainwater and melted snow runs off the land and collects in lakes and rivers. They also seep through the ground and recharge the aquifers that supply drinking water wells. Regardless of where you currently obtain your drinking water, it originally fell from the sky.
The water in a raindrop is one of the cleanest sources of water available. Rainwater can absorb gases such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide from the atmosphere. It can also capture soot and other microscopic particulates as it falls through the sky. Nevertheless, rainwater is almost 100% pure water before it reaches the ground.
Pure water is considered the universal solvent; it can absorb or dissolve contaminants from almost anything it comes into contact with. That is why it is especially important to design and operate your system so that the rainwater picks up as few contaminants as possible before you consume it.
Debris
We use the term “debris” to describe any contaminant that you can see. Debris includes leaves and twigs, dust and dirt, bird and animal droppings, insects, and other visible material. Although debris obviously reduces the aesthetic quality of the water, it can also pose unseen chemical and biological health threats. For example, leaves and dust can contain unseen chemical contaminants such as herbicides and pesticides. Similarly, bird and animal droppings can contain microscopic parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
Chemical Contaminants
Although rainwater can be contaminated by absorbing airborne chemicals, most of the chemicals present in harvested rainwater are introduced during collection, treatment, and distribution. By properly designing and operating your rainwater harvesting system, you can minimize your exposure to a variety of chemical contaminants that include organic chemicals, such as volatile and synthetic organics, and inorganic chemicals, such as minerals and metals.
Volatile Organic Chemicals
Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) can be introduced when rainwater comes into contact with
materials containing refined organic products. These VOC sources include plastics, glues, and
solvents, as well as gasoline, greases, and oils. Most VOC contamination at rainwater systems
occurs because the materials used to construct the system were not manufactured specifically
for drinking water applications; these materials may not meet the standards set for potable
water products and may release undesirable levels of VOCs into the water. Although most VOC
contamination results from improper construction practices, VOC contamination can also occur when raindrops fall through an atmosphere containing gasoline or solvent vapors.

COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
Harvesting, Storing, and Treating Rainwater for Domestic Use
Synthetic Organic Chemicals
Synthetic organic chemicals (SOCs) are chemicals that are typically found in pesticides,
herbicides, and similar man-made products. Since SOCs are not very volatile, these contaminants are usually introduced when debris such as dust and leaves are allowed to enter the system. However, SOC contamination can also be introduced if you install your rainwater collection and storage system in an area where aerial herbicide or pesticide application occurs. Regardless of how the chemical reaches the rainwater system, SOC contamination is usually the result of environmental exposure rather than poor construction practices.
Minerals
Minerals are inorganic materials found naturally in the environment. Most minerals are
inorganic salts (such as calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium sulfate, and sodium chloride) that affect the flavor of the water but generally do not pose an actual health threat. The most significant exception to this general rule of thumb is asbestos, which is a family of fibrous silica salts used to manufacture a variety of products. Under certain conditions, some of these products can release a form of asbestos that can pose a long-term health threat if ingested or inhaled. Minerals, especially calcium and magnesium salts, are what gives water its hardness. Rainwater contains virtually no minerals before it is harvested and so it is a very soft water. It is also slightly acidic, with a pH around 5.6, due to the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur dioxides it absorbs from the atmosphere. Because it takes time for rainwater to absorb minerals, most of the minerals present in harvested rainwater will have been leached from materials used to construct the system rather than from environmental sources.
Metals
Metals include lead, arsenic, copper, iron, and manganese. Some metals, such as lead and arsenic, can pose a long-term health threat if they are present in high enough concentrations. Other metals, such as iron and manganese, can affect the appearance and taste of the water but pose no health threat. It takes time for metal to dissolve in rainwater. Therefore, this type of contaminant is usually present only after metallic materials such as lead solder, iron and copper pipe, and brass fittings have been exposed to rainwater for several hours or longer.
Microbiological Contaminants
Rainwater seldom contains any type of microbiological contaminant until it is harvested and stored. The water in a raindrop is extremely pure, but it is virtually impossible to maintain that level of purity during the collection, treatment, and distribution processes. Rainwater can be contaminated by two major categories of microbiological agents: those that cause disease and those that do not. Microbiological contaminants that can cause a disease or infection are called pathogenic, while those that do not are called nonpathogenic. Nonpathogenic organisms can be present in high numbers regardless of where your home is located.
These nonpathogenic microbes include many kinds of protozoa, algae, bacteria, and viruses.
Although they do not cause illness, nonpathogens often reduce the aesthetic quality of the water and can interfere with the operation of the rainwater harvesting and treatment facilities, increasing
COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUAL ITY
Harvesting, Storing, and Treating Rainwater for Domestic Use
operational and maintenance requirements. For example, high concentrations of algae can make the water slimy, plugging the filters used to treat the water, or fungi and bacteria can colonize in the water lines in your home. Pathogenic organisms are not normally found in rainwater. However, they can be present if the
rainwater collection or storage facilities have been contaminated by fecal material such as animal or bird droppings. Pathogenic microbes pose a greater health threat to rainwater users than most chemical contaminants, for a number of reasons, including:
• Pathogens can cause disease after a single exposure, while most chemical contaminants may
require months or even years of exposure before causing a health effect.
• Pathogens do not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of the water. Many chemical
contaminants, on the other hand, make the water taste, smell, or look different, especially if the chemicals are present at levels that would pose a short-term risk.
• Pathogen levels can rise very quickly, while chemical levels tend to remain fairly constant.
Consequently, it is relatively easy (though somewhat costly) to periodically test for chemical
contaminants, while it is both difficult and costly to continuously test for most pathogens.
• A disease caused by pathogens can usually be passed from person to person, while the health
effects caused by chemicals affect only those that actually consume the contaminated water.
• Waterborne illnesses caused by pathogens can be a serious health risk for the elderly, infants, chemotherapy patients, and other individuals with a delicate or weakened immune system. Pathogenic microbiological contaminants include certain types of protozoan parasites, bacteria, and viruses. The infectivity rates (the number of microbes required to cause a disease) and the virulence (the severity of the disease) vary, depending on the type of pathogen present and the immune system of the person that is exposed. Some pathogens can cause an illness if a person with a weakened immune system is exposed to just a few organisms. Some of the pathogens that can be introduced through improperly designed and operated rainwater systems are shown in Table 1.1.

Table 1.1

 

Type of PathogenOrganismSource
ParasiteGiardia lambliacats and wild animals
ParasiteCryptosporidium parvumcats, birds, rodents, and reptiles
ParasiteToxoplasma gondiicats, birds, and rodents
BacteriaCampylobacter spp.birds and rats
BacteriaSalmonella spp .cats, birds, rodents, and reptiles
BacteriaLeptospira spp.mammals
BacteriaEscherichia colibirds and mammals
VirusHantavirus spp.rodents

 

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Using Ceramic High Efficiency Filters can remove 99.99% of pathogenic debris from water sources for usable potable water.  Setting up a primary storage tank for collection and transferring water via gravity or pumping station to a potable storage tank is the preferred method of insuring water is clean, free from pathogens.

Build a Whole House Rain Water Collector and Storage System.

Traditional System

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