The Missing Part of the Drought Conversation: Rainwater Harvesting

This is the first in a series of  blog entries by John Hanesworth, co-owner of Big Grass, on water conservation and rainwater harvesting. To subscribe to this blog, paste this URL into your RSS reader.

Have you seen the latest issue of Texas Monthly? It is encouraging that our state’s leading monthly publication has elevated the issue of water use and conservation to its front cover.

We city folks usually relate to the drought in terms of last summer’s heat wave, and surely this year’s heat wave will be as bad or worse. Combine that with the lack of rain, and you’ve got a dead yard (but still plenty of water, so far, coming from your faucet). But now imagine you were a Texas farmer or rancher. You may have lost much of your cattle last year, or your entire cotton or grain crop – a possible knock-out punch in a flat economy.

So here’s the cruel irony: It is urban policies and use expectations that determine who has water – impounded rainwater and ground water combined – and how much. According to Texas Monthly, 90% of the state population is urban, 10% rural. City folks may well win the water vote over time, but that could come at the expense of our farming and ranching heritage, a large part of our state’s economy, and hell, what is on your dinner plate.

Impounded rainwater in our lakes and reservoirs is usually owned in advance of its arrival. Water rights agreements often extend over decades, rain or shine. A huge portion of Rio Grande water is owned by Mexico. The only source of water that is not controlled and restricted, yet available to us all, is HARVESTED RAINWATER.

It is time we recognize rainwater as a vital resource that supplements traditional aquifers and helps secure our way of life. Landscape watering restrictions, almost always tied to some fine, seem like bitter medicine that only treats the symptoms. Rainwater harvesting, on the other hand, is part of the long-term feel-good cure. Besides, we can’t put a dollar value on the strengthened connection with our natural environment when we mindfully recycle our trash, go solar and yes, harvest rainwater.

Austin, San Marcos  and New Braunfels  are among the cities in our state that recognize rainwater capture, even on a residential scale, as a source of relief for overburdened traditional water sources. Related rebate programs return to the consumer as much as 50% of the cost of even simple rainwater vessels.

It doesn’t rain very often you say? Well, here’s another unrestricted water source: The average home’s central air-conditioning system generates 30 or more gallons of easily collected, pure water every day – rain or shine. This happens when we need it most, on the hottest days when AC use is at its peak.

Oh yeah, and by the way, you may or may not know that San Antonio does not (yet?) have a city- or utility-sponsored incentive program to conserve and recycle water.

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